Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on March 28, 2008 with the permission of the Denver Art Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, please contact the Denver Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Drawn from Life: The Art of George Carlson

by James H. Nottage

 

Art is my vehicle of expression: it is my contribution to the enrichment of man.

- George Carlson [1]

 

Augustina is only nine, but her emaciated body makes her look old and fragile. You want to look away, yet you can't help yourself. Who is she, and what is it about her that is so haunting? What is her story, and is she going to survive? [fig. 1, Augustina]

At once the dark, cold bronze becomes a warm expression of humanity. In proportion and composition it is fundamentally true to human anatomy, but the sculpture is also an abstraction with clear evidence of the artist's hand. Before making a bronze cast, the artist, George Carlson, modeled layer upon layer of clay until the subject and her personality began to reveal themselves. Carlson continued working the clay until he felt he had exposed what he calls "the life force within." As with all of his work, the sculpture is a metaphor; in this case, it expresses the inextinguishable will of the human spirit and the persistence of hope.

You can get this message without knowing that the subject is a Tarahumara girl from northern Mexico. Like so many people in her community, she suffered from tuberculosis. Unlike so many of them, she survived. She attracted the artist's attention because she could smile. As Carlson observed, "the spirit was coming back to her. The piece is very hopeful." [2]

A wide range of manuscripts, exhibition catalogs, articles, and essays document the life and work of George Carlson. Clearly, the most informed statements about his work have come from direct interviews or his own writings. In my work as chief curator at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage (now the Autry National Center), I have had many occasions to listen as George talked about his work and art in general. Some of the quotations in this essay come either from telephone conversations or discussions during personal meetings. The most significant of our conversations took place over several days in the fall of 1992, when we drove a truck from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. We were gathering art from private collections, museums, and galleries to include in a major retrospective entitled George Carlson: Dignity in Art at the Autry. Conversations with George grow and develop in ways similar to the process he uses to create a pastel painting or a sculpture. They are built in layers that provide essential shapes and structure while ultimately revealing the subject as a whole.

Indeed, an understanding and appreciation for Carlson's art can grow from listening to him and watching him create a sculpture. With one layer at a time, this complex philosopher, student, teacher, engineer, naturalist, painter, sculptor, husband, and father builds works of great strength. He has produced a remarkable body of work that is associated with the West because his subjects are often residents of the region. [fig. 2, The Greeting] One of the things that distinguishes Carlson from many other western artists, however, is that his art is not about the past. It is also not obvious storytelling art. His subjects are living beings whom he has studied and presented in a way that reflects the essence of their lives.

The armature upon which Carlson himself was formed first took shape in Elmhurst, Illinois. Born on July 3, 1940, the son of a Swedish father working as a mechanic and a mother who was a pianist, Carlson grew up in a busy home where "work was a high ethic" and music, poetry, and literature were valued. [3] As a child he began a lifelong devotion to studying and observing nature; he spent hours in the woods and kept notebooks about birds. Years later he noted that "observation is a big part of art. You have to look very carefully at forms, shapes, and relationships of color harmonies . . . With my interest in the natural order of things, I place great importance on science as the fundamental tool for analyzing reality." [4]

Carlson's ability to draw was encouraged and nurtured by his elementary and high school teachers. Upon graduation, he had a portfolio ready, and in about 1958, even though his father opposed art as a career, he interviewed in Chicago for work in advertising art and illustration. Carlson found employment at Vogue Wright Studios, where he retouched photographs and worked on commercial catalogs and brochures. When the art director, Ralph Thompson, moved to Kranston Studios, where Sears, Roebuck catalogs and other products were produced, Carlson followed. Thompson became a mentor to the young artist; Carlson later recalled that he was a "bottomless well of information about European and American painters." They would go to art shows together, study paintings, and in the evenings work on figure studies at a drawing club. Thompson tended to hide his own talents, but Carlson could fondly recall that he "was the guy that insisted that I draw . . . Those were wonderful days." Ralph Thompson's guidance led him to the conclusion that sculpture was a means to understanding drawing better. "I got to thinking, when you sculpt . . . in a way it's drawing all around that person's head. That's how I sort of got into sculpting, through the back door." [5]

