Roadside by Maynard Dixon/Photography: Courtesy Brigham Young University Museum of Art

A new exhibit captures the transformation of the wild frontier.

Before travel became easy and cameras ubiquitous, it was through artists that we got our impressions of the West. From George Catlin’s exotic Native Americans to Thomas Moran’s Manifest Destiny Yellowstone to Frederic Remington’s Wild West, early Western artists left an indelible mark on the collective consciousness. So, too, the imagery explored in Branding the American West: Paintings and Films, 1900 – 1950. Taken largely from the Stark Museum of Art’s collection of the Taos Society of Artists and the Brigham Young University Museum of Art’s collection of California-based Maynard Dixon, the exhibition shows a changed, but still romantic, notion of the formerly wild frontier.

“In the early 20th century, when these works are being created, the artists themselves are living on the land, not going out and visiting and going back East,” says Stark Museum curator Sarah Boehme. “They are actually engaging with the people and the land and have a vested interest in portraying their subjects based on that authentic experience,” she says — in effect, putting their own identifying marks not just literally on their paintings but also on the larger idea of the West.

For Boehme, one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition is that “there are paintings that show the artists engaging with contemporary issues. You see this especially in the works of Dixon, who has a wonderful series dealing with the Depression and labor unrest in America and the West [yet] comes out of a cowboy background and has an extraordinary relationship to the land. There’s a great beauty to his works and important concepts in them.”

Branding the American West is on view March 11 – September 9 at the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas. Get the companion book at the museum and from online booksellers and the University of Oklahoma.

From the April 2017 issue.