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Allen True's West

February 4 - May 15, 2011


Allen True's West opened February 4, 2011, at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, featuring the work of western artist, muralist, and illustrator Allen Tupper True (1881-1955).  The exhibition includes illustrations, paintings, and studies for murals that depict life in the American West during the early 20th century.  "True is regarded as one of Colorado's premier native-born artists, and his art is as complex as it is enduring.  He strived to 'see and feel the beauties of Colorado' translating that into his creations," said exhibition curator Peter Hassrick, Director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum.  "His decades as an artist spanned illustrating and painting, and his reflections on the American West punctuate our everyday lives." (right: Allen Tupper True (1881-1955), Santa Fe, c. 1915, Oil on Canvas, 16 x 20 inches. Victoria Tupper Kirby Collection)

True was trained at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC.  His ability as an artist and illustrator gained him admittance to Howard Pyle's exclusive school of illustration in Wilmington, DE, and under Pyle's guidance True learned to "live his art."  He developed original painted illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Weekly, and Outing Magazine, some of which are included in the exhibition. True also formed a lifetime friendship with fellow student, N.C. Wyeth, with whom he shared a studio and creative ideas.  True worked as an illustrator until 1915, after which time he devoted himself to easel paintings and murals.  His paintings, which received praise from Los Angeles to Cincinnati, depict landscape and themes from western frontier life.  As a muralist, True completed many public and private commissions, including murals in the Colorado and Missouri state capitols, Colorado National Bank, and the Denver Civic Center.  His work, according to a critic of the day, expressed a "freedom and happy abandon rarely seen in American art."  Mural studies and photographs are part of the exhibition.  The mural studies offer an intimate preview of public images that are grandiose and awe-inspiring.   Through the studies, it is possible to see True's thought processes, challenges, and creativity.  The exhibition also provides a comparison between the way in which an artist approaches easel painting and mural projects, particularly in texture, color, and surface.

Allen True's West was organized by the Denver Art Museum and is traveling to eight museums in the western region.  It will be on view at the National Cowboy Museum until May 15, 2011. A companion video about Allen True is being shown continuously in a study area adjacent to the exhibition.


Companion exhibition

As a prelude to Allen True's West, the National Cowboy Museum presents To Picture the Words:  Illustrators of the American West.  The exhibition includes twenty-four rare and out-of-print illustrated books published between 1893 and 1984, and sixteen paintings and drawings created as illustrations for those and other publications.  Drawn from the Dickinson Research Center collection and the Museum's fine art collection, To Picture the Words features the work of eighteen authors and thirteen artists whose words and images helped shape and reinforce our vision of the West.  Much of the work dates from the first three decades of the twentieth century, during what has been considered the "Golden Age of Illustration," and many of the artists were contemporaries of Allen True. An unusual image, Frederic Remington's ink wash drawing, The Wild East, is displayed next to the 1893 Harper's Weekly magazine, for which it appeared as the cover illustration.


- Anne Morand, Curator of Art at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, contributed text for this article.


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