At night, Carlson also made time for studies at the American Academy of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. His habits of carefully studying art in museums, reading voraciously about art and artists, and constantly working to improve his skills as a painter became ingrained. At the American Academy, Carlson concentrated on line drawing and value studies in charcoal. A figure-painting class with William Mosby taught him to focus on "temperatures" of color. At the Art Institute of Chicago he studied abstract composition with Arnold Zweerts, drawing live models and learning to look at basic shapes and to abstract boldly drawn essential lines. His education, experience, diligent study, and sense of discipline combined to help Carlson mature quickly as an artist. He drew every day, establishing a regime he continues today. [6]

Although he thrilled at being paid good money to make art, Carlson quit his job and left Chicago in about 1964. "I just wanted to purge myself of illustration," he later said. "I owe it a lot, but there is something bad about illustration. Sometimes it's hard to jump and really be an artist." He wanted to focus on the essentials of form and composition and to imbue his subjects with life. He left for the West and the carefree life of a ski bum. He hit the slopes of Taos, Vail, and Aspen, supporting himself by washing dishes, and all the while painting and seeking a place to settle down. Two years later, he landed at the University of Arizona, where he studied anthropology and worked with the Apache, Pima, Tohono O'odham, Hopi, Navajo, and other cultures. He wanted to learn how to look at and better understand a culture so that he could better succeed in giving life to his art. [7] [fig. 3, Sioux Girl]

Through the 1960s and early 1970s, Carlson struggled financially, but grew artistically. Taos painter Bettina Steinke (1913-2000) was a positive influence on him as was western painter Robert Lougheed (1910-1982), who provided him with critical commentary about his work. Friendships with sculptor Boris Gilbertson (1907-1982) and watercolorist Donald Teague (1897-1991) also provided him with points of discussion about art and artistic technique. A general immersion in art and Carlson's constant labor resulted in the production of several dozen bronzes portraying native subjects from throughout the West including Sioux, Santa Clara Pueblo, Navajo, Mandan, Hopi, and San Carlos Apache individuals.[8]

One theme that continually appealed to the artist was the eagle, either as a part of nature or as a component of native ceremony and belief. Eagle Spirit Forgive Me (1967), In the Eagle I See the Eye of the Moon (1969), Eagle Catcher (1973), Courtship Flight (1974), and Boy and Eagle II (1989) are among the key works in this series depicting the eagle. [fig. 4, Courtship Flight] These were more ambitious, complex, and carefully developed than many earlier works. Behind each was a narrative based upon the artist's observations of nature or his gathering of oral traditions from the tribes he studied. Carlson gave a great deal of thought to the composition of these pieces and studied the anatomy and motion of the birds in the wild. He was clearly inspired by the eagle's place in native culture and its magnificence in flight. Years after creating Courtship Flight, he could still declare that "as an artist I was compelled by the grace, beauty, and time" when he saw two golden eagles intertwined in midair.[9]

The western art world agreed with him. At the National Cowboy Hall of Fame's National Academy of Western Art show in 1974, he won the gold medal for Eagle Catcher. The next year he won the Prix de West for Courtship Flight. He continued thereafter to win awards at many shows, exhibiting with well-known painters and sculptors in a field dominated by narrative art populated with a familiar cast of characters including cowboys, Indians, and soldiers. His contribution was to present works that did not center on conflicts or battle and that avoided a preoccupation with the past to focus instead upon living inhabitants of the West. "I guess I consider myself more a sculptor of humanity," he said at the time, noting he "wanted to show the Indian's oneness, his harmony with nature." Carlson carefully studied the clothing, history, and details of native life as he saw it and combined this study with perceptive expressions of feeling. In a few short years, he would develop a notable body of work based on this combination of observed detail and emotional depth. [10]

