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Winold Reiss: Artist for the Great Northern
June 2 - October 18, 2005
The Hockaday Museum of Art is opening a major summer exhibition: Winold Reiss: Artist for the Great Northern, on display June 2 through October 18, 2005. Winold Reiss features 50 magnificent works by Winold Reiss, in addition to Indian artifacts and memorabilia from the early days of Glacier National Park.
Winold Reiss (1886-1953) was a uniquely gifted artist and designer who emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1913. Today his vast artistic legacy is enjoying renewed recognition, and deservedly so. Probably best known as a portraitist, Reiss was a pioneer of modernism and well known for his brilliant work in graphic and interior design. (right: Winold Reiss, Heavy Head, mixed media on Whatman board, 1935, 39 x 26 inches. Private Collection)
As did many young aspiring artists, Winold Reiss studied with the highly esteemed painter and teacher Franz von Stuck at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, which was at that time a center of the decorative and fine-arts movement. It is not known whether Reiss met E. Martin Hennings (1886-1956) and Walter Ufer (1876-1936), who were also studying at the Royal Academy about that time and who later became members of the Taos Art Society. All of these artists' works depict elements taught by von Stuck.
Romantic visions of the West had spread across France and Germany through the tales of artists who had already visited the western portion of the United States. The popular novels of German author Karl May (1842-1912), whose stories of the American west filled young minds with travel and adventure tales, dealt with noble Indians and cowboys and offered moral lessons. Young Reiss was an avid reader of May's books.
It was often due to the American railroad companies' commissions that artists were enabled to travel in the west, paint the native peoples, and enjoy the magnificent landscapes. Some of them, like Ernest Blumenschein (1874-1960), Hennings, and Ufer, as well as many European artists who had settled in the East, went to the Southwest where they were supported through the commissions of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company's advertising campaign. Winold Reiss, however, headed to the Northwest. He chose Montana as his destination after hearing about the Blackfeet Indians and Glacier Park from his friend H.V. Kaltenborn, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, who had traveled there earlier.
It was said that the Blackfeet bestowed the name Beaver Child on Reiss and trusted him to record their greatness, not for himself, but for them. Reiss left an incredible body of work behind him that captured the true spirit of the Blackfeet. A compassionate man who greatly respected all people as human beings, Reiss believed that his art could help break down racial prejudices. Like his father Fritz Reiss (1857-1915), who was also an artist and who was his son's first teacher, Winold Reiss was artistically moved by diverse cultures. The elder Reiss focused on folk life in Germany while Winold drew substantial inspiration from a range of cultures, particularly Native American, Mexican, and African-American.
After his first trip to Montana in January of 1920, Reiss was able to return to Glacier Park many times in a long-lasting collaboration with the Great Northern Railway. His works illustrated the Railway's "See America First" campaign that promoted travel to the "Crown of the Continent" on calendars, menus, playing cards, and souvenirs for thirty years, thus reaching a wide audience.
Reiss's works are highly regarded today and his popularity continues, in part because of the railroad calendars and souvenirs produced from his portraits. However, his work -- like that of other great artists and illustrators such as Norman Rockwell -- survives and flourishes not just as a result of the Great Northern's printed matter but because he captured a very recognizable and uniquely American theme. Reiss also expressed the great feeling for color and design that his native friends favored. He rendered his subjects in a way that conveyed honor, beauty, and dignity upon them, free of racial prejudice. His own unique style can be viewed as a synthesis of bold, colorful graphic design, skillful drawing, and fine art. It is this balance in his art that makes his portraits so remarkably fresh and aesthetically pleasing today.
On Friday, June 10, 2005, at 3 pm, Scott Tanner, Vice President of the Great Northern Railway Historical Society, will give a lecture and slide show discussing the connection between Reiss and the Great Northern Railway. Tanner grew up in an area of Washington served by the Great Northern, and this experience evolved into a lifelong interest in Pacific Northwest railroad history and participation in the Great Northern Railway Historical Society. Tanner has written two articles on Winold Reiss. For reservations for the lecture and slide show, please call 755-5268. Also, 20-minute tours of exhibit highlights given by the Director/Curator, will be held Thursday, July 7, 2005, at 11 am and Wednesday, July 13 at 3 pm. These events are free to Museum members and free with regular Museum admission for non-members. An opening reception will be held Thursday, June 9, 2005 from 5:30 to 8:00 pm with special entertainment by the Two Medicine Lake Drummers from 5:30 to 6:00 pm.
The Winold Reiss: Artist for the Great Northern exhibit is generously sponsored by U.S. Forest Service, National Endowment for the Arts, John & Patricia Case, Van Kirke & Helen Nelson, Glacier Fund, Montana Community Foundation, Melody & Stuart Johnson, and Bob Drummond of the Coeur d'Alene Art Auction.
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