Come Ride East With Us

When visitors enter the museum, usually they are immediately greeted by a portrait of Sid Richardson, which was painted by the American artist Peter Hurd. But starting today, a different gentleman will be welcoming our guests; Henry Lloyd Herbert to be exact. Mr. Herbert served as Chairman of the Polo Association from 1890 to 1921 and helped found the Meadow Brook Club on Long Island, New York.

Frederic Remington | A Hunting Man (In Full Pursuit: H.L. Herbert Taking A Wall) | 1890 | Oil on canvas | Private Collection

Frederic Remington painted a portrait of Mr. Herbert as part of a four-part article that the artist illustrated for Harper’s Monthly published in 1891 called “Some American Riders,” written by military officer and historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge. The author explores various types of horse riders: American Indians, US cavalry, cowboys, gentlemen riders, and more. Remington’s illustrations carefully distinguished the regional characteristics of these riders and their horses.  Both Remington and Dodge take pride in the different forms of American riders, reminding readers that “we have no cause to be ashamed of what we have in horses, nor of what we can do in the saddle.”

Frederic S. Remington, An Indian Trapper, 1889, Oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection

(Another example of “Some American Riders” that Remington painted for the article can be found nearby at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.)

Why is a foxhunter now greeting our visitors? Well, because we’re asking our visitors to come ride East with us. The Sid Richardson Museum has partnered with the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York to bring our visitors a new exhibit opening September 14, Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East. In this unprecedented exchange of artworks, SRM visitors familiar with Remington’s iconic Western paintings will have an opportunity to discover another side of the artist, one rooted in the Eastern region of the US.

Frederic Remington | River Drivers in the Spring Break Up | ca. 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Frederic Remington’s art has so profoundly shaped our perceptions of the Old West that we only vaguely, if at all, recall that he was an Easterner born and bred. He grew up in Canton and Ogdensburg, New York—the North Country, the forested region stretching from the Adirondack Mountains across the St. Lawrence River into Canada.

In the first decade of the 20th century, Remington was in a period of his life and art when he became enamored of painting landscapes in a newer style, and it’s the verdant lands of his home country that visitors will experience during this exhibit. Join us as this Fall as we explore a different frontier in Remington’s art.

Frederic Remington | Boathouse at Ingleneuk | ca. 1903 – 1907 | Oil on academy board | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

When Camping Goes Awry

It’s summer time, which for some also means vacation time. For those who are looking to escape to the great outdoors, camping is a fun way to enjoy “ma nature.” Charles Russell enjoyed being outdoors and went on several camping trips, including a few with friend and pioneer dude rancher, Howard Eaton. After one such trip, Charlie’s wife Nancy recounted to a friend, “This trip has been a trip of memories. Chas. just loved it all and had such a good time every day then around the camp fires at night they always had the big talk.” Russell gifted to Eaton his painting, Man’s Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed, in gratitude for such a memorable excursion along the Grand Canyon in October 1916.

Charles Russell, Man’s Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed, 1916, Oil on canvas, 30 inches x 48 1/8 inches

This painting is a great example of Russell’s sense of humor. Here, the two hunters return to a campsite left in an absolute mess. One of our SRM docents was a Scoutmaster for Boy Scouts of America for several years, and he interprets this artwork as a scene of what NOT to do when camping, including:

  1. Never leave food out in your campsite. You have to store food in safe, strong, closeable containers, and if you’re in a bear area, it has to be suspended waaaaayyy out of reach.  Never, ever eat in your tent.  Not following these rules invites critters, big & small, into your campsite (or tent) – ants, raccoons, skunks, bears, etc.
  2. Always clean up right after eating; wash all used pots, pans, & utensils. You’re going to need them clean next time, anyway, and if you don’t clean up food, well… see #1.
  3. Cutting tools (axes, knives, saws, etc.) must be sheathed when not in use. Leaving them lying around a campsite invites severe injury, especially at night.  Since the hunters in the painting would have been leaving their campsite in the moonlight, the unsheathed axe would have been very hazardous.  It’s also interesting that Russell painted the axe head in such a way that its gleaming sharp edge looks unusually bright & shiny, as if to say, “Look at me, look at me!!”
  4. Cutting tools should never be left in a precarious, dangerous position. The axe, in addition to being unsheathed, is placed in a way that if someone were stumbling around in the night, and stepped or fell on the handle, the axe could have been catapulted up and caused serious injury.
  5. Axes should only be used in a well designated area, usually a 15′ to 20′ diameter circle, away from the campsite, which has been cleared of debris and is well marked by a rope or rock ring. This would be more explicitly marked in a Scout camp than in a hunter’s campsite, but anyone using an axe should always make sure that there is no one & nothing within axe-swinging range that could be hurt or damaged accidentally should anything slip or fly off.
  6. Be careful about where you put your sleeping bag or bedroll – or tent. Stay away from low areas or gullies, as they can fill with rainwater. Don’t sleep under or next to anything that can fall (e.g., tree limbs) or next to a cliff-type structure where water or rocks can fall from above.  And never, EVER, sleep near anything that looks like an animal den.  In the painting, the bedroll was placed under a very snaky looking overhang.  To most people, it looks like it could be a safe place, out of the rain, but that also makes it a desirable place for animals, especially snakes.

