Shannon Vittoria is an Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014
This Sunday, April 13, is the final day to see The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925 at the Met. After the show closes in New York, it will travel to its second venue, opening at the Denver Art Museum on Sunday, May 11. Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountain region, Denver is an opportune setting for an exhibition of western bronzes. The Denver Art Museum is also home to the Petrie Institute of Western American Art, founded in 2001 and dedicated to promoting the significance of the West in American art and culture. Denver thus provides a new geographic and intellectual context for The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925.
Posted: Monday, March 31, 2014
On April 22, 1930, Bryant Baker's seventeen-foot bronze statue Pioneer Woman was unveiled in Ponca City, Oklahoma, before a crowd of forty thousand spectators. At the dedication ceremony, patron Ernest W. Marland—oil man, philanthropist, and the tenth governor of Oklahoma—described the commission: "We have erected monuments to our war heroes, to the hearty pioneers who wrested from the wilderness, from the plains and from the desert this nation of ours, but have we preserved the memory of the women…who married their men and set out with them on their conquest of the west, faced with them the months of arduous toil and terrible dangers?…With this monument I hope to preserve for the children of our children the story of our mothers' fight and toil and courage."
Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014
In 1905, Charles M. Russell—America's "Cowboy Artist"—cast his first bronze sculpture depicting the Plains Indian buffalo hunt. It was a theme he began painting as early as 1890, and one that he would return to throughout his career, producing more than fifty buffalo hunt paintings and sculptures by the time of his death in 1926.
Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Led by Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, the First United States Volunteer Calvary, better known as the Rough Riders, was a rag-tag group of cowboys, ranchers, American Indians, and college athletes recruited to fight in the Spanish-American War. Participating in the Battle of Las Guásimas, the Battle of San Juan Hill, and the Siege of Santiago, the troop helped bring the war to a victorious close, returning home from Cuba on August 14, 1898. In honor of Roosevelt's leadership and service, the Rough Riders presented him with a cast of Frederic Remington's The Broncho Buster (currently on display in The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925). Upon receiving the statuette, Roosevelt said to his to men, "To have such a gift come from this peculiarly American regiment touches me more than I can say. This is something I shall hand down to my children, and I shall value it more than I do the weapons I carried through the campaign."
Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014
When viewing Solon Hannibal Borglum's Lassoing Wild Horses in the exhibition The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925, visitors have the opportunity to walk around the sculpture and examine it from multiple angles. As you approach the work in the gallery, you see two riders and their horses in profile (the view featured in the still photograph above), as they work together to capture and tame a group of wild horses—the gritty, day-to-day work of the American cowboy. Yet the narrative drama and technical complexity of this sculpture unfolds as you move around it. Walking counterclockwise, you find yourself in the path of the charging horses, looking directly into their protruding eyes. You can see the concentration and determination on the face of the upper rider, and as you continue around the sculpture, you discover that his horse is suspended in midair, with all four legs off the ground as he gallops forward. Also visible from this angle is the coiled rope at the rider's side, which he holds in anticipation of lassoing in his catch. As you come full circle and stand behind the horses, you can observe Borglum's attention to animal musculature, and experience the strain of the lower rider, who clutches the back of his saddle to maintain his mount.
Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
In 1897, artist Solon Hannibal Borglum moved to Paris to study sculpture at the Académie Julian. Born in Utah Territory in 1868, Borglum had worked as a rancher in Nebraska before pursuing a career in art in the early 1890s. While abroad, he cultivated his identity as a "cowboy artist," capitalizing on the widespread popularity of the American West in France.
Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014
James Earle Fraser's End of the Trail is one of the most iconic works featured in The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925. First modeled in 1894, the sculpture is based on Fraser's experiences growing up in Dakota Territory; as he wrote in his memoirs, "as a boy, I remembered an old Dakota trapper saying, 'The Indians will someday be pushed into the Pacific Ocean.'" The artist later said that, "the idea occurred to me of making an Indian which represented his race reaching the end of the trail, at the edge of the Pacific." In 1915, Fraser displayed a monumental plaster version of the work at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, earning popular acclaim and a gold medal.
Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Designed by architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, New York's Central Park was built between 1858 and 1873. Encompassing 843 acres of meadows, gardens, lakes, bridges, and walking paths, Central Park is the most popular city park in America, receiving approximately forty million visitors each year. Stretching from 59th Street to 110th Street, the park is an urban oasis, providing New Yorkers and tourists alike with a picturesque escape from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. It also offers unexpected encounters with the American West.
Posted: Wednesday, February 5, 2014
The self-proclaimed "Sculptor in Buckskin," Alexander Phimister Proctor (1860–1950) was born in Ontario, Canada, and raised in Denver, Colorado. At the age of twenty-five, he moved to New York to study at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League, and he later trained in Paris at both the Académie Julien and the Académie Colarossi. Proctor is best known for his sculptures of American Indians, cowboys, and wildlife carried out in a sophisticated, French Beaux-Arts style. Inspired by his experiences as an avid hunter and outdoorsman, he often approached animal subjects from a scientific perspective, undertaking dissections and studying specimens at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014
In a 1967 interview, director Anthony Mann described the Western as "legend—and legend makes the very best cinema…It releases you from inhibitions, rules…you can ride the plains; you can capture the windswept skies; you can release your audiences and take them out to places which they never would have dreamt of." This sense of freedom and adventure, often combined with a deep appreciation for the natural landscape, characterizes many great American Westerns, from the early silent era "oaters" of D.W. Griffith to the psychologically complex portrayals of the Westerner by American icons such as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. At the same time, many Westerns combine the magic of myth with the pretense of having captured the gritty authenticity of historical reality.