Carlson was working out of a garage converted into a studio when Indianapolis businessman Harrison Eiteljorg met him at his first gallery show in Denver in the 1960s. From that point on, Eiteljorg nurtured the artist's work by purchasing examples of most of his bronzes, lending him money so he could buy a car and land for a studio in Colorado, advancing him funds for works in progress, and even advising him on his private life. Eiteljorg kept a home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where he helped develop the area's ski and tourist industry. This gave him frequent opportunities to spend time with Carlson, and by 1973, the two were discussing the artist's excitement about conducting a detailed study of the Tarahumara people in the Sierra Madre Mountains of northern Mexico. The Tarahumara were largely isolated from tourists and subsisted upon beans, corn, and beef. They lived part of the year in caves and practiced age-old ceremonies heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. Carlson assured his patron that he "was full of fresh ideas." [11]

Carlson stayed with the Tarahumara during several trips in 1973. Eiteljorg wrote excitedly to Rudolf Wunderlich at Kennedy Galleries in New York that Carlson "has made hundreds of oil sketches and drawings and taken numerous photographs and modeled in clay a great number of characters in the area. He is in the process now of producing a series of bronzes of the Tarahumara Indians that should be sensational." Eiteljorg revealed that he was underwriting the endeavor, which would include a book, and planted the idea with Wunderlich of a grand exhibition. [12]

In working with the Tarahumara, Carlson believed that he "was documenting a group of people that I knew were going to change." He went further in 1992 when recalling his objectives and what he had accomplished when he said that "I wanted to go to a group of people who were living in an indigenous way. From the daily to the ceremonial aspects of their lives, I could create expressions of their vitality, of their essence as people. I endeavored to convey feeling, to show where their humanity came through."[13]

Following a trip to Mexico in 1974, Carlson concentrated on completing his Tarahumara series. It would not be until the fall of 1976 that an exhibition would become a reality. The show opened at Kennedy Galleries in New York to strong sales and positive public comment. In the exhibition catalog, Wunderlich likened Carlson's work to that of documentary artists of the nineteenth century such as George Catlin and Karl Bodmer, because Carlson had recorded the Tarahumara as Catlin and Bodmer had recorded tribes along the upper Missouri River a century and a half before. [14]

Working in a style that married realism and abstraction, Carlson created a number of sculptures in the Tarahumara series that would become iconic images within his oeuvre. Of Dancers of Norogachic, which depicts five figures in an Easter dance, Carlson stated that "it is really showing . . . the continuum of the culture and the tribe and traditions. It is also a portrait of rhythm and movement." Day of Guadalupe shows the heads of two men, matachine dancers in a Christmas ceremony, fused as one and representing "the heartbeat of the matachine ceremony." Perhaps the grandest work of all, I'm the Drum, best represents Carlson's work of this period. [fig. 5, I'm the Drum] His own words convey his experience and the intent of the piece: "There was drum music completely enveloping this little valley. I wanted to catch the motion of the drummer with his cape, drum, and the strength of the individual. A complete picture of costume, wind, music, and ennobled power. It was a moment of illumination; a chance to capture the spirit of the moment." [15]

The Kennedy Galleries exhibition represents a milestone in the art world's recognition of Carlson. The Tarahumara series was later featured in numerous exhibitions including those in commercial galleries in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada and public exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in 1982 and the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles in 1988. Exhibitions organized by Eiteljorg appeared at the Indianapolis Museum of Art: a retrospective in 1979 and the Tarahumara series in 1985. [16]