I suspect other experienced campers could cite other helpful guidelines found in this painting that have not been listed. Let us know in the comments what you notice!

Finding Remington’s Signature

Scholars consider Frederic Remington to be one of the most copied American artists. While compiling a catalogue raisonné[1] of Remington’s paintings, the review committee examined nearly 500 two-dimensional works. Of those submissions, only 22% were deemed original. The rest were copies, fakes, and forgeries.

What’s the difference between a fake, forgery, or copy? A fake is a painting that does not relate to any known Remington work but is given a fraudulent Remington signature and is of a subject that might have interested him. A forgery occurs when someone takes an artist’s work, paints out his or her signature, and signs the forged signature of another artist. A copy is a reproduction of a known Remington painting but painted by someone else, with a false Remington signature.

The issue of fakes and forgeries is something that is dealt with frequently in the art world. The current system for authenticating works relies on a three-tier approach of connoisseurship (an expert verifying that the work reflects the artist’s style and technique), provenance (the history of an artwork’s ownership) and scientific analysis done by conservators like Claire Barry, Director of Conservation at the Kimbell Art Museum.

The Way Post | attributed to Frederic Remington | ca. 1881 | Watercolor and gouache on paper

In preparation for the Sid Richardson Museum’s focus exhibit, Frederic Remington: Altered States, Ms. Barry examined The Way Post, a watercolor & gouache painting currently attributed to Remington. However, scholars as well as the museum staff, question the painting’s authorship. The work is dated circa 1881, just at the beginning period of the artist’s career at a time when Remington made his first trip West to Montana. Conservators like Barry acknowledge that it is difficult to authenticate very early works or very late works of artists.

One of the many tools conservators employ in their lab is infrared reflectography, which allows one to examine any underdrawings. Unfortunately, Ms. Barry did not discover much underdrawings in The Way Post. Instead, one can get a better sense of the underdrawings with the naked eye, as the graphite is visible through the watercolor.

Infrared reflectogram mosaic, Attributed to Frederic Remington, The Way Post, c.1881, Sid Richardson Museum

The Way Post, detail

As mentioned in a previous blog post, the similarities between The Way Post and the work of one of Remington’s contemporaries, William de la Montagne Cary, is striking. Like Remington, Cary was also a Western illustrator around the same time period (1840-1922). Compare The Way Post with Cary’s The Strong Cup from the Gilcrease Museum’s collection, which is similar in subject, media and size.

William de la Montagne (1840-1922), A Strong Cup, Collection of the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Other clues about the painting’s authorship are best found within the composition and painting technique itself. Note the presence of a child in the background, the inclusion of which is unusual for a Remington painting. Yet the use of a raking shadow throughout the painting, particularly under the fence, is a signature of Remington’s work. Likewise, one will note the difference in texture between the foreground washes and the opaquely painted sky – another signature of Remington’s style.

Detail of Remington’s signature, The Way Post

The painting is monogramed with Remington’s initials, F.R. While Remington did use his initials on other early works, the style of the letters in this painting is a little different. Unfortunately, Remington was not consistent with his signatures, using different colors, different styles, and even different angles. See if you can spot which signature below appears on a fake Remington painting:

If you guessed “d.”, you’re correct!

While recent studies have provided a closer look at The Way Post, attribution still remains unclear. What are the next steps? Claire Barry suggests an examination of the areas with white gouache under ultraviolet light and analyze the samples this paint with XRF and polarizing light microscopy, which are tools that would help determine if the paint used in the gouache is titanium white. Why is that important? Titanium white was not invented and produced until the 20th century after Remington’s death. Despite the continued mystery of authorship, whoever the artist of this painting may be, what’s clear is that the work exhibits an underlying quality that one can enjoy regardless.

[1] A catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive, annotated listing of all known artworks by an artist in a particular medium.

Auasini: The Place That Feeds You

Charles M. Russell, When Blackfeet and Sioux Meet, 1908, Oil on canvas, 20 1/2 x 29 7/8 inches

In our ongoing efforts to learn more about the various American Indian cultures represented in our collection – like the Blackfeet depicted in many of Charlie Russell’s paintings – The Sid recently hosted a training for our docent volunteers led by Dr. Michael Wise, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Texas, where he specializes in the history of the American West.

