People I Know: Augustus Thomas

*The following is part of a new series of blog posts researched and written by Dr. Mark Thistlethwaite, Kay and Velma Kimbell Chair of Art History TCU School of Art, and guest curator of SRM’s special exhibit Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East.

Willard L. Metcalf | Hudson River | 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

When you visit the special exhibition Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East be sure to check out the photographs, letters, and drawings displayed in the vitrines in the center of the gallery. One particularly intriguing object to see is a portrait of the renowned American landscape painter Willard L. Metcalf, which inhabits a page from Frederic Remington’s People I Know, an album of caricatures drawn by the artist and his friends. To counter the sullen visage that he had been given, Metcalf wrote good-naturedly: “This is what they do to an unsuspecting visitor—Take warning!!” If you look closely at the page, you’ll notice that the caricature is signed by Gus Thomas (who contributed several other sketches to this album). Who was he?

Augustus “Gus” Thomas | “People I Know”, Augustus “Gus” Thomas’s illustration of Willard Metcalf, with Metcalf’s Inscription (1895) | ca. 1895 – 1909 | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Augustus “Gus” Thomas | “People I Know”, Augustus “Gus” Thomas’s illustration of Willard Metcalf, with Metcalf’s Inscription (1895) | ca. 1895 – 1909 | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Augustus (Gus) Thomas (1857-1934) was Remington’s very good friend and neighbor in New Rochelle, New York. He was also one of the leading American playwrights of the day. Born in St. Louis, Thomas secured a position as a “page boy” for the 41st United States Congress (1870-71), where his talent for caricature caught the attention of his Congressional sponsor, who encouraged him to render images of members of the House of Representatives. Later, after returning to his hometown, Thomas turned his skills to editorial cartooning for local newspapers. However, a longstanding interest in the theater convinced him to begin writing plays in 1884. His career would flourish and he would write more than sixty plays.

Augustus Thomas (1957-1934) | New York: Bain News Service | 1913 | Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D. C.

The play that secured his reputation (and wealth) was Arizona, which was a theatrical blockbuster when it opened on Broadway in 1900. The impetus for the play was Frederic Remington—who had enthusiastically encouraged Thomas, then experiencing “writer’s block,” to head west in 1897 to rejuvenate himself. Remington obtained for “Tommy” (as he called him) a letter from the U.S. Army’s Western major-general directing all commandants to provide him with information and assistance. August Thomas declared his trek to Arizona to be a turning point in his career.

Arizona poster | Ray Brown, illustrator | Chicago: Winterburn Show Printing Co. | 1899 | Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D. C.

Arizona poster | New York: U.S. Lithograph Co. | C. 1907 | Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D. C.

Remington may have further assisted in the play’s success. In two articles describing Arizona’s 1899 premiere at Hamlin’s Grand Opera House in Chicago, the New York Times stated that Remington, “an undisputed authority on both soldiers and cowboys,” had participated in the stage production’s scenery and costumes. Arizona went on to captivate audiences on Broadway and throughout the country (in 1913, a film version was released), while reinvigorating dramas about the frontier. Remington himself became involved in the theater when a dramatization of his novel John Ermine of the Yellowstone opened in New York in 1903. Unfortunately, his play failed to duplicate the success of Thomas’s Arizona.

While Remington’s prompting helped to further Thomas’s career, the playwright, in turn, affected the artist’s work. It was Gus Thomas who first alerted Remington, by telephone,  of the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor in 1898. After commanding Thomas to “ring off,” Remington immediately contacted his New York publishers; his cover illustration of recruits—“A First Lesson in the Art of War”—appeared more than three weeks before the United States officially declared war with Spain.

Thomas is also credited with piquing Remington’s interest in trying his hand at sculpture, when he told the artist: “Frederic, you’re not an illustrator so much as you’re a sculptor. You don’t see your figures on one side of them. Your mind goes all around them.” Later, Gus Thomas recognized Remington’s attraction to landscape painting. He remarked that in his Sunday morning and weekday evening “tramps” with the artist that he discerned how the tints of nature increasingly appealed to Remington’s evolving aesthetic sensibility. The playwright supported Remington’s new direction in painting outdoors; in his October 31, 1908 diary entry, Remington recorded: “Gus says my landscapes are as good as anyone paints. Says I will be a great landscapist. One will always believe nice things of himself.” The impressionistic landscapes featured in Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East confirm Gus Thomas’s assessment of his close friend’s work.

