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,

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: → Public Domain,

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

The Unsolved (and Solved) Mysteries of Remington

This month marks the opening of our new focus exhibit from our “Guest of Honor” series entitled Frederic Remington: Altered States. This exhibit brings together a small grouping of Remington’s works, including two rarely seen paintings from the Museum’s permanent collection, as well as bronzes and books from private collections. Altered States not only highlight’s Remington’s career as an illustrator, but it also examines the various issues surrounding the authenticity of a work of art.

Let’s first look at alterations to artworks made by the artist’s hand. The exhibit features two versions of the same Remington bronze, The Rattlesnake. In this sculpture, Remington depicts a rider and his horse shying away from a rattlesnake on the ground. The scene is filled with unrestrained action. Three years and eleven castings after his first cast of The Rattlesnake, Remington reworked the design and the resulting bronze exhibited some different details. First there are the structural alterations, with the overall sculpture being 3 inches taller than the first version and with a smaller base. Changes to the model included tucking the horse’s forelegs and straightening his rear legs which increased the tension and thrusted the rider forward. While viewing the two bronzes displayed side by side in the gallery, make note of the alterations of the rider’s gear in the second version of the sculpture. Even the color of the patina of the bronze is different.

The Rattlesnake [first version] | Copyrighted January 18, 1905 | Roman Bronze Works cast #5, 1906 | Private Collection

The Rattlesnake | Copyrighted 1905 | Roman Bronze Works cast #19, 1910 | Private Collection

Frederic Remington | The Thunder-Fighters Would take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum | 1892 | Oil on wood panel | 30 inches x 18 inches

Another example of alterations to an artwork by the artist himself is the SRM painting The Thunder-Fighters Would take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum. We explored the mystery surrounding this artwork in an earlier blog post. Fortunately, we have great detectives in the way of art conservators to help us. X-rays and infrared photography of the painting revealed the hidden third figure that Remington had over painted. Exactly why Remington chose to alter the composition from the published illustration remains a mystery.

X-ray of Remington’s Thunder Fighters with 3rd figure circled

Sometimes artists make changes to their artwork, but sometimes alterations are made by those other than the artist, which raises various questions about authenticity. Take for example the SRM painting He Rushed the Pony Right to the Barricade. Remington originally painted this work in black-and-white for an illustration that was published in his novel, The Way of an Indian (a copy of which is on display in the exhibit). The Museum has other black-and-white paintings in the collection by Remington as well. What makes this work stand out? At some point, someone painted over He Rushed the Pony Right to the Barricade, resulting in a vibrantly hued composition. But who did it? This sounds like another excellent case for art conservators, a.k.a. the detectives! An analysis at a research lab revealed that a layer of dirt separated two layers of paint, indicating that several years had passed between the applications. Furthermore, analysis of the top, colored layer determined that this paint was not produced until over two decades after Remington’s death. Ah ha! Twas not an alteration by the artist’s hand. Someone with fraudulent intentions has compromised the work.

He Rushed the Pony Right to the Barricade | ca. 1900 | Oil on canvas

The ultimate Remington mystery involves a small work on paper entitled The Way Post. The simple watercolor study could perhaps be a product of Remington’s first trip West in 1881, a brief period in which the young artist signed his works with his initials, “F.R,” though he rarely used it as his signature after that year. Despite those details, it is difficult to attribute this work to Remington with certainty.

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

In fact, the work is reminiscent of another Western illustrator of the same era, William de la Montagne Cary (1840-1922). The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK houses a collection of Cary’s works, including a watercolor sketch of comparable size, The Strong Cup.

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

With so many questions circulating around an artwork like this, who are you going to call? The art conservators! Conservation staff at the Kimbell Art Museum conducted studies on the work from the Museum’s collection. While infrared reflectography (a non-invasive method of looking through paint layers) did not real any pentimenti, or artist changes, examination under the microscope revealed that the signature initials were painted with a bulkier, more granular white paint than the artist used for highlights in the rest of the work. Likewise, the initials appear raised from the surface, not integrated. All of this suggests that the signature was a later addition. Did Remington add his signature at a later date? Is The Way Post the work of another artist? Do we have a forgery on our hands? This mystery remains unsolved.

Detail of Remington’s signature, The Way Post

Remington’s artwork was in popular demand even during his lifetime, selling for high prices. With so much value attributed to a work by Remington, many have attempted to forge the artist’s signature or “enhance” a painting in order to increase the artwork’s market value. Remington scholar Peter Hassrick once speculated that there may be more Remington forgeries than of any other American painter. Whether altered by his own hands or at that of another, Remington’s artwork can sometimes leave us with more questions than answers.