Dr. Wise has studied many aspects of the food histories and cultural environments of the American West, including the 2016 publication Producing Predators: Wolves, Work, and Conquest in the Northern Rockies, a book about the history of wolf eradication and the cattle industry. In addition, he is the editor of the recently completed volume, The Routledge History of American Foodways, a twenty-five-chapter compendium on the environmental and cultural histories of food in the United States. Dr. Wise is currently working on a historical account of food and colonialism in Native North America spanning the last five centuries. More specific to our collection is his chapter, “The Place that Feeds You: Allotment and the Struggle for Blackfeet Food Sovereignty,” in the 2017 book titled Food Across Borders. During our training, Dr. Wise talked with us about the Blackfeet and their evolving relationship with food.

The Blackfoot Confederacy is the collective name for the four bands that make up the Blackfeet (or Blackfoot) people. Three of the four bands live in Canada, but our discussion centered primarily on the Southern Piegan/Blackfeet (or Amskapi Pikuni) who reside in Montana. Historically, the Blackfeet are frequently represented as “hunters” in Euro-American art and literature. However, they subsisted on more than just bison, trading a substantial amount of meat for corn, squash, and other agricultural products with the neighboring Mandan, Crow, and other indigenous people. Likewise, the Blackfeet followed their own form of horticultural practices, though these practices may not resemble our traditional ideas of agricultural systems.

Blackfoot Season Round from Dr. Michael Wise

Prior to life on reservations, the Blackfeet based their foodways on a seasonal round, with families traveling 1-2,000 miles annually to as many as 15 campsites across an approximately 10,000 square-mile area. Despite moving to various locations throughout the year, the term nomad is not wholly accurate in describing the Blackfeet, as they never wandered, but instead knew to where they were traveling, often returning to the same place. (The Blackfoot word for “home” is auasini, which translates to “the place that feeds you.”) At some of these locations, the Blackfeet would remove non-edible plants to allow for the growth of selective wild vegetables in that area. Likewise, they practiced seasonal burning of plains grasses to better direct bison near buffalo jumps, or pishkun (a practice in which the hunters would drive a herd of bison over a cliff).

Alfred Jacob Miller, Hunting Buffalo, 1858-60, The Walters Art Museum, 37.1940.190

The Blackfeet didn’t just survive off the land; they thrived! They developed specifics tastes, knowing which season produced the bison meat they preferred, for example. And with that bison, they created ingenious ways to use every part of the animal. The Blackfeet also discovered how to make food that was long lasting and calorically dense. A food product like pemmican – made from bison flesh, Saskatoon berries, and tallow – was a necessity for their intense, calorie-burning travelling lifestyle.

By the 1870s, most of the Blackfeet had moved onto a reservation, the boundaries from which they were not allowed leave in order to hunt. Instead, the federal government allocated herds of cattle turning the Blackfeet Reservation into a ranch that would feed into the national industrial meat system. A slaughterhouse was erected and employed Blackfeet men, paying them not in cash but ration tickets. Prior to reservation life, it was traditionally the role of the Blackfeet women to slaughter and butcher the bison. On The Blackfeet Reservation, the women transformed from butchers into bakers, whose products helped feed the reservation agents.

Eventually, tribal ranchers adapted traditional cooperative livestock raising practices with the creation of the Piegan Farming and Livestock Affiliation (PFLA) in order to fend off the ongoing redistribution of land since the implementation of the Dawes Act, which had divided tribal land into allotments for individual Blackfeet. PFLA recast the individualizing imperatives of allotment with communal farming, which allowed the Blackfeet to regain a bit of control over their foodways once again.

Bronze Or Bust

If you took an art class in school or just for fun, you’ve probably had the opportunity to make some kind of sculpture, whether with clay, plaster, play-doh, or other materials. But how many of us have experienced casting a sculpture out of bronze?

Bronze is the most popular metal for casting sculptures, and was a material with which both Charlie Russell and Frederic Remington cast their many bronze pieces, including those currently on display in our galleries. How does one cast a bronze sculpture?

Photo credit: OKFoundryCompany

When casting metal, there are a lot of challenges you must overcome. First of all, you’re working at very high temperatures. Bronze melts at around 950 °C (1,742 °F). You must choose a material to make your mold that can handle the heat. Some common mold making materials include sand, plaster, or silicone. Also, metal shrinks as it cools. If your object is too thick, it is going to cool unevenly, and you could have cracks.

Photo credit: Nic McPhee

When Remington first began working in bronze, he worked with the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Co., a foundry that used the sand casting method. At the time, Henry-Bonnard was likely the finest sand casting foundry in the US during the late 19th century. The establishment of the company coincided with an influx in production of public monuments during that period to memorialize the early leaders of the nation. Because sand casting results in a denser metal, it was the preferred method for casting outdoor monuments that didn’t involve complicated surface details.

George Washington statue in the Boston Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Sculptor: Thomas Ball.

When Remington switched to the little known foundry Roman Bronze Works in 1900, he began working with the lost wax casting method. (Fun Fact: SRM artist Charles Schreyvogel also cast his sculptures at Roman Bronze Works.) Lost wax casting is as versatile as sand casting is limited. The possibilities seem almost endless by comparison. Remington took advantage of the lost wax process in such works as Dragoons 1850. Remington was a stickler for detail and perfect, writing Riccardo Bertelli, founder of Roman Bronze Works, that he, “better not put Dragoons in fire until I see it again…Those big groups have got to be just so…”[1] A bronze of such complexity required Remington to oversee its production to guarantee quality of the casting.

