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An Artist with the Corps of Discovery: One Hundred Paintings Illustrating the Journals of Lewis and Clark

June 6 - August 30, 2009


Charles Fritz has always loved history. One look at this summer's exhibition of his Lewis and Clark paintings at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and viewers will say, "We can tell."

This popular western artist brings his exhibition An Artist with the Corps of Discovery: One Hundred Paintings Illustrating the Journals of Lewis and Clark to the historical center for a three-month stay. It opens to the public on June 6, 2009, and will remain on view through August 30, 2009. (right: Charles Fritz painting at Traveler's Rest just west of Lolo, Montana, one of the camping sites of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. Photo courtesy Charles Fritz.)

Ten years ago, Fritz received a commission to paint a scene from the Journals of Lewis and Clark. In the process, he discovered the Corps of Discovery had no artist traveling with them who could document the sites and experiences of the journey. An idea began to gel that would find Fritz traveling the entire route of the expedition twice, his palette in one hand, the Lewis and Clark journal entries in the other.

In the end, he created scores of paintings, sketches, and studies depicting the Lewis and Clark adventure, a hundred of which will be included in the One Hundred Paintings exhibition.

Born in 1955, Fritz grew up in Mason City, Iowa, and studied history and education at Iowa State University in Ames. Soon his interest in art became his focus, and he decided to forego a teaching career. He moved to Montana in 1980 and became enamored of the history of the Great Plains and the West. Today, he lives in Billings, Montana, with his wife and two sons and paints historical subjects in "vast, luminous landscapes."

Fritz's work is familiar to western art aficionados as it's included in numerous museum exhibitions and collections across the country, including the Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale each fall in Cody. He's listed in Who's Who in the American West and Who's Who in America, and his work has been featured in many magazines and journals.

During the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial celebration 2003 - 2006, the collection, which then numbered 70 paintings, traveled to seven museums across the country. The Buffalo Bill Historical Center is pleased to be the first venue to exhibit the finished collection.


Also see:

"Charles Fritz: a present-day artist on the trail of Lewis and Clark," by Christine C. Brindza

"On the heels of Lewis and Clark: Charles Fritz follows the inspiring visions of western artist-explorers," by Christine C. Brindza

"Collection connections with the Corps of Discovery," by Christine C. Brindza


(above: Charles Fritz (b. 1955). The Corps of Discovery in the Great Shute of the Columbia, 2006. Oil on canvas, 36 x 60 inches. Collection of Timothy Peterson.)


(above: Charles Fritz (b. 1955). Home from the Pacific-Triumphant Return to St. Louis, 2008. Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches. Collection of Timothy Peterson.)


Wall panels for the exhibition

The Journey Begins
The journey of the Corps of Discovery began in spring 1804 when the Expedition ascended the Missouri River from St. Louis. The men, in clean regulation uniforms, stocked their boats full of supplies. They eagerly anticipated the new sights and experiences of the uncharted West.
Artist Charles Fritz began to illustrate the journals of the Corps of Discovery in 1998. He visited the same places as Lewis and Clark and conducted extensive research to paint them as historically accurate as possible.
We Proceeded On
The Corps of Discovery grew weary as the Expedition continued. They traveled hundreds of miles with hundreds more to go. Their uniforms were dirty and torn and were often replaced with animal hides. They traded goods and services with the local Indians when their supplies ran low. The men realized the trip was taking much longer than originally thought. Determined, they proceeded on.
For ten years, Charles Fritz immersed himself in the Expedition through his paintings. He, too, faced challenges along the way, such as dealing with harsh temperatures in winter and summer, but he persevered through it all.
The Return
The Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived back in St. Louis in September 1806. They did not find a trade route through the North American continent as they had hoped, but they did reach the Pacific Ocean. Many at home feared the men were lost forever and gladly celebrated the Corps of Discovery's triumphant return.
In 2008, Fritz added the final touches to his Lewis and Clark series. After much hard work and dedication, he successfully completed his own journey with the Corps of Discovery.


Family guide for the exhibition

Charles Fritz: An Artist's Vision
Charles Fritz was born in 1955 and grew up in Mason City, Iowa. He studied both history and education in college. He left teaching to pursue his art, a passion of his for thirty years. In 1980, he moved to Montana where he developed an interest in the history of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain West.
The writings of Lewis and Clark and their famous journey to the Pacific Ocean in search of the Northwest Passage inspired Fritz. They saw wondrous things, but no artist accompanied the Expedition. With this exhibit, Charles Fritz seeks to give the journey an artist's vision.
"In order to ensure accuracy in the paintings, I traveled the entire route of the Expedition twice, locating and visiting the sites of noteworthy events in the Journals and painting field studies there."
- Charles Fritz
The Lewis and Clark Expedition: Quest for the Northwest Passage
President Thomas Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis and his friend William Clark to lead a small group, the Corps of Discovery, to explore and document the uncharted West.
On May 14, 1804, three boats and forty men started their journey on the Missouri River. The Corps of Discovery traveled thousands of miles and discovered lands, rivers, and peoples that few had ever seen before. The challenging trip took much longer than expected, and many thought the group was lost forever. After more than two years, the Corps of Discovery returned to St. Louis on September 23, 1806.
Activity: The Corps of Discovery traveled numerous waterways on various types of boats. How many different kinds of boats can you find? Can you find a pirogue? A keelboat? A canoe? Hint: Look at the titles of the paintings for help.
Experience the Expedition
The Corps of Discovery traded with the Mandan people for corn and vegetables. In this scene, the Mandans are trading for blacksmith services to repair guns and sharpen knives. What do you think the people are saying in this painting?
Activity: The Corps of Discovery's journey took more than two years to complete. Lewis and Clark traveled in all seasons. Find a painting of a winter scene. What do you see that helps you know it is winter? Is there snow? Now, find a painting of a summer scene. What helps you know it is summer? Did the artist use different colors?
On Your Own
Lewis and Clark kept detailed journals of the Expedition. Write your own journal entry of your trip this summer and then draw an illustration to go with it.
The Buffalo Bill Historical Center gratefully acknowledges Timothy Peterson for his support of the exhibition, and for sharing his collection of artwork by Charles Fritz and Michael Haynes.


(above: Charles Fritz (b. 1955). The Captains Lewis and Clark-Trusted Leaders, Loyal Friends, 2007. Oil on canvas, 44 x 50 inches. Collection of Timothy Peterson.)

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