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

June 6 - August 30, 2009


Collection connections with the Corps of Discovery

by Christine C. Brindza


In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson chose Meriwether Lewis and his friend, William Clark, to lead the Corps of Discovery to explore the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis and Clark's overall mission was to find and map the most direct and practical route to the Pacific Ocean. They simultaneously acted as navigators, scientists, and diplomats. Not only were Lewis and Clark supposed to survey the land, but also collect various flora and fauna, take extensive notes about the environment, and build relationships with other cultures they encountered along the way.

At any given moment, they had to be prepared for unexpected or dangerous situations. Wildlife, hostile native peoples, and treacherous territory could have ended it all. Luckily, after well over two years, the Corps of Discovery had reached the Pacific and returned to St. Louis. Without the help of Indian woman and interpreter Sacagawea, guides, and other people who helped the expedition, it would not have succeeded.

Artists continue to be fascinated by the Corps of Discovery. In fact, there are numerous representations of Captains Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea (Sacajawea), and the events of the historic crossing of the great North American continent. The Whitney Gallery of Western Art collection contains various works of art, both historical and contemporary, commemorating the Corps


Related images

Image: Harry Jackson sculpture, 5.80
Harry Jackson's monumental sculpture of Sacagawea is on display in the Cashman Greever Garden at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Sacagawea, the Indian woman who traveled with the Corps of Discovery, served as an interpreter. She was also the mother of young Jean Baptiste, who journeyed the entire route with her to the Pacific Ocean.
©Harry Jackson Trust 2006. All rights reserved. Harry Jackson (b. 1924). Sacagawea, 1980. Painted bronze, 9.5 feet. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard J. Cashman. 5.80
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Image: Greeves' Sacajawea
An outdoor sculpture at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, this bronze represents the Indian woman, Sacajawea. Her name is often spelled in different ways according to the tribe to which she is believed to belong. In the Hidatsa language, her name means "Bird Woman."
R.V. Greeves (b. 1935). Bird Woman (Sacajawea), 2001. Bronze, cast number 5 of edition of 10, 72 inches. Gift of Carlene M. Lebous and C. Harris Haston and of Keith and Bobbi Richardson. 10.05
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Image: Henry Lion sculpture, 27.64
This sculpture commemorates the Corps of Discovery's exploration of the territory acquired by the United States government through the Louisiana Purchase. The most famous figures from this expedition are conveyed in bronze: Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea.
Henry Lion (1900 - 1966). Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea, ca. 1963. Bronze, 35.25 inches. Gift of Charles S. Jones. 27.64
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Image: Thomas Mickell Burnham, 21.78
Artists of the nineteenth century often romanticized scenery of the West. Thomas Burnham depicted Lewis and Clark in a lush, idyllic landscape that portrays the West as a type of Garden of Eden.
Thomas Mickell Burnham (1818 - 1866). The Lewis and Clark Expedition, ca. 1850. Oil on canvas, 36.125 x 48.5 inches. Museum purchase. 21.78

About the author

Christine Brindza is the Assistant Curator of the Whitney Gallery of Western Art.


Resource Library editor's note:

The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on July 10, 2009, with permission of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. The permission was granted to TFAO on July 10, 2009. "Collection connections with the Corps of Discovery," by Christine C. Brindza, appeared in Points West, member magazine of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, summer 2009 issue

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to for Lee Haines and Nancy McClure of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center for their help concerning permission for reprinting the above text.

For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists

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