Frederic Remington | Pete’s Shanty | 1908 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Augustus Thomas was one of the few people able to attend the artist’s funeral services (many could not because of blizzard conditions) and he was one of twelve subscribers who funded the presentation of Frederic Remington’s painting On the Southern Plains to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1911, which hangs prominently in the museum today.

Frederic Remington sketch of Augustus Thomas | c. 1896 | Reproduced in Augustus Thomas, The Print of My Remembrance, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922, opp. 326 [Public Domain]

For an enjoyable, anecdotal account of this playwright’s friendship with the artist, see Augustus Thomas, “Recollections of Frederic Remington,” Century Illustrated Magazine 86, no. 2 (July, 1913): 354-61.

Gus Thomas sketch of Maurice Barrymore (“My wife forbids me to sign this—”), c. 1895
He was the patriarch of Barrymore acting family, and had acted in plays written by Thomas.

Rowing Up a Muscle and Fighting Mosquitoes

Frederic Remington | Small Oaks | 1887 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Frederic Remington enjoyed spending his summers outdoors, preferably camping. In his painting Small Oaks, he records his campsite from the summer of 1887, on Small Oaks Island in the St. Lawrence’s Chippewa Bay. In a letter to his friend Lt. Powhatan Clarke, Remington clearly expresses his fondness for the outdoors, writing: “a friend of mine owns the Island and has a small cottage but we ‘are in camp’—camp is the only thing in summer—if I had money enough I would live in a bark camp the year round . . .”

Google map pinpointing Chippewa Bay in New York.

Remington wasn’t the only one who enjoyed camping in the summer. One of the little-known turning points in the history of American travel occurred in the spring of 1869, when a Boston preacher named William H.H. Murray published one of the first guidebooks to a wilderness area – the Adirondack Mountains of Remington’s North Country. Murray made the then-outrageous assertion that taking trips into the great outdoors could be a virtuous way to spend one’s leisure time. With the country’s rapid rise in industrialization, life in the city was beginning to take its toll on its citizens. The wilderness was the antidote for restoring one’s mind, body and spirit. Many of Murray’s suggestions of hiking, canoeing, and fishing were among Remington’s favorite pastimes.

Frederic Remington paddling his canoe, 1902. Photograph likely by Edwin Wildman, August 1902. Ingleneuk Album. FRAM 71.831.5

Following the camping trail further, I was curious to learn more about the history of this outdoor pursuit at the turn of the century. The tent featured in Remington’s campsite resembles a wall tent, a common style of tent used in the early 20th century. Today, wall tents and the similar bell tent have become used in recent years for “glamping” – a style of camping that is more luxurious than rugged.  A quick Google search of bell tents today will result in a slew of advertisements for the ultimate glamping or music festival tent.

‘Trail craft; an aid in getting the greatest good out of vacation trips’ by Claude Powell Fordyce (1922)

Google search result for “bell tent”

Camping today is vastly different than it was when Remington took off to Small Oaks. Tents were made of heavy canvas and outdoor clothing was heavy, bulky, and hard to dry. Today, thin, synthetic fibers simplify packing and keep campers more comfortable.

Not having access to insect repellant back then, Remington spent his evenings fighting mosquitoes. However, all in all, he reported having a good time camping, and this 1887 experience on Small Oaks may have planted the seed that led to his 1900 purchase of his own Chippewa Bay island, Ingleneuk – a place where Remington could nourish his inner being.

“I am in Chippewa Bay 10 miles below Alexandria Bay. Seven miles wide here and blows like hell every minute. Got a dandy lumbered island – 6 acres – good house – kitchen outside – boat house – two docks and a hospital tent. Its cool here all the while and I work summers. It was a good scheme since no one can live in New R – in the summer and work. It is cheaper than travel and anyhow summer is no time to spend on cars…” FR to Julian Ralph, Summer 1900

Old boathouse and dock at Ingleneuk, Ingleneuk Album, FRAM 71.831.1

 

Top Ten Facts About The North Country

Our upcoming exhibit, Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, explores a different side – an Eastern side – of this iconic Western artist. Although Remington traveled throughout the American West on assignment for many of the popular magazines for which he worked, most of his compositions were completed in his New York-based studio.

