Category Archives: Curator’s Corner

For the Love of Birch Bark

Remington loved canoeing. Despite his weight gain in his later years, which kept him from his love of horse riding, he quipped that he could always float.

“If properly equipped, a man who sits at a desk the year through can find no happier days than he will in his canoe when the still waters run through the dark forests and the rapid boils below.” – Remington, 1893

Ingleneuk, Photo Album (Frederic Remington with Canoe), Frederic Remington Art Museum

In the summer of 1892, Remington purchased a canoe and embarked on a 50 mile journey paddling the Oswegatchie River, which is a river that flows from the Adirondack Mountains to the St. Lawrence River. (Ogdensburg, Remington’s hometown, developed at the mouth of the river at its confluence with the St. Lawrence.) During this adventure, Remington made sketches for an article he published the August 1893 issue of Harper’s Monthly entitled “Black Water and Shallows,” documenting his voyage:

“We pushed out into the big lake and paddles. As we skirted the shores the wind howled through the giant hemlocks, and the ripples ran away into white-caps on the far shore. As I wielded my double-blade paddle and instinctively enjoyed the wildness of the day, I also indulged in a conscious calculation of how long it would take my shirt to dry on my back. It is such a pity to mix a damp shirt up with the wild storm, as it hurries over the dark woods and the black water, that I felt misgivings; but, to be perfectly accurate, they divided my attention, and after all, man is only noble by fits and starts.”

Ingleneuk, Photo Album (Frederic Remington Canoeing), Frederic Remington Art Museum

One of Remington’s favorite types of canoes was the birch bark canoe. Birch bark canoes are most commonly associated with Native Americans of northern New England regions. Remington painted birch bark canoes in many of his artworks.

Frederic Remington | Hauling the Gill Net | ca. 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY
Frederic Remington | The Howl of the Weather | ca. 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY
Frederic Remington | In a Stiff Current | 1892 | Oil (black & white) on canvas | 24 inches x 36 inches
Frederic Remington | The Courrier du Bois and the Savage | 1891 | Oil (black & white) on canvas | 23 7/8 inches x 35 3/4 inches

Birch bark is the bark of a birch tree and has been used a building and writing material for thousands of years, and today remains a popular type of wood for various arts and crafts – and canoes.

So how do you build a birch bark canoe? With an amazing amount of work. Here’s a very simplified version of the steps:

  1. Gather materials.
  2. Find a building site. – Bark canoes were traditionally built outdoors, with stakes driven into the ground forming the overhead view of the canoe.
  3. Form the gunwales. – Gunwales are the top edges of the sides of a boat.
  4. Cut the bark and place within the boat’s frame.
  5. Shape the stems. – These form the profile of the canoe’s bow and stern.
  6. Sew the bark to the stems with roots.
  7. Build the ribs. – Soak the cedar logs in boiling water for pliability, then wedge the ends of the curved ribs inside the gunwales.
  8. Seal. – Seal any seams in the bark with a heated mixture of spruce gum and animal fat.

Want to see the process in action? I highly recommend watching this 1971 documentary, which follows César Newashish, a 67-year-old Atikamekw of the Manawan Reserve north of Montreal, as he builds a birch bark canoe the traditional way. Although the film is without commentary, viewers will find it mesmerizing and almost meditative to watch.

A Turbulent Painting

*The following is part of a 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.

On a recent return flight to DFW, the Airbus in which I was a passenger encountered, in the pilot’s words, “moderate turbulence” (most of us onboard would not have used such an understated description). Sitting next to a window over an engine I was able to hear not only its powerful thrusts, but also the sounds of the mighty winds buffeting the plane. While I was listening to roiling weather outside, the title of one of Frederic Remington’s great paintings, The Howl of the Weather, currently on view in Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, came to mind as an apt expression of what I was experiencing. You never know how or when art is going to intersect with life!