Frederic Remington | Dragoons 1850 | 1917 | Bronze | Private Collection

Likewise, the lost wax method allowed more diversity in detailing with works like The Cheyenne. In addition, the lost wax method enabled Remington to make significant changes to the sculpture. After the first eight castings of The Cheyenne, the artist lowered the warrior’s shield, adding feathers to it, as well as adorning the warrior with earrings. Remington also turned the Cheyenne’s face slightly to the left. This bronze was Remington’s first model to be cast in one piece.

Frederic Remington | The Cheyenne | ca. 1904 | Bronze | Private Collection

There are many steps to the lost wax casting method. The basic steps of lost wax casting are to take your original sculpture and first make a mold of this, which will be cast in wax with a solid core. A second mold will be made around the wax. The wax will be melted out, hence lost, and then molten metal will be poured in. For a more in-depth outline of the entire process, check out this silent animated video produced by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2LTsD8IE_s

 

 

[1] Undated letter, Owen D. Young Collection, St. Lawrence University

Millie Ringgold and “Coal Oil Johnny”

In 1907, Charlie Russell paid tribute to Montana resident, Millie Ringgold, in his painting “Utica.” A musical person, Millie often played songs while drumming her empty five-gallon coal oil can, which can be scene prominently in Russell’s painting. In honor of Black History Month, join us as we follow the story of a freed slave, her favorite song, and the first great cautionary tale of the oil age. The following article was researched and written by SRM docent, S. Mark Clardy.

Millie Ringgold

Millie Ringgold was born a slave in Maryland in about 1845.  After the Emancipation Proclamation, she went to Washington, D.C., at age 20 to work as a nurse and servant, and then went west with an army general.  When he was transferred back east, she stayed in Montana, bought a pair of condemned army mules and a wagon, loaded up with supplies and a barrel of whiskey at Fort Benton, and then headed for a boom town called Yogo with $1,600.  She established a hotel, restaurant and saloon and began working her two mining claims.  Like most gold mine claims, it didn’t turn out very well.

She was known as being very musical, using whatever she had – mouthharp, hand saw, wash­board, dish­pans.  The miners bragged that she could make more music with an empty five–gallon can, than most people could playing a piano.[1]  Her favorite songs were “Coming Thro’ the Rye” and “Coal Oil[2] Johnny on a Bum Bum Solree,”[3] undoubtedly accompanied by vigorous drumming on her 5-gallon can.

That’s where the story starts getting interesting musically.  I suspect the story would also interest Sid Richardson, Amon Carter, and the other oil tycoons of the 20th century.

In 1868, shortly after the Civil War, an Irish actor named John Brougham wrote a play, published in San Francisco, called “The Lottery of Life.”  (The phrase apparently meant that to be born British was to “win the lottery of life,” i.e., to be born at the top of the international heap.)  One of the characters in the play was a man who struck it rich with an oil well and became a profligate spender.  Most likely, this was the character in the play who had won “the lottery of life.”  His name was “Coal Oil Tommy,” and he sang a song of the same name:[4]

“Coal Oil Tommy”  by John Brougham

I’ve come from Pennsylvania, some city life to see,

And you may bet your boots, I’ll have the biggest kind of spree.

With my pockets stuffed with greenbacks and a skin full of old rye,

Amongst the oyster cellar swells a jolly boy am I.

 

Chorus:   And Coal Oil Tommy is my name, Coal Oil Tommy is my name,

               Good for any game tonight my boys,   Good for any game tonight my boys,

               Coal Oil Tommy is my name, Coal Oil Tommy is my name,

               Good for any game tonight my boys,   Hi!  Ten strike set ‘em up again.

 

Upon the road I drive the very spiciest of drags

Behind a pair of thoroughbred four thousand dollar nags

That didn’t allow me never to take no one else’s dust.

I’ll sell them both for oat meal if they weren’t always first.

 

In the doings of the fancy, I’m up to everything,

And I’d go a thousand miles to see the heroes of the ring.

If you want to bet your money, you’ll find I’ve been to school,

And for any sum you like I’ll go my pile on Mike McCool.

“The Lottery of Life” was first shown on June 8, 1868, at Wallack’s Theater in New York.[5]  One of the actors was named B. T. Ringgold[6].  Could the newly freed Millie have seen or heard of the play be­fore moving to Washington?  It’s unknown whether B. T. Ringgold played the role of Coal Oil Tommy, but supposing he did, could a recently freed slave, possibly in need of a surname, have “bor­rowed” the last name of the actor portraying a character whose lifestyle she could only dream about?

