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Charles Fritz: An Artist with the Corps of Discovery

September 16, 2006 - January 4, 2007

 

 
"Mr. Fritz' incredible painting of 'Captain Lewis Sighting the Yellowstone' is by far the most exciting new piece of art that I have seen on Lewis and Clark. Few folks know the amount of research that went into making it so scrupulously accurate. Most of what we see produced on Lewis and Clark these days falls into the realm of illustration. Mr. Fritz has produced a work of art that ranks with the best of Remington and Russell."
 
-- Robert J. Moore, Jr.
 
National Park Service Historian at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, MO, and author of Native Americans: The Art and Travels of Charles Bird King, George Catlin and Karl Bodmer, and Lewis and Clark: Tailor Made, Trail Worn ­ Army Life, Clothing, and Weapons of the Corps of Discovery

 

 

The MacNider Art Museum is excited to announce the upcoming exhibition Charles Fritz: An Artist with the Corps of Discovery, scheduled to open September 16th, 2006 and run through January 4th, 2007. This nationally significant exhibition is guaranteed to delight history buffs as well as Western Art enthusiasts.

In 1802, President Jefferson commissioned an expedition called the "Corps of Discovery", a body of 33 men under the leadership of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark. The expedition's primary purpose was to search for the Northwest Passage, a hypothetical waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Avidly interested in the American West, Jefferson gave the explorers explicit instructions to chronicle in great detail all that they observed in the newly acquired territory of the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis and Clark therefore kept journals, drafted maps, and collected plant specimens and live animals to be sent back to Jefferson.

Although there was not a Northwest Passage to be found, over the course of three years, the Corps of Discovery not only produced an important record of the flora, fauna, peoples, and terrain of the Louisiana Purchase, but also precipitated the settlement of the West. However, no artist accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Two centuries after Lewis and Clark undertook their transcontinental journey; we have the opportunity to retrace their steps through the meticulously researched paintings of artist Charles Fritz whose commission has been to employ his creative vision as an artist with the Corps of Discovery.

"One of the most frequently asked questions on the planning of the Lewis and Clark Expedition concerns Jefferson's failure to send a professional artist with the Corps. Now, thanks to a carefully researched and historically accurate series of paintings by Montana artist Charles Fritz, Americans have the opportunity to see what Lewis and Clark observed, what they looked like and the people they met on their way to the Pacific. This is a rare chance to step back in time and appreciate the sights of Lewis and Clark's experience as they transpired from 1803 - 1806."
 
Stephen Ambrose,
 
Author of the best-selling book on Lewis & Clark, Undaunted Courage

Charles Fritz is a native of Mason City, studying history and education at Iowa State University. He soon left teaching to paint full-time. His move to Montana in 1980 strengthened his interest in the history of the Great Plains and the West. Today he paints historical subjects in vast, luminous landscapes. Charles had exhibited his work in museums across America, including the C.M. Russell Museum, the Albuquerque Museum, the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and the Denver Art Museum.

This historic exhibition, organized by the artist in conjunction with the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, is comprised of 70 paintings. The exhibition has toured across the country since 2004 and its stops have included the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, the Booth Museum of Western Art in Cartersville, Georgia, and the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana. It is fitting that the last leg of its inaugural tour will be in the artist's hometown of Mason City. The MacNider Art Museum is the only venue in the upper Midwest to host this dynamic exhibition.

The MacNider Art Museum hosted a Lewis & Clark Lecture Series as part of the programming for the exhibition, Charles Fritz: An Artist with the Corps of Discovery. This lecture series was made possible with the help of the Humanities Iowa Speakers Bureau Program. Humanities Iowa is a private, non-profit state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. HI's mission is to enhance the civic life, culture, and identity of Iowans. Drawing on history, literature, philosophy, law and other humanities fields, it fosters life-long learning, critical thinking and community connections.

The lecture series consisted of seven lectures, each covering a different aspect of the Corps of Discovery. All lectures were held on Sunday afternoons in the Museum's Salsbury Room:

 
Sunday, September 17 @ 2 pm - Donald Shurr, "Lewis & Clark in Iowa." The audience was exposed to the many "firsts" that occurred in Iowa, the true peril of this journey, and the return of Lewis & Clark to civilization at journey's end.
 
Sunday, October 1 @ 2 pm - Dr. Wayne Kobberdahl, "The Lewis & Clark Expedition: Captain Clark's Perspective." Dr. Kobberdahl reenacted, in costume, segments of the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
 
Sunday, October 29 @ 2 pm - Beverly Hinds, "Sacajawea and the Lewis & Clark Expedition." Guide, interpreter, wife or slave? What is myth? What is fact? What is fiction? What do the records and the passing of 200 years reveal to us about this fascinating woman?
 
Sunday, November 5 @ 1 pm - Beverly Hinds, "Sgt. Charles Floyd: Who Was or Wasn't He, and His Untimely Death." The first American soldier to die west of the Mississippi, Floyd was buried on a bluff near what is now Sioux City, Iowa and has a never to be forgotten place in the history of the Expedition.
 
Sunday, November 5 @ 3 pm - Beverly Hinds, "The Medicines of Lewis & Clark." What were the medicines and medical practices of the time? Why didn't Jefferson send a doctor along? What allowed the members to survive the incidents that occurred? Could this feat be accomplished today?
 
Sunday, November 12 @ 2 pm - Darryl Draper, "George Drouillard: Hunter, Interpreter & Sign Talker for Lewis & Clark." Drouillard (1774-1810?), French and Shawnee Indian, was a most valuable member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Adapted from the James Alexander Thom novel, Sign-Talker, this presentation in full costume and French accent, gave audiences a glimpse of Shawnee culture and spirituality.
 
