Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art

(above: Entrance to Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art. Photo © 2005, John Hazeltine)


Boulder, CO




The Collection and Story of the Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art


The Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art houses one of the nation's largest privately owned collections of Western art. Over 200 paintings and 80 bronzes depict the various themes of the genre: Indians, cowboys, desert and mountain landscapes, wildlife, scenes of pioneers and trappers, Indian guides, everyday ranch life and Western history. Ed Trumble, founder of Leanin' Tree, Inc., has sustained a close relationship over many years as friend and publisher with all the Western artists represented in the collection. (right: Buck McCain (1943-), Invocation, monumental bronze. This sculpture is located at the entrance to the parking area of the museum)

In the course of traveling the West in search of the best art work to reproduce on Leanin' Tree greeting cards, Ed Trumble gradually acquired this magnificent private collection, which constitutes a unique cultural contribution to the Boulder community. The museum is open to the public free of charge.


Images from left to right (click on thumbnail images to enlarge them): Gordon Snidow, CAA (1936-), Ramrod, gouache and scrylic; Bill Hughes (1932-1993), Canyon Passage, oil; Kenneth Riley, CAA, NAWA, (1919-) Wings of the Spirit, oil; Joe Beeler, CAA (1946-), Bedding for a Bride, oil


Ed had no intention of establishing a museum in those early days, but was buying art from his artist friends for his own enjoyment. Ed supplied the only exposure for many of these early Western artists by publishing their work and selling it nationwide at a time when there was little market and no galleries for this contemporary Western American art. The museum originated as a small part of a new manufacturing facility for Leanin' Tree cards built in 1974. Visitors to Boulder, stopping at Leanin' Tree to "see where the cards are made" discover this magnificent display of original art, many pieces of which have never been reproduced on greeting cards in the Leanin' Tree line. Today, the museum occupies 12,000 square feet on two floors.


Images from left to right (click on thumbnail images to enlarge them): John Hampton, CAA (1918-), The Long Trail, oil; Fred Fellows, CAA (1934-), No Easy Way Out, bronze; Melvin C. Warren, CAA (1920-1995), Four of a Kind, oil; Olaf Wieghorst (1899-1988), Range Chuck, oil


Western Art is a unique genre of American art, springing directly from the American historical tradition. It is similar to jazz in that it has derived from American popular expression, and is not recognized by mainstream scholars. Western Art is a derivative of the early Hudson River School, a landscape style of the early 1800s. Originally, American art, during the formative years of the United States, was portraiture -- the portraits of George Washington and other American statesmen .

When President Jefferson purchased the western acreage -- millions of acres, called the Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, our government believed it to be our Manifest Destiny to occupy and develop our territories in the New World. Few white men had been on any of the lands to the west of the Mississippi since the Spaniards had explored the territory three hundred years earlier. Information about the western territory was sparse; there were no reliable maps of mountains, rivers or deserts and no knowledge of routes to the West coast.

Early explorers, led by Lewis and Clark, were trained in the sciences to report the new findings they discovered on their travels. When explorers returned with information about the beauty and the expansiveness of the western territory, the interest of Americans was aroused. Artists began to go west to record the findings of the expeditions for a visual record of the new American territory.

When the artists returned from these explorations of several years duration, they had to resurrect their careers. Some of the small panels on which they recorded the great American West are still in the National Archive in Washington. The artists used those sketches to produce beautiful mountain landscapes, scenes of Indian villages, enormous herds of buffalo and endless plains of grass. The result of the public showings of their art was something that President Jefferson could never have predicted. The paintings were so impressive that Americans began to change their views of the untamed vastness to the west. The move to settle the West began.


Images from left to right (click on thumbnail images to enlarge them): Ernest Smith, (1934-), Oregon Pioneers, oil; Victor Clyde Forsythe (1885-1962), Agathan Needle, oil; William Sharer, NAWA (1934-), Shoshone, oil


Thus began a new direction in American art; landscape painting. The Hudson River School lasted for most of the 1800s and encompassed some of the best-known of our early American painters -- Alfred Jacob Miller, Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, George Catlin and Thomas Moran.

American art left the Hudson River School behind when it moved on into Impressionism in the late 1880s. From there it moved into modern art, echoing the artistic styles of Paris. Because of the continued romance of the artist and the American people with our magnificent Western culture, many artists never stopped painting the West. They continued to paint in a representational style the wondrous landscape, the intriguing wildlife, Native American culture and hardworking cowboy heroes. American art became more modern, more abstract, and then progressively exploratory and expressive while Western Art continued on in the same realistic style.

The Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art contains over 90 award-winning artists, men and women, Native Americans, and many members of the Cowboy Artists of America and the National Academy of Western Art. Over the years, since the Leanin' Tree company was founded in 1949 many of the works of art have been reproduced on greeting cards or other merchandise. At the present time, only about a dozen of the paintings are available on cards or prints. These can be found in the gift shop.

Text and images courtesy of The Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art.

Editor's note: The above article was published in Resource Library June 1, 1999. On June 9, 2005, a new photo of the musuem entrance was added and a broken link regarding George Catlin was replaced with a link to a Resource Library article. The musuem is located at 6055 Longbow Drive, Boulder, CO 80301. For hours please see the museum's web site.

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

rev. 10/18/10

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