It appears that Millie’s lyrics got a bit jumbled phonetically.  The phrase “bum bum solree” (“soiree”?) could be a corruption of the line “biggest kind of spree.”  After all, when lyrics are forgotten or misunderstood, people usually make something up to fit the tune.

There was also a popular tendency to change the song name from “Tommy” to “Johnny” because the public immediately identified the “Coal Oil Tommy” character in the song and play with a real life person who had been making East coast headlines for a year or two, and not in a good way.  In fact, the two stories are so similar that the real “Coal Oil Johnny” probably inspired Brougham’s play, earning it the designation of a “contemporaneous play,” i.e., reflecting contemporary events.  This modern fable, complete with a “moral of the story,” began to unfold after the end of the Civil War.

John Washington Steele

Being born in 1843, John Steele was a contemporary of Millie Ringgold. He was adopted from a poor­house by a farmer and his wife at Oil Creek, Venango co., Pennsylvania, the site of the country’s first oil boom.  But the farmer died, leaving elderly “Widow McClintock” with their adopted son.  In 1864, she burned to death in a wood stove conflagration, when a splash of coal oil went awry.  So at age 21, Johnny (by now with a wife and two children) inherited the farm, and its couple of pro­du­cing oil wells.  He had never made more than $40 per month, but immediately began raking in $3000 a day as a coal oil ty­coon.  Unfortunately, he got tangled up with a gold-digger companion who con­vinced him to spend wildly.  Within three years, he lost his entire fortune when the wells stopped producing.  A proverbial prodigal Johnny returned to his family, and ended up as a teamster making $50 a month.

His sprees between 1864 and 1867 were the stuff of legend, and filled many newspaper columns, e­ven after his death in 1921.  The public appears to have quickly fused John Brougham’s 1868 character “Coal Oil Tommy” and the legendary “Coal Oil Johnny” that they read about in the newspapers.  By 1881, the fabled name of “Coal Oil Johnny” had become the common term to mean anyone who inherited or rapidly acquired vast wealth, spent it foolishly, and ended up penniless.  In 1884, there were two race horses, one named “Coal Oil Tommy” and the other named “Coal Oil Johnny.”[7]  After that, it appears that “Coal Oil Johnny” reigned supreme as the preferred term for a profligate spender.[8]

Sadly, Millie Ringgold’s life followed the path of “Coal Oil Johnny” on a smaller scale.  She went broke in her various endeavors, thinking that her gold claims would eventually make it big.  Instead of gold, she kept finding little blue rocks which were tossed back into the mining stream.  Many years later, these blue rocks became known the best sapphires in the world.  Millie was finally reduced to subsisting on frozen rutabagas until the Sheriff got her some jobs working for local families.  He intended to take her to a poor house, but independent minded Millie fought that.

She died December 2, 1906.  The following year, Charlie Russell painted “A Quiet Day in Utica.”  As a tribute to Millie, he placed her standing once again on the boardwalk in front of Lehman’s General Store, along with other recognized locals.  They’re all watching a bucking horse, spooked by a dog darting across the dusty street.  Both horse and dog are terrified by the clanging and drumming of cans tied to the dog’s tail, prominent among them, Millie’s empty five-gallon coal oil can.

Charles M. Russell | Utica (A Quiet day in Utica) | 1907 | Oil on canvas | 24 1/8 inches x 36 1/8 inches

[1] Moser,  Cathy.  “Yogo City or Bust”  Big Sky Journal.  Spring-Summer 2009.

[2] “Coal oil” was the term used for kerosene, which lit the night in the days before Edison.

[3] “Millie Ringgold’s Fascinating Story” 31 December 2009.  See web link in References.

[4] Brougham, John (lyrics), and Alfred Lee (music).  “Coal Oil Tommy.”  No date; play performed in NY in 1868.

[5] “Amusements:  Dramatic, Wallack’s Theatre”  New York Times, June 9, 1868.

[6] “Amusements this Evening:  Wallack’s Theatre”  New York Times, July 20, 1868.

[7] Chester, Walter T.  Complete Trotting and Pacing Record of 1884, p 844, col 3.

[8] Numerous New York Times articles 1881 to 1896.

Ma Nature

A few months ago, the museum hosted a lecture by Byron Price, Director of Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma. During the program, Price discussed Charles Russell’s depictions of wild animals, which comprise roughly a quarter of the artist’s total production of paintings, drawings and sculpture! Even when animals are not the principal focus of a particular work, their presence is often palpable in the skins, horns, bones and effigies the artist added to many scenes in the interest of authenticity and allegory. Byron Price’s presentation explored Russell’s animal art as a reflection of the artist’s world view, the ideas and values he embraced and the times in which he lived.