Sunday, November 19 @ 2 pm - Wynema Morris, "The Lewis & Clark Expedition from the Native American Perspective." What did the opening of the western portion of the continent to European settlement mean to American Indian tribes, who had known and lived for centuries in the lands Lewis and Clark "discovered?"
 

Fritz Biographical Wall Text:

Fritz is best known for his plein-air paintings of western history and landscape. Painting along the Lewis and Clark Trail is not for the timid, but Fritz has overcome the wind, cold, heat, sudden storms, and difficult terrain to recapture the sites the explorers once visited. He has done painstaking, exacting research along the trail and has cast himself in the first person as the expedition's artist. Each of his more-than-seventy paintings references a journal entry and is accompanied by additional text embellishing the painting's context in the collection.

Not only has Fritz studied the Lewis and Clark Journals extensively, but he has also traveled and camped out along the entire route from St. Louis to the Pacific Coast at least twice. He visited the sites at the same time of year as the expedition so that he could accurately capture the colors, lighting, flora, fauna, weather, clothing, equipment and the people.

Painting from life and on location or en plein-air, allows him to respond emotionally and energetically to the ever-changing light, details and personality of the subject before him: the low, cold, wintry sun and misty vapors of Fort Mandan, the serenity of early morning along the White Cliffs and the sparkling froth and roar of the Great Falls of the Missouri.

Fritz is a three-time recipient of the C.M. Russell Auction's Best of Show Award and the 1993 Lee M. Loeb Memorial Award given by the Salmagundi Club in New York City. His work is part of the permanent collection of the Denver Art Museum, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the C.M. Russell Museum, the Rahr-West Museum and our own Charles H. MacNider Museum.

Charles Fritz - An Artist with the Corps of Discovery was organized by the Montana Museum of Art and Culture at the University of Montana and has been touring the country during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Celebration.

 

Brochure Text:

Charles Fritz: The Artist

Charles Fritz is a noted painter of landscapes and genre scenes of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains states. Born and raised in Mason City, Iowa, he won the prestigious Lee M. Loeb Memorial Award for landscape painting in 1993. His work is in the permanent collections of the C. M. Russell Museum, Denver Art Museum, Charles H. MacNider Museum, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and the Rahr-West Museum, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Fritz is listed in Who's Who in the American West and Who's Who in America. His work has been featured in many magazines and periodicals, and is included in Donald Hagerty's books, Leading the West: 100 Contemporary Artists and Canyon de Chelly: 100 Years of Painting and Photography.

An Artist with the Corps of Discovery debuted at the Montana Museum of Art and Culture at the University of Montana in May 2004. It has traveled nationally to six museums before coming to the MacNider Art Museum, after which it will be shown at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.

 

Art and History

In 1802, President Jefferson commissioned an expedition called the "Corps of Discovery", a body of 33 men under the leadership of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark. The expedition's primary purpose was to search for the Northwest Passage, a hypothetical waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Avidly interested in the American West, Jefferson gave the explorers explicit instructions to chronicle in great detail all that they observed in the newly acquired territory of the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis and Clark therefore kept journals, drafted maps, and collected plant specimens and live animals to be sent back to Jefferson.

Although there was not a Northwest Passage to be found, over the course of almost three years, the Corps of Discovery not only produced an important record of the flora, fauna, peoples, and terrain of the Louisiana Purchase, their exploration precipitated the European settlement of the West.

No artist accompanied the Lewis & Clark Expedition, an oversight lamented in Lewis' journals. Now, two centuries after Lewis and Clark undertook their transcontinental journey, we have the opportunity to retrace their steps through the meticulously researched paintings of artist Charles Fritz, who has employed his creative vision to become the artist with the Corps of Discovery.

Charles Fritz prepared himself for his travels along the Expedition's route by studying the journals of Lewis and Clark. He began to think of himself as the Expedition's artist, and attempted to accurately document the landscapes the Corps of Discovery traveled through, as well as the cultures they encountered. When required, maps of the day, the journals of Lewis and Clark, and the records and paintings of later travelers, such as Bodmer, Maximilian, Wimar, and Kane, gave him the information he needed to recreate the geography, fauna, and ethnological details of the time. Also depicted are the cultures of Native American peoples in their indigenous regions, shown in the early years of European contact. In his paintings, Fritz accounted for changes caused by dams, agriculture, and the many and various impacts of settlement on the land over the past 200 years.

Painting all of his studies and even some of his large canvases on location, Fritz adhered to the rigors, principles, and techniques of painting directly from life. Working outdoors on location, in the humidity of a Missouri summer, the freezing temperatures of a North Dakota winter, the heat of a Montana summer, or in the roaring winds of the Columbia River Gorge, all bring an intrinsic authenticity to Fritz's paintings that can be achieved in no other way. The weather conditions he encountered often duplicated those described in the explorers' journals, which helped Fritz to further convey the nuances and history of each location.

His paintings are noted for the emotional response they elicit from the viewer as well as their exactness, the result of his attention to the geographical, ecological, and ethnological culture of the early nineteenth century.

To learn more about Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery, check out these websites:

 

(above: Introductory text panel for Charles Fritz: An Artist with the Corps of Discovery at the MacNider Art Museum in Mason City, IA. Photo courtesy Charles H. MacNider Museum)

 

(above: A Museum visitor studies a label while wondering through the exhibition. Photo courtesy Charles H. MacNider Museum)

 

(above: Several smaller works in the exhibition, which includes more than seventy oil paintings. Photo courtesy Charles H. MacNider Museum)

 

(above:MacNider Art Museum visitors discuss the Museum's new artwork, Unfinished Diplomacy - Lewis and Clark Departing the Brulé Sioux ­ September 28, 1804. Photo courtesy Charles H. MacNider Museum)

 

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