Frederic Remington | The Howl of the Weather | ca. 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

The Howl of the Weather depicts the determination and urgency to find safe harbor. Two men are attempting to balance and control the birch canoe during a squall as strong winds and rough waves threaten to outrace the craft, which could lead to water swamping it. The perilousness of the situation is reinforced by the woman and child huddled together holding on in the center of the canoe. Remington’s inspiration for this painting may have been a story he had published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in August 1896, where he included the phrase “the howl of the weather.” Prior to those words occurring in the text, the narrator had described canoeing on Lake Champlain, where “the wind blew at our backs. The waves rolled in restless surges, piling the little canoes on their crests and swallowing them in the troughs. The canoes trashed the water as they flew along, half in, half out . . .”[1]

The Howl of the Weather’s setting is undetermined. When the artist entered it for copyright on January 18, 1906, it was described as “Birch canoe with two Indian men and a woman in the waves of a lake.” When P. F. Collier and Son entered an additional copyright on February 11, 1907, the description given was of “a canoe going along a river. . . . The water is very rough.” I like to think that Remington purposely kept the location vague, in part to maintain focus on the struggling canoe and the dynamic brushwork that conveys so well the rough water. Also, not delineating the background in detail contributes to the painting’s sense of the sublime.

The sublime was an aesthetic concept proposed in the eighteenth century, most famously in Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of the Beautiful and the Sublime (1757). This British publication had a major impact on shaping the rise of American landscape painting in the early nineteenth century. It contrasted the clarity and order of the beautiful to the vastness, obscurity, and irregularity associated with the sublime. Further, the sublime revealed a sense of terrifying power (not actual but imagined), which made it more emotionally intense than the beautiful. For viewers of The Howl of the Weather, but not the figures depicted in it, the scene is sublime. By expressing an image of nature that is limitless, shadowy, and filled with awe-full energy and noise, Frederic Remington’s The Howl of the Weather continued the tradition of the sublime into the twentieth century.

1970 Sunoco Brochure

Moving from the sublime to the seemingly ridiculous, I want to share pages from a brochure I came across while engaging in research in the St. Lawrence University Special Collections. As I am always on the lookout for examples of works of art being used in our everyday visual culture, I was struck to come across a reproduction of The Howl of the Weather in a 1970 Sunoco gas company pamphlet (“Sunoco-grams” for Sunoco customers) about preparing your car for winter. When I first saw these pages, I regarded the inclusion of Frederic Remington’s painting as quirky. But now I think that maybe Sunoco’s connection between winterizing your car and The Howl of the Weather is really not so very different from my conjuring up the painting while being bumped around in an airplane. Powerful art can function in many ways.

[1] Frederic Remington, “The Strange Days that Came to Jimmie Friday,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 93 (August 1896): 416

Remington’s Personal Art Collection

*The following is part of a 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.

The inclusion of paintings by Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, and Anna Richards Brewster in Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East signals an intriguing but understudied aspect of Remington’s life: his personal art collection. While not a large collection, little is known how and when he acquired the art objects usually on view in the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York. Some are known to be purchases (the Brewster composition, for instance), while others likely were gifts from or exchanges with other artists; Francis Davis Millet’s The Cossacks is inscribed “To Frederic Remington.”

The Cossacks, Francis Millet, n.d., pencil on paper, Frederic Remington Art Museum Purchase, 2002

Millet (1846-1912), a well-established painter, illustrator, and muralist, produced this pencil drawing in 1877 of Cossacks raiding a Turkish Village during the Russo-Turkish War. Ten years later it illustrated Millet’s article “Campaigning with the Cossacks I: A Summer Campaign” in Harper’s Monthly Magazine. Perhaps Remington acquired Millet’s drawing between 1892 and 1894. In 1892, Remington and his friend Poultney Bigelow traveled to Russia where the artist made sketches of Cossacks, which appeared in the November 1894 issue of Harper’s as eleven illustrations accompanying Bigelow’s essay “The Cossack as Cowboy, Soldier, and Citizen.”

