This exhibit features vintage 19th century prints circulated to audiences in England, France, and Germany, who were eager to learn about the trans-Mississippi frontier West that was being colonized by their compatriots under the banner of Manifest Destiny ideology. The artworks and associated commentaries that were circulated in their respective European countries reveal differing approaches to this migration.
Images of indigenous peoples and western landscapes, which were so foreign to Europeans, were particularly fascinating. Indeed, America’s treatment of native peoples was a frequent artistic and journalistic subject. Also, America’s unique natural heritage splendors—deep canyons, thermal features, stupendous waterfalls, contorted lava beds, weird badlands, and novel flora and fauna—were a curious counterpoint to Europe’s cultural antiquities. Some prints were realistic imagery based upon firsthand knowledge acquired by western travelers, while other prints were fanciful imaginations created to satisfy an insatiable demand. Finally, as 19th century communication technologies improved, events in the American West were quickly transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean to audiences who wished to be cognizant of events as they unfolded. This exhibit amply illustrates how the frontier West was intensely “viewed from afar.”
The exhibit is drawn from the Lee Silliman Print Collection. It is handsomely presented in handcrafted hardwood white maple frames. Copious commentary supplements the exhibit’s wood engravings, chromolithographs, and steel engravings, and gives cultural context to the imagery.