This recognition of Carlson's work generally made the public more aware of his drawing, especially the colorful pastels he did of Tarahumara ceremonies and dances. Carlson noted that he wanted "the viewer to see abstracted shapes, patterns within volume when the light hits. If the shape is right, you don't need to include much detail." He described one painting as "a composition of movement with each streamer becoming an impressionistic painting of broken colors that are harmoniously related to one another." He used pigments from a set of 1,200 different sticks of colored pastel to layer bold applications of color, juxtaposing them with each other in their brightest forms. [fig. 6, Young Pharisees] Carlson enthusiastically described his technique with pastels as being "akin to a musician playing a piece of music. Using thick against thin textures, opposing light against dark, plating colors of the same value adjacent to each other, applying soft, rubbed sections of pastel in apposition to strong, bold strokes is like the musician using all the expressive techniques in his repertoire --l ike legato passages followed by staccato, softness contrasted to more volume, and so on." [17]

The Tarahumara were not the only subject receiving Carlson's attention. In 1975, he sat down for an interview with an Oklahoma City reporter and tried to distinguish himself from other artists associated with the American West. He described himself as a "sculptor of humanity." Further distancing himself from so many artists who have focused on that quintessentially western subject, the horse, he flatly declared that "in fact, I just won't do a horse."[18] In 1978, however, a draft horse show in Elizabeth, Colorado, caught his attention. His fascination quickly grew, and his first exploration of this subject resulted in a pivotal work entitled Of One Heart. [fig. 7, Of One Heart] Rather than being concerned with details such as the harness, he concentrated on "the power, spirit, and aesthetic value" of the work. Here he "could make a statement without doing a Western horse." In 1981, he visited a ranch near Spokane, Washington. "In the process of working at the Ranch, I got pretty excited about doing more work on the draft horse." And he could remain true to other philosophies. "Even when I do horse pieces, it is about people. The metaphor is through the horse. Of One Heart is really about relationships." [19]

A 2002 exhibition and catalog that presented Carlson's collective works on the draft horse confirmed the artist's statement that "my love of the horse has been an ongoing affair and only gets more passionate with time." [fig. 8, Mane of the Wind] He further stated, "I prefer the quiet stance or subtle movement of the horse. It carries with it more of the sense of monumentality." He studied animals with intensity; he examined skeletal and muscular form and observed nuances of movement and behavior. Models and sketches done on location near Spokane, Stockton, and at the Anheuser-Busch stable in St. Louis allowed him to "be in touch with the subject." Even veterinarians appreciated his ability to convey the animals anatomically while giving them personality and character. The artist summed up his approach to the horse in 1991: "I am always taken by the force that is inside the animal pushing out to the surface. It is a controlled power within these powerful animals that I try to convey in the freer handling of the sculptural surfaces, feeling the energy that is within the piece." [20]

In a similar manner, Carlson conveys strength, energy, and spirit in his depiction of people. Entertainer Bill Cosby commissioned a number of portrait busts by Carlson, including one of actor, singer, athlete, and activist Paul Robeson. Carlson viewed most commissions as a means to an end, a part of making a living, and wrote that "my serious art comes first and gives me my greatest satisfactions but portraits have their own rewards." The Robeson portrait is an example of how these commissions could provide creative challenges and rewards. Carlson has stated that "I wanted to show that he was a powerful person, a statesman, a leader. He was a monumental man of great dignity." [21] [fig. 9, Paul Robeson]

Carlson consistently applies his understanding of artists, art history, and philosophy, and above all his ability to see into the essential emotions and spirit of his many subjects, to a wide range of material. He has been known for his sensitive portrayal of American Indians, the Tarahumara, and powerful draft horses. While it may have confounded a few devotees of the art of the West, it came as no surprise to those who truly understood Carlson's fascination with movement and dance that he would turn to ballet as a major subject. In the 1990s he spent several winters at the School of American Ballet, the New York City Ballet, and other dance companies in New York, where, as he told an interviewer, he avidly worked at "interpreting the movement of dance, then trying to transform its essence into sculpture." [fig. 10, On Point] This same interest in transforming the essence of movement into sculpture led to his exploration of flamenco dancing and undoubtedly will lead him to explore other forms of movement. As one scholar has noted, "Carlson is fascinated with the human figure, and particularly the inner spirit. 'The spirit is the river and the subjects are the tributaries,' he says." [22]