Charles M. Russell | Deer in Forest (White Tailed Deer) | 1917 | Oil on canvasboard | 14 inches x 9 7/8 inches

Charles M. Russell, Indians Hunting Buffalo (Wild Men’s Meat; Buffalo Hunt), 1894, Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches

Charles M. Russell | Buffalo Hunt | 1901 | Oil on canvas | 24 1/8 inches x 36 1/8 inches

Charles M. Russell | Guardian of the Herd (Nature’s Cattle; Buffalo Herd; Before the White Man Came) | 1899 | Watercolor, pencil & gouache on paper | 20 5/8 inches x 29 1/8 inches

Russell was always an admirer of Mother Nature. As a child, he developed a love & respect for many animals, and in particular, the American bison. Gather up all of Russell’s artworks, and you’ll find that over 250 of them have “buffalo” in the title. And the artist produced at least 75 paintings of bison hunts.

Growing up, Russell copied hunting scenes he found in books and magazines. One of his earliest influences includes the early American artist George Catlin. Catlin was one of the first American artists to travel West to document and paint the people, plants, and animals he encountered. This collection of work comprised what became known as Catlin’s Indian Gallery, which he exhibited throughout the U.S. and in Europe. (And you might remember Catlin’s work from our 2014-2015 exhibit Take Two: George Catlin Revisits the West.)

“Buffalo Chase––Bulls Protecting the Calves,” George Catlin (1796-1872), (Cartoon No. 153) Oil on card mounted on paperboard, 18 1/2 x 25 1/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Collection

Another artist who made an early impact on Russell was German artist Carl Wimar. Wimar was known for his representations of Plains Indians and their buffalo hunts. Having settled in St. Louis, where he spent much of his career, Wimar’s work would have been visible to Russell in many public buildings around the city. (Russell was born and raised in St. Louis.)

Charles Ferdinand Wimar (American, b. Germany, 1828–1862), The Buffalo Hunt, 1860. Oil on canvas, 35 7/8 x 60 1/8″. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. Gift of Dr. William Van Zandt, 1886.

Throughout his life, Russell enjoyed the company of hunters. When he first traveled to Montana as a teenager to fulfill his dreams of becoming a cowboy, Russell left his first job working on a sheep ranch to travel around the Judith Basin with mountain man Jake Hoover. Hoover was a skilled hunter and trapper and helped Russell get settled into life on the frontier.

Despite spending time with hunters, Russell himself never hunted. He always viewed hunting as a means to provide food. He did not approve of hunting for sport. His views of hunting are reflected in his titles of such scenes in which he refers to the wild game as “meat.” Examples include:

Fresh Meat, (c. 1880)

His Winter’s Meat, (c. 1890)

Wild Meat For Wild Men, (1890)

Charles M. Russell | Wild Man’s Meat (Redman’s Meat) | 1899 | Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper | 21 inches x 30 inches

Bringing Home The Meat, (c. 1910)

Christmas Meat, (1915)

When Meat Was Plenty, (1915)

When Tracks Spell Meat, (1916)

Fighting Meat, (1919)

Meat’s Not Meat til Its in the Pan, (1915)

Likewise, one can use the artist’s titles as evidence of the evolution of Russell’s views on the activity once known as “wolfing.” In the late 19th century, due to attacks on livestock, a campaign against the great gray wolf was made and overtime the occupation of hunting, trapping, and poisoning these wolves became known as “wolfing.” Young cowboys like Charlie Russell would partake in these activities during the off season, as many states provided a bounty for the capture and killing of gray wolves. Russell later lamented his participation in poisoning wolves one season early in his cowboy career, an activity he said he regretted the rest of his life. One can witness the transformation of Russell’s views of “wolfing” from an activity of fun and sport with titles of early paintings like Cowboy Sport – Roping a Wolf (1890) to an understanding of the fatal effects of these pursuits in later titles like At Rope’s End (1909) or Death Loop (1912).

Charles M. Russell | Cowboy Sport – Roping a Wolf | 1890 | Oil on canvas | 20 inches x 35 3/4 inches

One thing remained true throughout Russell’s life – a belief in the superiority of what he called “Ma Nature.”

Charles Russell, Man’s Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed, 1916, Oil on canvas, 30 inches x 48 1/8 inches

The Sid Winter Count

Historically, some indigenous communities shared their history through oral tradition. But sometimes, they used other tools to help them remember their long and complex histories. Among Northern Plains Indians, one of those tools was a winter count, which helped keep track of the passage of years. In this case, the year was not measured from January through December, but rather from first snowfall to the following year’s snowfall. Different groups from the Northern Plains region sometimes referred to this entire year as a winter.

At the end of the year, elders in the various communities would meet to discuss the things that happened since the first snowfall. Among those events they chose one particular incident to serve as a historical reminder for the whole year. The year would then be forever named after that chosen event. It was then the responsibility of one person in that community, known as the keeper, to design a symbol, or pictograph, onto a buffalo hide, which included the pictographs of each year, like a calendar. That hide was known as the winter count. The winter count served as a mnemonic device to help the storyteller tell their communities history to others.

Lone Dog Winter Count, National Museum of the American Indian, Cultural Resource Center, Catalog 21.8701

Here at the Sid, we’ve had several major events that have occurred over the past year, making it difficult to select just one to represent 2017.