Robert Reid, A Breezy Day, 1898

Another artwork in Frederic Remington’s collection that may have been acquired by exchange or as a gift is A Breezy Day by Robert Reid (1862-1929), a well-regarded artist of the day and friend of Remington. Like Millet, Reid painted murals, but was also known as a “decorative impressionist.” Remington’s painting is undated, but probably was executed around 1898, because in that year a Reid painting titled Breezy Day appeared in an exhibition of The Ten. This group consisted of American artists who displayed modernist tendencies in their works. Besides Reid, Remington’s other friends Hassam and Metcalf were members of The Ten. In a review of the 1898 show, a critic wrote of Reid’s composition:

The “Breezy Day”—an enthusiastic sketch of a young woman posed against a sky of blue with hurrying clouds—appears hasty, though fine in spirit. But the hills and trees in the background are so dwarfed in proportion to the figure that it becomes at once that of a (charming) giantess . . . The air and sun are there, however, and we must thank both Mr. Reid and the wind-swept young woman.[1]

This description also aptly characterizes the painting in Remington’s collection. His more expansive version, which is thinly painted with a low range of color, suggests a full-size compositional study for the 1898 painting or another, unfinished work.

Robert Reid, Breezy Day, 1898

Evening (Holland), Blendon Reed Campbell, n.d., oil on canvas, 30″ x 36″, Frederic Remington Art Museum, Gift of Miss Emma Caten, 66.124

Paintings by Reid and Remington, along with works by two artists—Blendon Campbell and Julian Rix—also represented in Remington’s collection hung in a 1906 New York fundraising exhibition for California artists in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake. Campbell (1872-1969), a portraitist, landscapist, and illustrator, contributed to the exhibition a tonalist painting titled Evening—Holland, which reveals the influence of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, with whom Campbell studied in Paris. Ironically, Remington who disdained Whistler’s art apparently purchased this painting from the exhibition and later hung prominently it over one of the fireplaces in his Ridgefield, Connecticut home.

Blendon Campbell painting over mantle in the parlor of Remington’s home in Ridgefield, CT

Julian Rix (1850-1903) gained recognition for his landscape paintings of California and New York. He also was an illustrator (see the earlier “Tragedy of the Trees” blog). His painting Adirondacks in Remington’s collection is a fine example of Rix’s artistic ability. While Rix (like Campbell) is not well unknown today, in his lifetime he garnered such praise as:

He goes directly at the heart of his subject, and extracts from a collection of general natural facts the best elements that compose gracefully on canvas. One cannot remember how broadly or thinly any of Mr. Rix’s pictures were painted, but they cannot forget the deep enchantment they exercised over the senses.[2]

Adirondacks, Julian Walbridge Rix, n.d., oil on canvas, 18 x 26″, Frederic Remington Art Museum, Gift of Miss Emma Caten, 66.127

The dozen works from Remington’s art collection displayed in the Frederic Remington Art Museum includes paintings, drawings, and sculpture. Only two of the objects represent a Western subject. The surprising variety of artworks reinforces one of the aims of Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East—to consider anew this icon of Western imagery.

[1] Orson Lowell, “Three Important New York Exhibitions,” Brush and Pencil 2, no. 2. (May 1898): 91.

[2] Alexander Black, “An American Landscapist,” in F. Hopkinson Smith et al., Discussions on American Artists (New York, Chicago, San Francisco: American Art League, 1900); 72.  Remington’s art collection includes a work by Francis Hopkinson Smith.

Endion: The Place Where I Live

Without a doubt, the iconic Western artist Frederic Remington was a New Yorker. He was born in Canton and raised in Ogdensburg, both small towns in Remington’s beloved North Country. Like many artists of his day, he developed his professional life in New York City, having lived in Brooklyn and Manhattan before purchasing a house in New Rochelle, a suburb of the Big Apple.

Remington and Beauty at Endion. FRAM 1918.76.152.13

Frederic and Eva named their new home Endion (pronounced ahn-dy-yon), a Chippewa word meaning “my home” or “place where I live.” It’s hard to imagine that the home’s original name was “Coseyo,” as Remington’s description of his gentleman’s estate sounds far from quaint and cozy:

“- three acres – brick house – large stable – trees – granite gates – everything all hunk – lawn tennis in the front yard – garden – hen house – …located on the ‘quality hill’ of New Rochelle – 30 minutes from 42nd with two horses – both good ones on the place – duck shooting on the bay in the Fall – good society – sailing & the finest country ‘bout you ever saw – what more does one want.”