The world of western American art embraced George Carlson a long time ago. For years, he has participated in annual western art exhibitions in Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. In 1973 Patricia Janis Broder included Carlson in her historical survey of western sculpture, noting that he "is deeply interested in the character and mystical nature of the American Indian."[23] His work, including a large number of monumental sculptures, can be found in dozens of museums, universities, in other public installations, and corporate offices from New York to California. He has received numerous honorary degrees and awards, is a member of prestigious arts organizations, has had the support of key patrons, is widely published, and today lives comfortably with his wife, Pam, in their Swedish-style home in northern Idaho.

One thing is abundantly clear. George Carlson, with all his many accomplishments, cannot be categorized simply or only as a western artist and he does not want to be.[24] He is an artist of life, and it so happens that many of his subjects have been a part of life in the West. He has quietly stated that "art is a personal journey; for me the process of creating begins at the source, whether that source is in some remote primal valley, or in the middle of the hustle and bustle at Lincoln Center," and adds that "it is getting down to the very being of nature, wherever that may be."[25] His journey has been full of personal challenges and high points, and his artistic life has been one of hard work and devotion. Even as a mature artist, he finds that every work includes challenge. "As an artist, you subject yourself to anxiety, fear, power, joy and hope -- all through this little piece of clay in front of you . . . The dialog begins."[26]

Perhaps the most telling words on what George Carlson has drawn from life are his own. "I have a reverence toward life, whether it's a horse or a dancer. I don't like frivolous things. I like things that give me the essence of life." [27]

Notes

1 George Carlson to Harrison Eiteljorg, 21 March 1986, Harrison Eiteljorg Papers, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art (hereafter cited as Eiteljorg Papers).

2 George Carlson, in James H. Nottage with George Carlson, George Carlson: Dignity in Art (Los Angeles: Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, 1993), 30.

3 George Carlson, interview by Chuck Rand, tape recording, June 11, 2005. A. Keith Brodkin Contemporary Western Artists Project, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City (hereafter cited as Rand oral history). For additional biographical detail, see http://www.georgecarlson.com.

4 Quoted in Nottage and Carlson, Dignity in Art, 2.

5 Quotations are from Rand oral history. Carlson spoke at length to the author about his time in Chicago during a telephone conversation on February 6, 2007.

6 Carlson, telephone conversation with Nottage, February 6, 2007.

7 The quotation is from the Rand oral history. Carlson later illustrated a few select books, creating works of artistic merit to support works of narrative grace. See, for example, Robert Laxalt, Sweet Promised Land (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1986) and Robert Laxalt, A Cup of Tea in Pamplona (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1985).

8 Carlson, telephone conversation with Nottage, February 6, 2007.

9 Carlson wrote to Eiteljorg about his concentration on these pieces on 13 May 1974. Eiteljorg Papers. His quotation about Courtship Flight is from Nottage and Carlson, Dignity in Art, 16.

10 The artist's successes during this period are documented in James Parsons, The Art Fever: Passages Through the Western Art Trade (Taos: Gallery West, 1981), 96­97; Sunday Oklahoman, June 8, 1975; and Nancy Gilson, "Sculptor Breaks Out of 'Western' Mold," Oklahoma Journal, June 9, 1975.

11 Eiteljorg's patronage of Carlson is described in Jeannette Vanausdall, "Harrison Eiteljorg, Museum Founder," in Frontiers and Beyond: Visions and Collections from the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art (Indianapolis: Eiteljorg Museum, 2005), 20. The interaction between the artist and his patron is frequently described in their correspondence. See, for example, Carlson to Eiteljorg, 10 May 1969, 6 January 1971, 6 November 1971, 9 November 1971, 3 May 1973, and 17 August 1973. The quotation is from Carlson to Eiteljorg, 5 November 1973. All letters, Eiteljorg Papers.

