During my trip to Wyoming one of my stops were to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West located in Cody. It is a massive museum complex that encompasses five museums; one of which being the Whitney Western Art Museum.
It was dedicated in 1959 to artist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. She was responsible for creating the Buffalo Bill memorial which sits outside of the Center of the West.
Inside the Whitney you can find over three hundred works of art, mostly displayed in chronological order, from Charlie Russell, Frederic Remington, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, and even some recent artists.
As I studied the pieces, I thought about the art history classes that I took and I couldn’t remember if there was a section about Western art. Upon returning back to my home, I cracked opened one of my art history textbooks to look for it.
After a bit of time, I found a small section about Western art, which only mentions Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt. I wondered if perhaps, the author didn’t believe it was that relevant.
I did some digging around about Western art and found that outside of the Smithsonian art museum in D.C., there are around fifteen American Western Art Museums; including the Briscoe Museum in San Antonio Texas which opened in 2013.
If there’s a Western Art museum that opened in 2013, then these types of museums must be popular. I suppose comparing American Western art to, say, the Renaissance or Modern art; wouldn’t hold much weight. Yet, it does to Americans.
As I learned more about the Whitney Western Art museum and Western Art; I realized something. Western Art shows us American history, geography and a glimpse into the lives of Indigenous Peoples.
Yes, there are plenty that are fictional pieces, yet you can’t overlook Charles Russell’s take on the cowboy life and Albert Bierstadt’s vision of the majestic mountains of the Rockies.
American Western art may not have the glamour of Impressionism or the provocation of Dadaism, but it stokes a curiosity of what life was like when the West was wild, the lands were unchanged, and the Native peoples’ history were altered.