The Gothic-revival cottage was designed by Alexander J. Davis, a very successful and influential American architect of his time. Though the house was without a studio in the early years of Remington’s residence, he later contracted an architect to design a studio addition to the home. In a letter he wrote to his friend, the novelist Owen Wister, Remington shared, “Have concluded to build a butler’s pantry and a studio (Czar size) on my house—we will be torn [up] for a month and then will ask you to come over—throw your eye on the march of improvement and say this is a great thing for American art.”

Frederic Remington | Endion (Remington’s Home at New Rochelle) | 1908 | Oil on academy board | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Remington rendered this 1908 view of Endion a few months before leaving for his new home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. His description of the weather that day matches the composition: “Warm—smoky autumn—the finest possible day.” Remington’s next home would be his last, and is actually the house wherein the artist painted the SRM composition The Love Call. Today, the Connecticut home is a National Historic Landmark.

Frederick Remington House, Ridgefield (Fairfield County, Connecticut). 1967 photo from the HABS—Historic American Buildings Survey of Connecticut

Frederic Remington | The Love Call | 1909 | Oil on canvas | 31 x 28 inches

The Tragedy of the Trees

*The following is part of a 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.

Frederic Remington | The End of the Day | ca. 1904 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Frederic Remington | The Fall of the Cowboy | 1895 | Oil on canvas | Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection

Frederic Remington’s evocative The End of the Day (ca. 1904), one of the highlights of Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, provides an appropriate image for a blog written in December, when short days, long cold nights prevail. The composition may even directly connect to the month, since the painting’s paired horses with sled appeared as a Christmas card drawing the artist sent to his Uncle Bill (ca. 1890s). The End of the Day is, however, less seasonally celebratory and more quotidian in quietly suggesting through the muffling effect of snow the exhausted completion of a workday that likely began fourteen hours earlier. The End of the Day echoes another Remington rendering associated with labor—The Fall of the Cowboy (1895, Amon Carter Museum of American Art)—in several ways, yet that painting conveys by its title the passing of a heroic era, where The End of the Day treats, albeit magnificently, an ongoing commonplace moment.

The End of the Day represents a lumbering camp of the kind Remington would have encountered growing up in the North Country. His birthplace Canton sits along the Grass [Grasse] River, in which massive amounts of logs would be floated down to lumber mills annually.[1] The artist’s long-time friend A. Barton Hepburn, who Remington later looked to for financial advice, made his early fortune in the lumber industry. The Frederic Remington Art Museum’s collections includes a watercolor by the artist showing the cookhouse of Hepburn’s lumber camp as well as an ink drawing of, if not the same building, a similar structure.

Frederic Remington | Lumber Camp on the Middle Branch of La Grasse Riber | ca. 1890s | pen and ink | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Collier’s Weekly of December 17, 1904 (another connection to this month) featured The End of the Day as a color double-spread page. Remington’s contract with the magazine allowed him to paint a subject of his choice to be reproduced each month. The appearance of The End of the Day anticipated the publication of three more lumber-related compositions in November and December, 1906, and January 1907. The works formed a series called The Tragedy of the Trees, which Collier’s described as “presenting the epic of the forest—showing in pictures the story of man’s conquest of the wooded wilderness. These drawings [sic] depict the lumbermen at work in various phases of the industry which constitutes the ‘tragedy of the trees’.”  The series’ title connotes a grand, sweeping theme, not unlike The Fall of the Cowboy (also part of a series, for a Harper’s Monthly article about “The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher”). Although no article accompanied The Tragedy of the Tree images, readers of Collier’s would have recognized Remington’s reference to the rampant deforestation that had occurred (and still was occurring) in the United States, particularly in the Adirondacks.

During the second half of the nineteenth century the loss of Adirondack woodlands (part of Remington’s North Country) to lumbering generated widespread concern. For example, the national publication Harper’s Weekly included in its January 5, 1884 issue the article “The Crime Against the Adirondacks,” which declared that due to lumbering: “The vast tract of forest, which feeds the great rivers of the State is being destroyed, and with certain disaster to the State.” A year later, Harper’s Weekly published two “then-and-now” drawings by Julian Rix depicting forest devastation in the Adirondacks. Intriguingly, an undated Rix painting, Adirondacks, hangs among Remington’s personal art collection on view in the Frederic Remington Art Museum.

