Editor's note: The Michelson Museum of Art extended permission to Resource Library to rekey and reprint the following article by David Karp. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact the Michelson Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


Artists of the American West

September 7 - October 3, 2004



When the United States bought the Louisiana Territory 1803, a two-hundred-year-old love affair between the American West and the rest of the world began. Western landscapes and Native American life were drawn, painted and sculpted. The West was fictionalized in dime novels read by millions of Americans and Europeans and dramatized in Wild West Shows, in film and on radio. Indeed, the West is not just an American region; it is an American phenomenon. The hand-colored lithographs and woodcarvings in Artists of the American West capture the initial period of western exploration (1819-1877) and give a sense of why the West was so appealing.

The first period of the Western artist-explorer is characterized by the work of Euro-American and European male artists who documented the region's landscape, flora, fauna and Native American tribal cultures. These artists established three themes revisited by countless nineteenth-century western artists. Those themes, Native American portraits, village scenes, the buffalo hunt and the Rocky Mountain Landscape, are echoed in this exhibit. The government organized a variety of artists to capture impressions of the West and this exhibition includes a number of these artists.

James Otto Lewis' early 1820's depiction of the View of the Great Treaty Held at Prairie Due Chien revealed a treaty meeting dominated by the American flag. Seth Eastman, an officer and drawing teacher at West Point, was commissioned to paint images for the House of Representatives. The Office of Indian Affairs hired Charles Bird King, to capture portraits of Native American dignitaries as they visited the U. S. capital. His images were the best-known representations of native peoples until the 1860's.

F.O.C. Darley, whose work illustrated James Fenimore Copper's novels, like King, never traveled out west. An Indian Foray in the West shows an image of Indians kidnapping a white woman. His Emigrants Crossing the Plains reveals the idealized pioneer family and makes a romanticized counterpoint to Rufus Zogbaum's Painting the Town Red".

One of the more famous artists to travel with a government expedition was Albert Bierstadt. In 1859, Bierstadt made photographs (the latest in contemporary technology) in preparation for his paintings, Though his work was perceived as objective, Bierstadt believed that his artistic role was to rearrange nature, as the romanticized A Halt in the Yosemite Valley suggests.

A number of artists, such a George Catlin, Karl Bodmer and Frederic Remington, traveled west without federal aid. Catlin's fascination with Native Americans began when a tribe captured his own mother. Unlike Darley's image of "Indian as savage", Catlin's work was far more sympathetic to Native American cultures.

German Prince Maximilian hired the Swiss artist, Karl Bodmer, to record his own western exploration. Bodmer's work, though more accomplished and less romanticized, lacks the energy of Catlin's work. Unlike Bodmer and Catlin, who focused on Native American cultures, Remington was fascinated with the Calvary, horses and vigorous outdoor pursuits. His paintings celebrate the Wild West of fantasy, and his work champions the winning of the West through Anglo-Saxon mastery.

In the century in which these images were created, art depicting the American West was seen as the nation's art. However, in 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the end of the frontier; art depicting the American West became regional art.

In the last decade of the twentieth century, historians and art historians began to re-examine the story of Western Expansion as told in images. Artists of the American West offers a useful perspective on representations of the frontier experience, which played such an important part in igniting a passion for the West that is now two centuries old.

History of The Michelson Museum of Art

The Michelson Museum of Art was established in 1985 for the special purpose of accepting and caring for the life work of Russian American artist Leo Michelson (1887-1978). Janine, the wife of Leo Michelson selected Marshall as the permanent home for her late husband's works. She did not want to give the many paintings and drawings by her husband to a large museum where only a few would be shown and the others put away in storage. Her selection of Marshall, was prompted by a suggestion from Wendy Russell Reves, a Marshall native and a friend of the Michelsons. (right: photo of Michelson Museum of Art galleries)

Leo Michelson was born in Riga, Latvia, and began his studies at the Imperial School in St. Petersburg. He later studied and lived in Munich, Berlin, Paris and the United States. He became an American citizen in 1945. His work spans several different periods without falling prey to any of the categories that have been assigned to these periods. Old Russian Art and German and French Impressionism influenced his early career. He was categorized as a painter of the "Paris School", but developed a style and concept that was as advanced and imaginative as any of the greatly acclaimed experiments of his time.

The museum also includes the Gloria and Bernard Kronenberg collection of over 100 works by well-known post-impressionist artists (Milton Avery, David Burliuk, Abraham Walkowitz, to name a few) and the Ramona and Jay Ward Collection of African Masks and Artifacts. Jay Ward was the creator of the cartoons, Rocky and Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle and Dudley-Do-Right. The Michelson collection includes over 1,000 paintings, drawings and prints spanning two worlds and seventy years of Leo Michleson's career.

The Michelson Museum of Art's first home was in a lovely temporary space in the recently completed law office building of Jones, Jones, Baldwin, Curry & Roth. In April of 1990 it moved into its present location on the corner of North Bolivar and West Rusk. The 12,000 square foot facility was made possible when SWB Corporation donated the vacant first floor of their building to the Museum. The building dates from 1928 and is constructed in a Romanesque style. It has soaring columns, tall arched windows and decorative brickwork.

The goal of the Michelson is to present exhibits of artistic merit and educational value that otherwise would not be available to the area. The Education Director, Bonnie Spangler, heads a well-developed program that serves the Marshall Independent School District and the seven surrounding school districts. Mrs. Spangler goes into the schools where she conducts an interactive presentation for the students that directly relates to the current exhibit on display at the Michelson. Next the students visit the museum to view the artwork and correlate what they have learned in the classroom with the paintings. The museum's discipline based art education encompasses age and content specific tours, student teacher apprenticeship at local colleges, student art shows and curriculum enriching holiday exhibits. Summer Art Classes complete the Michelson' offerings. These classes are conducted by local artists and are open to children and adults. (right: photo of entrance to Michelson Museum of Art)

The Michelson is open accessible to people of all ages and interests. All programs are prepared for the multi-cultural international classrooms and audiences. All exhibits at the Michelson are wheelchair accessible.

Michelson Museum of Art is located at 216 North Bolivar Street, Marshall, Texas 75670. Please see the Museum's website for hours and admission information.


rev. 9/3/04

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