The Sid, along with many partners around the city of Fort Worth, celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail with our exhibit Hide & Horn on the Chisholm Trail. Starting down in South Texas and moving north all the way up to the railheads of Kansas, the Chisholm Trail helped facilitate the greatest migration of livestock in world history. Predating the arrival of the train and discovery of oil, the Chisholm Trail era was an indispensable, early chapter in Fort Worth’s history. Being a waypoint along the trail spurred the city’s early growth and helped define its Western heritage, which even today differentiates Fort Worth from any other city.

Kansas Pacific Railway Company | The Best and Shortest Cattle Trail from Texas | 1873 | Map | The Rees-Jones Collection

Hide & Horn on the Chisholm Trail was part of our Guests of Honor focus exhibition series, which assemble a small selection from the permanent collection with loaned works from other collections. We had the opportunity to put Remington in the spotlight with another 2017 Guest of Honor exhibit, Frederic Remington: Altered States. This small focus exhibit features artworks with alterations made either by the artist, or by others, and explores the ways in which scholarship and scientific conservation methods have contributed to the discovery of those alterations.

It was not uncommon for Remington to alter his work, finding ways to improve upon his compositions. However, others took advantage of the marketability of Remington’s work, resulting in some fraudulent practices. For example, the exhibit features a black & white oil by Remington that was later painted over in color, likely to increase the work’s market value. Through scholarship and a quick visit to a conservation lab, a section of the color painting was then removed to reveal the original painting underneath, which serves now as a demonstration of how original works of art can be compromised by those with fraudulent intentions.

Frederic Remington | He Rushed The Pony Right to the Barricade | c. 1900 | Oil on canvas, b & w | 27 1/8 inches x 40 1/8 inches

Beyond exhibits, the staff here at The Sid have experienced some major events, including a field trip with our docent volunteers down to Orange, Texas to visit the Stark Museum of Art, where we toured a fabulous exhibit about the imagery found in fine art and film that branded the visual representation of the American West.

Sid Richardson Museum staff & docents at the Stark Museum of Art.

Another big staff event this year includes the welcoming of our new Director of School & Family Programs, Shelby Orr. Starting in August, Shelby quickly settled into her new role, adapting her talents as a former elementary art school teacher as she welcomed to The Sid students from schools all over FWISD. We’re looking forward to all of the great educational programs Shelby has planned for our children, teen, and family visitors.

Shelby Orr, Director of School & Family Programs, demonstrating how to create a landscape painting to a group of 3rd grade students.

Finally, a major achievement for the museum and foundation is the certification as a Blue Zones Project approved worksite. What began as a New York Times bestseller by National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner has evolved into a global movement that’s inspiring people to live longer, more active lives with lower rates of chronic disease. Fort Worth is the first city in Texas to implement the Blue Zones Project. In order to qualify as a blue Zones approved worksite, we had to meet a long list of criteria, including creating an employee garden, which has provided not only some beautiful greenery to the office, but also some fresh herbs to add to our daily lunches.

The Sid Herb Garden

 

As you can see, a lot can happen in one year. If you could only pick one personal event to serve as a historical reminder for the whole year, what you would choose to add to your winter count?

The Tangled Tales of Barbed Wire

Three of the often cited reasons for the closing of the frontier of the American West typically include the telegraph, the transcontinental railroad, and barbed wire.

Display of different types of barbed wire. Cattle Raisers Museum. Fort Worth, TX.

So you may be surprised to learn that large scale manufacturing of barbed wire began first in the Mid-West in central Illinois (1874-75) before expanding to the American West.

The invention of barbs also made its way into other preventative products, such as calf weaners, cattle yokes & pokes, and even into poison bottle designs.

Joel Horn Breachy Cattle Yoke

1890 Ad Hoosier Automatic Calf Weaner

Barbed wire was invented mostly for cattle, but was also a means to deter other animals and humans from crossing over or through the fencing. It was certainly effective. However, accounts of the harmful effects of barbed wire on livestock resulted in an outcry from not only agriculturalists and stockmen but the public at large, including local chapters of the early formation of the Humane Society. Stories spreading the cruel and inhumane nature of barbed wire fences circulated in the press. Some such stories included rather graphic accounts of cows & their calves or horses & their colts running into barbed fences.

Safety Barb Wire Advertisement Circa 1895

Cochliomyia hominivorax or screwworm fly

As production of barbed wire grew, so too did its opponents, who called for legislative action. States like Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Texas proposed bills to restrict or outlaw use of barbed wire. Court hearings recorded testimony of those for and against. Some farmers and their advocates claimed barbed fencing was “one of the greatest inventions of the age.” Many opponents of these anti-barbed wire bills argued that barbed wire fencing saved more animals than it hurt and would do “nothing more than scratch any stock.” However, there was growing evidence to the contrary in the Great Plains. In Texas, harmless scratches developed into nesting grounds for the screwworm fly, which embedded its eggs into the animal’s flesh, eating its tissue and sometimes resulting in death. The parasitic fly was native to the tropical Americas and appeared in the southwest US in the 1840s, eventually growing into an epidemic problem in the 20th century. Large herd loss was also a result of a combination of barbed wire fencing with severe storms & blizzards of the 1880s, as cattle trampled those trapped in the fencing during a drift or stampede.