Remington: The College Years

It’s August, and for students in Texas, that means the beginning of another school year. For some students, this month marks the beginning of their college years and will perhaps set the direction of their future careers. For many co-eds, college will be a time to discover their path, as was the case for SRM artist, Frederic Remington.

In the spring of 1878, Remington wrote to his Uncle Horace Sackrider, “I am going to try and get into Cornell College this coming June and if I succeed will be a Journalist. I mean to study for an artist anyhow, whether I ever make a success of it or not.” However, Cornell University did not have a journalism department at that time, so instead Remington enrolled in the newly created School of Fine Arts at Yale. He was one of 7 men, along with 30 other art students, in both the first art school at an American university and the first coeducational school at Yale.

Remington’s art instructors included J. Alden Weir and John Henry Niemeyer, both of whom had studied under French academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. Niemeyer, his drawing instructor, had come to Yale as a professor in 1871, just 2 years after the art school was founded and remained for over 30 years. Many considered Niemeyer a great teacher.

While at Yale, Remington successfully published his first illustration in one of the college newspapers, the Yale Courant. The sketch portrayed an injured football lineman recuperating in his room, his right foot elevated and his desk covered with bottles of liniment, or healing ointment. Could this be a self-portrait?

Frederic Remington, “College Riff-Raff,” cartoon, Yale Courant, November 2, 1878, p. 47.

Remington disliked the academic approach of his art school which followed the strict, classical training of the period, like sketching from plaster casts. Instead, Remington preferred to focus his attention on playing football. The young co-ed joined the Yale team as a rusher in the fall of 1879. The team did not fare so well during Remington’s sophomore year, losing the 1879 championships in what became one of the highlights of the Yale-Princeton rivalry.

Remington in the football uniform of the day, canvas jacket and flannel trousers. Internet Archive Book Images.

Yale football team, 1879. Remington front, lower right.

Unfortunately, Remington did not return to college after the holiday break that year due to the death of his father. Although college did not work out for Remington, it did not deter him from pursuing a career in the artist, first as a commercial illustrator, and later as a painter and sculptor, achieving success in all media.

Lions and Tigers and Bears – Oh My!

*Well, maybe more like antelope, bears, horses, and cattle. This year’s Summer Camp theme was Animals in the West!

This summer we hosted two weeks of Summer Camps: one for children between the ages of 6-9 years old and the other for tweens – children between the ages of 10-12 years old. What fun we had exploring the animals found within our collection and learning about other native animals of the West!

Each day campers began with a still life warm up to get their creative juices flowing. Campers then spent time with our collection participating in gallery activities and various animal themed tours with our talented docent team. Students asked themselves questions like, “What would the skunk say?” and asked our docents questions like, “How did he get that big bronze statue to stay glued together?!”

Following their time in the gallery, campers spent time in the studio art room creating their own masterpieces. Throughout the week our young artists worked with air dry clay, acrylic paints on canvas, watercolors, permanent markers, chalk pastels, colored pencils, and printmaking materials.

On the final day of each week-long camp, campers went through our Junior Docent Training….basically a crash course for kids, teaching them how to lead a tour for their friends and families. At the end of the last day, campers hosted their very own ART SHOW! Campers proudly took to their role as Junior Docents and led their friends and family on a tour of our galleries and then to the studio art room. While showing off their artworks they spent all week creating, campers enjoyed some Art Show refreshments. Bear cupcakes and animal cookies seemed totally appropriate!

What a delight it was to have each and every child participate in our Summer Art Camps! Campers impressed us with their creative thinking, intriguing questions, and unbelievable talent. Thank you to all of our campers and their families, our Summer Art Camp Intern (Aaron McBride), and our Docent Team! You brought the animals in our collection to life. We hope to see you again next summer!

*Written by Andrea Hassenteuffel, Director of School & Family Programs

Waffles in the Garden

Happy Summer Solstice! Summer is a time for fun and adventure…in the garden! Vegetable gardens are in full bloom this season. In Texas, gardeners have to remain diligent about watering and protecting their precious plants from the brutal heat. In the Southwest, where it’s dry and arid, people have developed techniques in order to adapt their gardens to the environment. One such technique is practiced by the Zuni (A:shiwi) called Latdekwi:we, or waffle gardening.

Timothy O’Sullivan. Gardens surrounding the Indian pueblo of Zuni, 1873. Stereograph. Source: Stereographs from geographical explorations and surveys west of the 100th meridian, expeditions of 1871, 1872, 1873, and 1874 – 1st. Lieut. Geo. M. Wheeler, Corps of Engineers, commanding. Courtesy Boston Public Library.