12 Eiteljorg to Rudolf Wunderlich, 26 December 1973, Eiteljorg Papers.

13 Rand oral history; quoted in Nottage and Carlson, Dignity in Art, 4.

14 The events are described in the following correspondence: Carlson to Eiteljorg, 21 February 1975 and 18 September 1975; Wunderlich to Eiteljorg, 19 October 1976; Eiteljorg to Wunderlich, 17 March 1977. Eiteljorg Papers. The exhibition was mentioned in the New York Times on November 7 and November 14, 1976. Wunderlich's comment is found in George Carlson Bronzes (New York: Kennedy Galleries, Inc., 1976), 3.

15 Carlson comments on these three works in Nottage and Carlson, Dignity in Art, 26, 24, 32.

16 Some of the exhibitions were accompanied by catalogs. For examples, see George Carlson, The Tarahumara (privately published, 1977) and George Carlson: The Strength of the Spirit (Santa Fe: Gerald Peters Gallery, 1992). The Tarahumara series was also documented on film in Profiles in American Art: George Carlson, filmed by Kenneth Meyer, produced by William G. Kerr, 1980.

17 The Tarahumara pastels were featured in George Carlson: The Spirit of the Tarahumara (Santa Fe: Gerald Peters Gallery, 1985). Carlson's technique is described in David Marshall Smith and N. Jill Warren, A Pastel Renaissance (Santa Fe: Gerald Peters Gallery, 1985) and in a telephone conversation between Carlson and Nottage on February 6, 2007. The quotations are taken from Nottage and Carlson, Dignity in Art, 46, and Kay Mayer, "George Carlson: Unlocking Doors," Southwest Art, August 1985.

18 Gilson, "Sculptor Breaks Out of 'Western' Mold," Oklahoma Journal, June 9, 1975.

19 Marion Garmel, "Essence of American West in George Carlson's Figures," Indianapolis News, December 12, 1979. Also, Carlson to Eiteljorg, received 26 May 1978, Eiteljorg Papers.

20 Quoted in Year of the Horse: George Carlson, Bronzes & Drawings (Billings: Nicholas Fine Art, 2002). The artist's focus on his work with draft horses is documented in Carlson to Eiteljorg, 12 January 1982 and 14 March 1983. Eiteljorg Papers. A photograph of Carlson's sculpture The Percheron appeared on the front cover of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, December 1, 1991, with captioning inside the cover. The last quotation is from Carlson to Eiteljorg, undated, received in April 1991.

21 Carlson wrote about his portrait commissions to Eiteljorg on 24 March 1979. Eiteljorg Papers. For an inventory of commissioned portraits, see http://www.georgecarlson.com. For Carlson's statement about the Robeson bust, see Nottage and Carlson, Dignity in Art, 80.

22 The quotation from Carlson about working with dancers in New York is found in Todd Wilkinson, "George Carlson: Life Inspiring Life," Sculpture Review 53, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 37. For additional detail, see Todd Wilkinson, "Dynamic Elegance: George Carlson's Sculptures of Human and Animal Figures Convey Inherent Beauty and Dignity," Southwest Art, September 2002 and Eiteljorg to Carlson, 29 June 1990, Eiteljorg Papers. The quotation about Carlson's fascination with the human figure is from Donald J. Hagerty, Leading the West: One Hundred Contemporary Painters and Sculptors (Flagstaff: Northland Publishing, 1997), 121.