In addition to court hearing accounts and other published stories, evidence of the rise in injuries as a result of animal and human contact with barbed wire fencing is seen in the upsurge of medicines designed specifically for barbed wire injuries, such as Silver Pine Healing Oil.

“Silver Pine Healing Oil, International Stock Food Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota,” DPLA Omeka, accessed November 10, 2017, https://dp.la/exhibitions/items/show/811815.

Despite these concerns, there was a drastic increase in the amount of barbed wire made, with 120 million pounds sold in 1881 and an estimated 250,000 miles of barbed wire fences across the country within the same year. Today there are over 115,000 miles of old, unused barbed wire fencing that kills over 92,500 animals annually due to collisions. Unfortunately, it is expensive and time consuming to track all of this fencing. However, technologies such as geographic information system (GIS) are helping. Just as researchers in Canada are using GIS to track black bears & wolves to determine where they intersect with roads, efforts to map all the old barbed wire fencing in the American West are being pursued. The good news is that in addition to regulations making new barbed wire fencing less harmful, where they are cutting down outdated and idle barbed fencing is helping to reduce the percentage of animal deaths.

Of course, there’s much more to the fascinating story of barbed wire. I recommend checking out the newly published book from Texas A&M Press, The Perfect Fence: Untangling the Meanings of Barbed Wire by Lyn Ellen Bennett and Scott Abbott.

Viva el vaquero!

From September 15 – October 15, as a nation we observe and celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. This time is an opportunity to recognize and honor the histories, cultures, and contributions of fellow Americans whose families and ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central & South America.

By Doerr & Jacobson — Photographer – Original source: Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. / United States. / States / Texas. / Stereoscopic views of San Antonio, Texas. (Approx. 72,000 stereoscopic views : 10 x 18 cm. or smaller.) digital record. This image is available from the New York Public Library’s Digital Library under the digital ID G92F039_034F: digitalgallery.nypl.org → digitalcollections.nypl.org Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10083425

In the American West, Hispanic culture, particularly the tradition of the vaquero, helped establish the foundation for much of cowboy life as we know it today. Working alongside the vaqueros, Anglo cowboys learned and adopted their tools and techniques. Adoption of the vaquero practices was so widespread, especially in the Lone Star state, that many of the terms used have become practically “Texan.”

Here’s just a handful of the Spanish words commonly used in Texas:

Armadillo (literally, “the little armed one”)

Bronco (means “wild” or “rough” or “rude”)

Burrito (literally “little donkey”)

Chaps (from Mexican Spanish chaparreras)

Hammock (from jamaca, Caribbean Spanish word)

Lariat (from la reata, braided rawhide rope)

Lasso (from lazo)

Mustang (from mesteñas, – a wild horse)

Patio (In Spanish, an inner garden or courtyard.)

Remuda (regionalism for a relay of horses)

Rodeo (roundup / show of skills – verb to encircle)

Sombrero (sombra, “shade,” – any kind of hat)

Wrangler (caballerano, one who grooms horses)

Frederic Remington | The Cow Puncher | 1901 | Oil (black & white) on canvas | 28 7/8 inches x 19 inches

Frederic Remington was well aware of the vaquero and its influence on the Anglo cowboys. He once chided his friend and Western writer Owen Wister for having claimed Anglo-Saxon origin of the cowboy in Wister’s article “The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher,” which appeared in Harper’s Monthly in 1895. In fact, Wister traced the genealogy of the Western cowboy to that of the knights of medieval Europe. In a letter to Wister, Remington corrected his friend, noting that the traditions of the cowboy were of Latin origin and evolved from the vaqueros of Mexico and Texas.

Not only did Remington witness the cowboy in action during his journeys out West, but the artist also traveled to Mexico in 1889 and later in 1893. He spent weeks sketching and photographing vaqueros and their horses, providing the artist with an array of firsthand material for his work.

Vaquero de Fort Worth | 2012 |Thomas Bustos and David Newton | Bronze | North Main Street and Central Avenue Plaza | Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Public Art

Fort Worth celebrates its own ties to the vaquero tradition, and in 2012 the city commemorated a part of its Hispanic history with the installation of Vaquero de Fort Worth. The artists David Newton and Tomas Bustos were sensitive to the importance of this piece and paid careful attention to the historical accuracy of each detail of the vaquero. Now a part of the city-wide public art collection, this bronze sculpture overlooks the historic Northside, which is home to the Fort Worth Stockyards district, an area that developed due the success of the cattle business.

Vaquero de Fort Worth, detail