Maryhill Museum of Art

Goldendale, WA



Forever West


From May 12 through November 15, 2001 Maryhill Museum of Art will present Forever West, an exhibition of paintings, sculptures and photographs from its permanent collection that feature western themes.

The exhibit includes photographs by Edward S. Curtis; paintings by John Fery, Edgar Payne, and Charles M. Russell; sculptures by Edward B. Quigley and Alfred Lenz. These artists were present in the west during its transformation years...when it changed from a slow moving frontier society to settled cities and, yet, they preferred to concentrate on the lingering effects of its history.

"People around the world have formed their conceptions of the American west more from these early paintings and photographs than from any other source," said Colleen Schafroth, acting director. "Even Hollywood got its ideas for western apparel and set design from the works of these artists." (left: Edgar Payne, Taos Shack, Fall, oil on board, c. 1930, Courtesy of George R. Stroemple)

Western art, as this genre has come to be called, traditionally romanticizes the grandeur and the challenges of the old west. This approach can be seen in photographs by Edward Curtis (1868-1952). His photograph of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce is among several in the exhibition.

The culture of Native Americans provided unlimited subject matter for artists who were fascinated with the non-European nature of their lifestyle. Among those artists was the celebrated paragon Charles Russell (1864-1926), whose painting Indian Buffalo Hunt is included in this exhibit.

Views of the western landscape can be seen in the painting Palisades of the Columbia from 1900 by John Fery (1856-1934) and in Taos Shack by Edgar Payne.

Following is an essay on the exhibition by Lee Musgrave, Curator, Maryhill Museum of Art


Forever West

by Lee Musgrave, Curator, Maryhill Museum of Art


The landscape, lifestyle and history of the American West has intrigued artists and the general public for the past 200 years. The artists in this exhibit were present in the west during its transformative years... when it changed from a slow-moving frontier society to a dynamic modern one. People around the world have formed ideas and concepts about the American West more from these early paintings, sculptures and photographs than from any other source. Even Hollywood got its ideas for western apparel and set designs from the works of these artists.

The West provided artists with the chance to work apart from the social demands of the established art world in the cities to the east and offered them an opportunity to embrace subjects dear to them, such as personal freedom and a strange mix of the comedy and tragedy of a vanishing way of life..

Western art, as this genre has come to be called, traditionally romanticizes the grandeur and the challenges of the old west... perhaps more to keep the spirit of the frontier alive than to glorify the lingering effects of history. The works in this exhibition are true to that purpose.

This tradition can be seen in the best work of Edward Curtis (1868-1952). His photographs are often of a solitary, motionless Indian, resulting in a single static form charged with meaning... a living icon. All of our accumulated knowledge and feelings about each Indian, his people, and their way of life stares back at us from each photograph in a communication of silence.

Solitary, stoic individuals were of less interest to artists Edgar Payne (1883-1947) and Charles Russell (1864-1926). While they refused to embrace the ideology of Modernism, they incorporated particular modernist currents in their romantic images of the active West.

Edgar Payne (1883-1947) studied painting in Europe for a while and won an award in the Paris Salon of 1923, formally settling in Laguna Beach, California. His painting Taos Shack, Fall, on loan from the George R. Stroemple Collection specifically for this exhibition, has much of the improvisational manner and color of Fauvism, but is firmly grounded in the natural aspects of landscape.

Charles Russell (1864-1926), born in St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the most celebrated artists of western life. From the age of 15 he worked as a wrangler in Montana and was self-taught as an artist. He painted several very similar paintings, entitled Buffalo Hunt, which have appeared in numerous books on the American West. In the process, the subject of this painting has become a familiar icon of the Plains Indians.

Russell's occasional studio partner was landscape artist John Fery (1865-1934). Born in Austria, Fery studied art in Vienna and Munich then settled in America in 1886. While painting in the Rocky Mountains, he impressed members of the James J. Hill family, developers of the Northern Pacific Railroad (and Maryhill Museum founder Sam Hill's father-in-law).

John Fery worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad as an artist. He spent several years painting in Glacier National Park where the railroad provided him with a studio and where he became a close friend of Charles Russell. One can only speculate on the discussions they must have had concerning art and approaches to painting... one being born and trained in Europe and the other a self-taught artist and authentic cow wrangler.

The Northern Pacific Railroad, an important patron for artists, commissioned over 300 paintings from Fery. Its stations and hotels served as the first art galleries in the West at a time before art institutions were even envisioned in the region. Moreover, its collections of western art traveled to museums and other venues throughout the eastern United States and Europe, creating world recognition for the artists and an undying lore about the American West.

While those exhibitions were always well attended, the excitement they generated, then as today, stemmed more from the subject matter than from an intellectual response to the artistic concepts and styles employed by the artists.

The works in Forever West played a role in generating and perpetuating the myths and interpretations of the American West that continue to captivate new audiences, securing the art a place in an enduring cultural legacy.

The exhibition also includes works by Benjamin A. Gifford, Gene Kloss, Alfred Lenz and Edward B. Quigley.


Read more about the Maryhill Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

The above essay is reprinted with permission of Maryhill Museum of Art.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

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