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Sierra Grandeur


The Wildling Art Museum is presenting "Sierra Grandeur," a selection of oil paintings from the Schaeffer Foundation Collection through October 14, 2001. The exhibition comprises paintings of the Sierra Nevada by California artists active between 1880 and 1950. The earliest work in the exhibition is " Bridal Veil Fall," by Thomas Hill, a painting executed in the Barbizon-influenced style of the 1880's when Hill maintained a studio in Yosemite Valley. There is also an eight-foot-long panorama depicting the length of the Sierras from the east by Henry Joseph Breuer (1860-1932). This painting, entitled, "From the Lowest Point to the Highest Point in the United States," was first exhibited in San Francisco in 1919 and was on loan for many years at the Oakland Museum. The exhibition includes paintings by Orrin White, Edgar Payne Carl Henrik Jonnevold, Paul Lauritz, Jones Messiman, and Leland Curtis. The latter, an illustrator from Denver who participated in the U.S. Antarctica Expedition in 1939-40, is represented by three paintings, two of high mountain lakes in the Sierras, and the third depicting a farm in the Owens Valley. Two bronze sculptures of Grizzly Bears by the Montana artist Ace Powell are also on view. (left above: Leland Curtis (1897-1980), Jagged Peak, ©2001, The Schaeffer Foundation Collection, all rights reserved)

Following is wall-text from the exhibition, reprinted with permission of Elizabeth Knowles, Executive Director, Wildling Art Museum:



Four hundred miles long, the Sierras split California from Mt. Lassen in the north to the Mojave Desert in the south. A land of primeval grandeur, these mountains are almost as wild today as they were more than 200 years ago when first spied by the Spanish missionary Fray Pedro Font who called them "una gran sierra nevada (a great snowy range)."

The preservation of the Sierra Nevada has been due in part to its formidable geology, rising from the desert floor to Mt. Whitney at 14,494 feet, the highest point in the lower forty-eight states; in part due to the successful conservation efforts of environmentalists like John Muir (d. 1914) and the Sierra Club he founded. Eight national forests and three enormous national parks -- Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon -- protect these resources for the use and enjoyment of all Americans. Thanks to the Wilderness Act of 1964 over a million acres are preserved as Wilderness with a capital "W," as places where the "primeval character" of the land will be preserved in perpetuity and "the imprint of man's work (shall be) substantially unnoticeable."

Still, millions of tourists from all over the world visit these mountains annually to gaze on their scenic majesty and to enjoy the opportunities they offer for recreation, adventure, or solitude. Controlling the impact of this incursion represents a national challenge.

Artists were among the first to "discover" the Sierras. The painter Albert Bierstadt and the photographer Carleton Watkins visited Yosemite in 1863, and it was their images of this geologic wonderland brought back to an appreciative Eastern audience that inspired the U.S. Congress to create Yosemite National Park. Up until then, most people had considered mountains to be fearsome and monstrous impediments to travel. Now in the last quarter of the 19th century, Romantic artists and writers saw that mountains above all inspired feelings of awe and wonder and reflected of the miracle of God's Creation.

As this exhibition proves, the Sierras have continued as a source of inspiration for artists of every generation. Starting with Thomas Hill who built his own studio in Yosemite in 1883 and continuing with Henry Joseph Breuer, a designer-decorator by background, who painted the California landscape living out of a horse-drawn wagon in the first decades of the 20th century, to the California Impressionist Edgar Payne and the illustrator Leland Curtis who painted in the 1920's and 30's, each of the artists presented in this exhibition has been challenged to "recreate" the grandeur of nature on canvas. Through these paintings, exhibited here through the generosity of the Schaeffer Foundation, we are able to experience the Sierras vicariously through their eyes without actually trampling upon them.

Editor's note: See our Distinguished artists, including an alphabetical index of over 2,500 deceased American artists; 100 top-ranked California artists courtesy of AskArt.com; lists of individual Early Southern California plein air painters, and the Early Northern California plein air painters; Artcyclopedia.com links on more than 40 artists specializing in the American West;

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