Julian Rix | Forest Deforestation in the Adirondacks – The Effects of Logging and Burning Timber | Harper’s Weekly Vol. XXIX, 1885

Anxiety over the depletion of the watershed that Adirondack forests provided led to designating the area a preserve in 1885, a New York state park in 1892, and, by a change in the state’s constitution in 1895, a region to “be forever kept as wild forest lands.” Lumbering continued nevertheless (but more regulated), and Remington did choose to use “tragedy” in his series’ title.

Adirondack Pine, c.1900-10

Of the three pictures only the first one published—The Lumber Camp at Night—seems melancholic, with two displaced wolves (one howling) in the foreground and the snow-laden camp in the cleared middle ground. The other two pictures offer a sense of epic conquest. The second in the series—Snaking Logs to the Skidway—glorifies the immensely powerful horses straining to pull (“snake”) logs out of forest to the platform (skidway) where they would be piled. The horses fit a description of Adirondack lumber country animals, which appeared in a 1903 article on the feeding of horses: “We are safe in saying that the work is the most trying of any class to which horse power is applied. Not only are the loads excessively heavy but the roads are often almost impassable on account of deep snows and heavy grades”[2] (By the way, the writer recommends these horses be fed corn and oats 2:1.) The final image in The Tragedy of the Trees is Hauling Logs to the River, which shows horses charging out of an almost abstract background towards us with their weighty load.

Frederic Remington | The Lumber Camp at Night | Collier’s Weekly, 1906

Frederic Remington | Snaking Logs to the Skidway | Collier’s Weekly, 1906

Frederic Remington | Hauling Logs to the River | Collier’s Weekly, 1906

The impressive The Tragedy of the Trees paintings nicely complement The End of the Day, and exhibiting them alongside it would be fascinating to see. But this could only happen by displaying the reproductions that appeared in Collier’s Weekly, for in 1908 Remington set fire to dozens of his paintings, including the series’ three compositions. That is another tragedy.

[1] For an informative study of logging in the North Country, see Peter H. Vrooman, “Lumbering on the Grass,” The Quarterly [Official Publication of the St. Lawrence Historical Association] 24, no. 4 (October 1980): 3-6, 22.

[2] H. E. Cook, “The Feeding of a Horse,” The Rural New Yorker 62 (October 10, 1903): 781.

Remington’s Crack at Immortality

*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.

One fascinating aspect of working on the exhibition Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East was reading the artist’s diary entries from 1907 through 1909. Doing this helped me gain a greater sense of Frederic Remington, as person and as an artist. I was especially keen to see what artists he might mention. While I knew he was friendly with a number of American artists, including Willard Metcalf, Childe Hassam, and Charles Dana Gibson (works by the first two are included in the exhibition), I was surprised to read of his high regard for the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. After visiting a major Sorolla exhibition in New York, Remington wrote enthusiastically in his diary (February 11, 1909): “[Sorolla] makes everything else look like lead quarters. God how I wish I had money enough to buy some.” Remington was invited to a celebratory dinner in Sorolla’s honor at the Player’s Club in New York. Unfortunately, a “bad stomach and a heavy cold” prevented him from attending; “Very sorry not to meet the great man” (Diary, February 27, 1909; speaking of great men, Remington’s very next sentence reads: “Have invitation to meet [Theodore] Roosevelt at Colliers [sic] breakfast . . . “).

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, Evening Sun, 1903, Oil on canvas, 115 ¾ x 171 ¼ in., Hispanic Society of America, New York

Another artist reference that I found particularly intriguing appears in Remington’s diary entry of March 10, 1908. Remington had traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to view the memorial exhibition for the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He considered it a “very fine show – a most wonderful portrait of him there by Miss Bay Emmett [sic] painter.” He then declares: “If she will do me, I have a crack at immortality.” This striking assertion was undoubtedly prompted by the memorial nature of the Saint-Gaudens exhibition and Remington’s obvious admiration for an artist who was unknown to me. I had come across her name in a previous Remington diary entry—“Miss Bay Emmett wants to paint my picture” (March 2, 1908)—and had not given it much thought. However having then read that he felt a portrait by her might bring him “immortality” caused me to give her my full attention.

