Director John Ford ended his film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” with the line “When the legend comes true, print the legend.”
All the complicated meanings of this farewell to the history of the American West hang on the walls of the Meloy Gallery in the new exhibition “Imagining the West: Selections from the Stan and Donna Goodbar Collection of Western Art.”
Facts about cowboys and Indians, cows and buffaloes, sunsets and clashes are treated as captions in pulp fiction magazine covers, illustrations and other popular formats.
“This is a golden opportunity to revisit the myth of the West,” said Rafael Chacón, director of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture. “These stories in literature and newspapers – tales of hardship, violence, heroism – articulate all these myths, but it’s a colored truth. And the visual arts are no less evocative than literature. We wanted see which voices speak here, what they say and which voices are missing or muffled.
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Stan and Donna Goodbar donated 125 works to MMAC in 2021. Stan grew up in Great Falls and served in the Navy during the Korean War before marrying Eastern Montana College teaching graduate Donna Jeppesen. He earned a commerce degree from UM in 1956 and later worked as a district manager for a telephone company in Billings. Their marriage lasted nearly 70 years until Donna’s death in 2021.
The Goodbars also lived in Chester, Missoula, Helena and Denver before settling in Cheyenne, Wyoming. While in Helena, Stan met gallery owner Dale Hawkins and Montana Historical Society director/curator Bob Morgan, who helped the couple become interested in the collection.
In addition to popular Montana artists such as Ace Powell, Jo De Yong and OC Seltzer, Goodbars’ collection contains many creations by Californians Edward Borein, Will James and Olaf Wieghorst. Much of their work has been featured in newsstand magazines with story titles like “Don Desperado”, “Lightnin’ Branded”, and “Gun Thunder Trading Was On A Cash Basis Only”.
But the collection is not just an album of magazine covers. A well-represented artist is Nick Eggenhoffer, a prolific illustrator of Western fictional stories. Stan Goodbar befriended Eggenhoffer, and the artist painted original images on the blank pages of books that printed his illustrations. These are included in the Meloy show.
“He did this as a gift to Stan and Donna,” Chacón said. “These are absolutely unique works of art.”
The new show takes full part of this mix of paintings, artifacts, sculptures and trinkets. Visiting notes show the development of images documenting late 19th century scenes to works that visualize a more imaginary world of heroes, outlaws and conquests.
“A morally ‘grey’ figure who could be both good and bad, the cowboy was largely a cultural hero who represented Western ideals of freedom, opportunity and tenacity,” the docent’s notes state. the broadcast. “Patrons of urban art, often tied to their office jobs, increasingly identify with the maverick cowboys and hard-bodied West.”
Chacón has developed a devotion to Western films during the lockdowns of the past two years. He adored black-and-white films from the 1920s and 1930s until “The Power of the Dog”, which was nominated for an Oscar this year. Many deliberately play with old Western stereotypes. “The Ballad of Buster Skruggs” satirizes six-shot gunfights, while “Django Unchained” and “The Harder They Fall” reimagine the West populated by more than just white European cowboys.
The Meloy show develops this impulse in two ways. First, it taps into the Goodbar Collection for examples of Native American art that highlight previously marginalized viewpoints. For example, the Assiniboine painter William Standing had many of his portraits hung, with the observation that he had more success selling his work under his “white” surname than under his tribal name “FireBear”.
Elizabeth Lochrie’s portraits of Native American women seem rooted in Western mythological romanticism, until MMAC curator Anna Strankman flips one over to see what’s on the back. Rather than make-up, disneyified Indian princesses, Lochrie left notes about who her subjects really were, such as “Portrait of Charity Long Road.”
“These were common in many stores around Missoula,” Strankman said of the portraits. “The names give a deeper level of meaning than you would expect just looking at them from the front. We wanted to offer the voices that are usually left out or on the fringes.
The second part focuses on the evolution of “Western” art. Historian Patricia Nelson Limerick has pointed out the strangeness of how the “Cowboys and Indians” view of the American experience was declared closed in 1890: “The frontier stories have stopped; at the end of the Indian wars and the creation of forests and national parks, the border problems found a solution; the West has lost its specificity. These assumptions remained orthodox in college history textbooks well into the 1990s…To study the frontier was to study an era that had definitely and solidly finishedwithout a narrative or causal link linking the past to the present.
The show ‘Imagining the West’ does this physically with its juxtaposition of sculptures by Charlie Russell with a flock of quails by ceramicist Frances Senska and abstract forms of clay by Peter Voulkos.
“Senska taught sculpting to Peter and Rudy Autio and Lela Autio,” Chacón said. “She is in a way the mother of modernist ceramics in the West.”
On the wall near these works hang new prints by Ross Stefan. His images deconstruct some of the myths of Western art, playing with the forms of cowboys and horses rather than depicting the documentary scenes of ranching life.
Chacón said a particular value of the collection was its attention to the fringes of Western art.
“Everyone looks at artists like Charlie Russell and Frederick Remington, and all the really good stuff that’s been stitched up by private collectors and museums,” Chacón said. “We have a lot of these standard Western artists in our collection.
“The Goodbars focused on artists who popularized the West through publications and Hollywood,” Chacón continued. “It was the artists who spread a lot of clichés and ideologies about what the West was like. We discovered the West by looking at these printed images.