23 Patricia Janis Broder, Bronzes of the American West (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1973), 299.

24 Nottage and Carlson, Dignity in Art, 3.

25 Quoted in Nottage and Carlson, Dignity in Art, frontispiece.

26 Quoted in Year of the Horse, n.p.

27 Quoted in Barbara Coyner, "Art as Worship," Art of the West, May/June 2001, 43.

 

About the Author

James Nottage has long been involved in the field of Western American history, focusing on the history of the American West with particular emphasis on how the region has been perceived through fine art and popular media. Currently he serves as Chief Curatorial Officer at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis. As of March 28, 2007 the Eiteljorg Museum web site notes that he can be reached at jhnottage [at] eiteljorg.com. (sources: TFAO and Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art)

 

About Western Passages

George Carlson's work is highlighted in the annual Western Passages publication of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum. "Heart of the West: New Painting and Sculpture of the American West" includes essays on George Carlson, collecting Western American art, the Museum's Contemporary Realism Group, artist-explorers and the Western landscape, and full color illustrations. The above essay is one of four essays from Heart of the West: New Painting and Sculpture of the American West and the catalogue for the George Carlson: Heart of the West exhibition being held at the Denver Art Museum December 15, 2007 - April 13, 2008. (source: Denver Art Museum)

 

About the Institute of Western American Art

In September 2007, The Denver Art Museum announced that Denver resident Tom Petrie would endow the Museum's Institute of Western American Art. Additionally, he agreed to a long-term loan of pieces from his comprehensive collection of works by Western artist Charles M. Russell for display at the Museum. In recognition both of this gift and Mr. Petrie's long-time commitment to Western art and the Denver Art Museum, the Museum announced a new name for the Museum's Western art initiative: "The Petrie Institute of Western American Art."

The gift will be used to fund art display and conservation, Institute staffing, special exhibitions, and educational efforts including the annual Western Passages publication and an annual symposium. An impressive lineup of upcoming exhibitions that will be supported by the gift includes George Carlson: Heart of the West (December 15, 2007-April 13, 2008), In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein (November 15, 2008-February 15, 2009), Charles Deas: Telling Tales to 1840s America (June 6, 2009-August 30, 2009) and The Russell Retrospective (November 2009-January 2010).

"As the Denver Art Museum is at the geographic center of the Rocky Mountain West, our goal is to create one of the most internationally respected centers of Western American art," said Peter Hassrick, director of the Institute. "In conjunction with other recent gifts and initiatives by ardent supporters including the Dietler, Harmsen and Wallace families, this generous gift from Mr. Petrie provides us with very exciting momentum towards achieving this goal."

"As an avid collector of Western art and a resident of Denver, my intention is that this gift will help continue to elevate the importance of Western art within the Colorado community and at the Denver Art Museum," said Tom Petrie. "With the progress that's been made in the last decade in terms of strengthening the collection, building an excellent curatorial team and increasing the priority on Western American art, I feel that the Denver Art Museum is well positioned to develop this program into one of the finest in the world."

The Institute was founded in 2001 following the very successful Painters and the American West exhibition, drawn from the esteemed Anschutz collection, and a major donation of more than 700 objects from the collection assembled by Bill and Dorothy Harmsen. Since then, Peter H. Hassrick, a leading scholar and curator in the field of Western American art and past director of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, was hired as director of the Institute. Former director and curator Joan Carpenter Troccoli has been appointed senior scholar and has focused on writing and curatorial duties associated with exhibitions and publications. Hassrick, Troccoli and associate curator Ann Daley also worked to prominently display many of the major works from the collection in the Dietler Galleries of Western American Art in the new Frederic C. Hamilton Building, which opened in October of 2006.

A member of the Denver Art Museum Board of Directors since 1998 as well as the Museum's Western Advisory Committee, Tom Petrie is a Vice Chairman of Merrill Lynch and has a long career in energy investment banking. Mr. Petrie is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, holds an MSBA from Boston University and received an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. (source: Denver Art Museum)

 

Resource Library editor's note

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Nicole A Parks, Curatorial Assistant, Petrie Institute of Western American Art, Denver Art Museum, for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.

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