One of his favorite places to paint was in his beloved North Country in the northern-most tip of New York state, where Remington spent most of his summers. The North Country could be defined as the forested region stretching from the Adirondack Mountains across the St. Lawrence River into Canada.

The North Country region is the highlighted upper portion of New York state.

What else defines the North Country? Below is a list of the top ten facts about the North Country:

  • The North Country is geographically the largest region in New York State. Having said that, it is also the most sparsely populated, consisting mostly of rural areas of low population density.
  • The North Country is home to the Adirondack Mountains, which boasts forty-three mountain peaks over 4,000 feet high, more than 1,500 miles of rivers, more than 30,000 miles of streams and brooks, as well as 2,759 lakes and ponds.

    The Adirondack Mountains

  • The North Country is the birthplace of the American Vacation. In 1869, a Boston preacher published one of the first wilderness guidebooks. His descriptions of the Adirondacks resulted in crowds of people looking for the first time to “vacate” their homes of the newly industrialized cities.
  • In 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as President of the United States at North Creek Station, a historic railroad station located in the North Country.

    North Creek Railroad Station Complex

  • The North Country is historically home to the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee) American Indian confederacy, which today is referred to simply as the Six Nations. The Iroquois historically followed a matriarchal system, with their leaders being chosen by the clan mothers of each tribe.
  • The North Country shares with Ontario the Thousand Islands, one of four archipelagoes in the St. Lawrence River. One notable island of this archipelago is Just Room Enough Island, the smallest inhabited island in the US. Purchased by the Sizeland family in the 1950s, the 3,300 square foot island has a house, a tree, shrubs, and a small beach.

    Just Room Enough Island

  • Speaking of Canada, being that it is literally across the St. Lawrence River, the North Country’s regional economy is heavily integrated with our neighbors to the north. Local residents often enjoy an easy drive across the border for a meal, and some even have a second home in Canada.
  • North Country is also known as Dairy Country. New York is the third-highest milk producing state in the country, and many of those dairy farms are located in the North Country.
  • And speaking of dairy, when traveling to the North Country, prepare your sweet tooth for some ice cream. The local news station recently mapped a few of the popular spots (over 80!), and that’s just the tip of the ice cream cone. 
  • And of course, the North Country includes the city of Ogdensburg, which is home to the art museum of the iconic American artist, Frederic Remington. The Frederic Remington Art Museum holds the largest collection of Remington items. And the Sid Richardson Museum is fortunate to partner with the FRAM in an unprecedented exchange of artworks to host some of their collection in Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, which opens September 14, 2018.

    Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York

Happy Campers

What is summer without summer camp? Did you know the first summer camps in the US originated in the 1860s? Then and now, summer camps present themselves as an escape from our every day life and as an opportunity to have fun while learning something new.

Gunnery Camp,1861, the first organized American summer camp. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While traditional summer camp was presented as a way to build character in the “great outdoors,” at The Sid, we like to develop knowledge and skills in our gallery and studio.

SRM Children’s Summer Camp 2018

Why is art good for your child? For one, looking at art helps kids learn how to analyze and synthesize information. Also, making art is more than painting pretty pictures; it involves math, science and experimentation. Additionally, children who feel free to experiment often feel free to find new ways of thinking, both inside and outside the art studio.

Above all, when kids feel good while they are creating art, which helps boost self-confidence. And who doesn’t want more happy kids?

So what kind of activities did our summer campers at The Sid get to explore? See for yourself!

Learning a new way to make sculptures by using molds!

Painting plaster cast sculptures

Painted hand casts.

Learning different ways to make sculpture.

Posing for cowboy portraits.

Cowboy portraits completed.

Learning how to make sunsets using color gradation.

Cowboy sunsets and animal portraits.

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.