Charles Francis Browne, Nai-U-Chi: Chief Of The Bow, Zuni 1895, 1895, Oil on canvas, 18 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches

Members of the Zuni people, like Nai-U-Chi, felt a close connection with the environment and maintained a special relationship with the natural world for centuries. Through their keen observations, the Zuni adapted farming skills to the lands in which they lived. Because New Mexico receives very little rain, the Zuni developed a dry-farming method – Latdekwi:we. The technique earned the nickname waffle garden because from above, the layout of recessed beds resembles the delicious breakfast food.

A waffle garden is typically intended for a single or extended family, like a kitchen garden. Think of the waffle garden as the original “square foot garden.” The garden consists of a grid of squares with each square surrounded by berms, or raised mounds of dirt. The shape helps any water flow directly to the plants.

“Zuni gardens,” c. 1927, by Edward Curtis, via Library of Congress

The summer solstice holds an important place for many Native societies. For the Zuni, their spiritual practice is connected to the life cycle of all plants. Summer is a time for growth. During the summer solstice, the Zuni people perform ceremonies in hopes of a summer rainy season. The design of the waffle gardens help trap and retain what moisture the area does receive.

The Zuni people, along with other residents in arid regions, continue to practice the waffle gardening method today. By employing techniques that are specific to the environment, anyone can grow a healthy vegetable garden, even in the desert. Unfortunately, though, you can’t grow waffles.

Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) Summer Camp

Zuni WIC Community Garden

Gateway to the West

Named after Louis IX of France, St. Louis is a city filled with history. Now home to Anheuser-Busch and the Gateway Arch, St. Louis was once home to some of our SRM artists: Charles Russell, Oscar Berninghaus & Herbert Herget.

Downtown St. Louis. Image courtesy Timothy K Hamilton.

Born in St. Louis in 1864, Charles Marion Russell grew up in Oak Hill at his family’s manor-style house near present-day Tower Grove Park, a site of picnics and Sunday gatherings for the best families of St. Louis. For Russell, it was a great area in which to ride his horse. Once a rural plantation, Oak Hill was a suburb of St. Louis by the time Russell and his family moved to the area, welcoming the development around them. His father, Charles Silas Russell, was president of the local Parker-Russell Mining & Manufacturing company, a leading maker of industrial fire bricks. St. Louis was a city mostly made out of bricks, with over 80 brickyards in town by 1870. The Russells expected Charlie to join the family business or go to college. Instead, Charlie headed out west to Montana to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a cowboy.

Charles M. Russell, Cowpunching Sometimes Spells Trouble, 1889, Oil on canvas, 26 x 41 inches

Russell visited his family from time to time, which would have afforded him the opportunity to explore the exhibits at the 1904 World’s Fair hosted in St. Louis, where Russell had a few of his own paintings on display.

Russell was not the only SRM artist at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Oscar Berninghaus had two designs selected for the fair’s medal competition. Before he became one of the founding members of the Taos Society of Artists, Berninghaus spent his formal years in St. Louis, where he was born in 1874. Like Russell, Berninghaus began his art-making at a young age, sketching local scenes around town. He left school to become a lithographer, eventually working for Woodward & Tiernan, the city’s leading commercial printing firm. Berninghaus also completed illustrations for the local Anheuser-Busch Brewing company and painted several works for the Busch family throughout his career, many of which can be found today in the St. Louis Art Museum.

Anheuser-Busch Brewery. Image courtesy Katherine Johnson.

Oscar E. Berninghaus, The Forty-Niners, Before 1942, Oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches

Audiences may be less familiar with another artist in our collection, Herbert Herget. Herget was born in St. Louis in 1885. Like Russell and Berninghaus, Herget enjoyed making art at a young age, drawing inspiration from the reproductions of Frederic Remington’s paintings published in popular magazines of the day. After attending public schools in St. Louis, Herget spent six months studying sculpture before he decided to pursue painting. His first serious training as a painter took place at the Washington University School of Fine Art. Later, Herget spent several years serving as an apprentice and illustrator for the publishers Woodward & Tiernan, the very same printing firm at which Berninghaus began his commercial art career. Today, the historic Woodward & Tiernan building in St. Louis is transitioning into loft-style apartments.

Woodward and Tiernan Printing Company. Lithographic retouching department. Photograph by W.C. Persons, 1926. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 34596. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.

Workers in the Finishing Department at Woodward and Tiernan Printing Company, 1926. Photographer: W.C. Persons. Collection: Industrial Buildings. Image Courtesy of Missouri History Museum, St. Louis.

Who else at our museum has ties to St. Louis? Our museum director, Mary Burke! Having grown up in the Gateway City, Mary is familiar with many of these artists’ old haunts. For the past two decades, Mary has worked to preserve and share Sid’s legacy through the museum’s collection and education programming.