Ellen Emmet {Rand], Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1905, Oil on canvas, 38 3/4 × 29 3/4 in., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1908
Accession Number: 08.129

As it turns out, Ellen Emmet Rand (she married in 1911) was an accomplished and prolific portraitist. Success Magazine of 1907 included her as one of two women artists (the other being Cecilia Beaux) grouped with prominent American portrait painters, including John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, John White Alexander, and Robert Henri.

Ellen Emmet (b. 1875), whose family and friends called her “Bay,” began taking art classes when she was twelve years old. As a teenager she studied at the Art Students League in New York—with William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox, and Robert Reid—and attended Chase’s Shinnecock summer art school. When she was about eighteen, she supported her family financially by producing illustrations for Harper’s Weekly and Vogue magazine—already she seems to have lived a life readymade for a Hollywood movie!

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Frederick MacMonnies, 1898-1899, Oil on canvas, William Benton Museum of Art, 1967.47

In 1896, Bay Emmet traveled with her family to England (where she met John Singer Sargent) and then on to France to study art with the American sculptor Frederick MacMonnies. In 1900, her work received a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Soon afterwards she returned to the United States and established a studio in New York City, where she began her highly successful career as a portraitist. Her portrait of a niece, which includes a self-portrait, garnered a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition (1915) and the National Arts Club Prize (1925). Before her death in 1941, she had painted the likenesses of hundreds of prominent Americans, including three portraits of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), In the Studio, 1910, Oil on canvas, William Benton Museum of Art, 1968.62

Jane Erin Emmet, Frederic Remington, undated. In Remington’s album People I Know, Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, New York.

Ellen Emmet’s extended family included artists, writers, and intellectuals. The philosopher-psychologist William James and his brother, the novelist Henry, were relatives; Henry James dubbed Bay his “paintress-cousin.” In turn, she had three first cousins who also were artists: Rosina Emmet Sherwood, Lydia Field Emmet, and Jane Erin Emmet de Glehn. The latter drew a portrait sketch of Remington that is found in his friendship album People I Know. Remington knew the Emmets well; at least, thirty-three diary entries chronicle visits with an Emmet family member. A favorite of his was Ellen Emmet’s cousin Robert Temple Emmet, a graduate of West Point who had served with the 9th Cavalry Regiment of the Buffalo Soldiers in New Mexico and who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1879. A caricature of Colonel Emmet by Remington appears in People I Know.

Frederic Remington, Robert Temple Emmet, undated. In Remington’s album People I Know, Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, New York.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Richard Harding Davis, 1901, Oil on canvas, William Benton Museum of Art, 1967.51

A review of a 1907 New York exhibition of “nineteen strong portrait canvases from the brush of Ellen Emmet” suggests why Remington desired to be painted by her:

Always as yet a little brusque in her manner of approaching a character, her sincere realism is a relief after [a more] stylistic painter’s work. She will not be sought out to portray clothes and settings. She will paint men solidly and with increasing insight . . . charm is not one of Miss Emmet’s characteristics usually . . . but all the work is so downright honest that it is refreshing (“Art Notes,” The Independent 62 (March 21, 1907): 651).

Unfortunately, Frederic Remington never did get his “crack at immortality” by being portrayed by her.

As I was writing this blog about Ellen Emmet Rand, I was delighted to discover that the William Benton Museum of Art at the University of Connecticut is focusing new attention on this neglected, but significant, artist by having organized the exhibition The Business of Bodies: Ellen Emmet Rand (1875-1941) and the Business of Portraiture. The exhibit recently opened and is on view until March 10, 2019. Professor Alexis L. Boylan, the show’s curator, tells me that a book of essays about the artist will be published next year.

Ellen Emmet Rand, Self-Portrait, 1927, Oil on canvas, 30 X 24 in., National Academy of Design, New York

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

 

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!