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An Artist with the Corps of Discovery: The Lewis & Clark Suite by Charles Fritz

February 11 - April 28, 2005


The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum® in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, announces An Artist with the Corps of Discovery, a national traveling exhibit of paintings by Charles Fritz of Billings, Montana. The 64 original works are devoted to the Corps of Discovery, the official name of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. (right: Charles Fritz, Evening of Ceremony with the Teton Souix, September 10, 1805)

Lewis and Clark created extensive journals during their 1803-06 expedition. No artist traveled, however, with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their epic journey to visually document the people and the landscapes. The Montana Museum of Art and Culture at the Univerity of Montana, Missoula is correcting this oversight with its "Charles Fritz, An Artist With the Corps of Discovery" exhibition.

During the spring of 1998, as Billings, Montana artist Charles Fritz camped along the south bank of the Missouri River, the idea came to him for the project that would fill the next six years of his life. He envisioned a series of historically accurate paintings done on location and following the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. At first he planned for 12 paintings, but the plan quickly grew to 25, from 25 to 50 and then from 50 to 88.

The inspiration for Fritz' monumental undertaking is found in the words of Thomas Jefferson, "The work we are now doing is, I trust, done for posterity, in such a way they need not repeat it . . . We shall delineate with correctness the great arteries of this country; those who come after us will fill up the canvas we begin." Fritz has meticulously researched the sites of his canvasses both on-site along the Lewis and Clark Trail and through the journals of Lewis and Clark.

Born and reared in Mason City, Iowa, Fritz is a noted painter of landscape and genre scenes in Rocky Mountain and Great Plains states. His Western art is displayed at several museums around the nation. Fritz also is a nine-year veteran of the prestigious Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition and Sale at the National Cowboy Museum.

By following the entire length of the expedition's route twice, placing himself at sites during the same time of year as the expedition, Fritz has tried to cast himself in the role of that expedition's artist. Fritz' project suits his personal life to a tee. He is a plein air artists who believes that by painting outdoors, the colors are more accurate and his brushwork more spontaneous. As an avid outdoorsman and conservationist who tunes out civilization when he paints, Fritz cherished the opportunity to experience the duplication of weather conditions with which an artist on the expedition would have been faced.

More than 60 of his Lewis and Clark paintings showed at the University of Montana's Museum of Art and Culture in Missoula through September 11, 2004. The exhibit then traveled to the Oregon Historical Society in Portland. An Artist With the Corps of Discovery will open at the National Cowboy Museum, where it will remain on display through April 28, 2005.. The rest of the schedule includes the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, from May through September of 2005, the Booth Museum of Western Art, Atlanta, Georgia, and concluding at the Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings, Montana from June Through September 2006. The exhibition will tour during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, when a number of signature events are planned at sites along the trail.

A companion book, published by Farcountry Press, reproduces the collection's 88 paintings in full color. Along with key passages from the expedition's journals, it contains commentary edited by historian and best-selling author Stephen Ambrose, who is now deceased, and his daughter, Stephanie Ambrose Tubbs. The book's introduction was written by University of Montana historian Harry Fritz, who is no relation to the artist.


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