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A cowboy's dream.

THE MORNING SUN WARMS your shoulders. Your worn leather chaps are powdered with dust. You hear the yips of cattlemen closing in on the herd behind you.

Ah, the West. The daydream of many a 10-year-old, donning a brand new cowboy hat and straddling a sturdy branch of a backyard tree.

But was this the true frontier? Or was it more a romantic image conjured up by American artists who traveled westward with the earliest settlers?

Elizabeth Cunningham, curator of the Anschutz Collection of American West art, thinks it's a little of both. She explains, for instance, that Thomas Moran, one of the most popular artists of the West, was known to idealize the landscape in his painting. "Moran felt an artist was obligated to produce for the viewer the impression produced by nature on the artist. That's why he and fellow artist Albert Bierstadt could paint a majestic landscape, but the painting didn't necessarily match the topography of the setting. They would rearrange features to suit them."

Cunningham should know. She oversees a collection that chronicles America's move west from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s. More than 500 paintings represent the works of 185 American West artists. And the roll call is impressive: Bierstadt, Moran, George Catlin, Asher Durand, Charles Bird King, Robert Henri, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Frederic Remington, Charles Russell.

Owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corporation, which has investments in natural resources, transportation, communications and real estate, the collection grew from President Philip Anschutz's love of the American West.

Anschutz began collecting in the early 1960s and, by 1974, had decided to share parts of the corporate collection through traveling exhibits. The collection made its last tour in 1990 and 1991, heading for--where else?--the American West.

Chaperoned by Curator Cunningham, the exhibit was introduced by West, West, West, a catalog of the artwork on display. In paintings and prose, West, West, West plots America's journey toward the Pacific, offering a detailed timeline that highlights the historic events that took place, from Lewis and Clark's expedition beginning in 1804 to the confrontation between Native Americans and the U.S. government at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973.

In accumulating his collection, Anschutz was able to choose from a wide mix of Western art primarily due to contributions from three important players in the 1800s: the government, the publishing industry and an artist colony born of the adventurous spirit of American artists.

Cunningham explains how President Thomas Jefferson indirectly influenced Thomas Moran's career: "When Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on the expedition to survey the Louisiana Purchase, he was a very scientifically oriented person. He was adamant that the explorers record the native peoples and the flora and fauna, which they wrote reports about. In 1819, people decided they really needed an artist along on these government explorations to capture the landscape, the topography, which were very different from what they saw in the East." Indeed, Moran's early 1870s masterpieces of the Yellowstone region ultimately were instrumental in influencing the U.S. Congress to name Yellowstone the world's first national park.

Then the publishing industry began sending artists to the West to illustrate the opening of the frontier for magazine readers.

According to Cunningham, Harper's Weekly initiated the editorial rush westward after seeing Moran's and Bierstadt's works for the government. The magazine quickly began handing out assignments to artists to cover the colorful frontier blazing. Not to be outdone, other magazines followed. Later, after the West was declared settled, artists working for magazines continued to paint the area, but this time based on their "interpretations" of the West, without the first-hand knowledge earlier artists enjoyed. Cunningham suspects this practice eventually also resulted in some of the more "romanticized versions" of the territory.

Finally, in 1898, two New York artists settled in Taos, New Mexico, and formed the Taos Society of Artists. Many artists, including O'Keeffe, Andrew Dasburg, Marsden Hartley and John Marin, were attracted to the Taos and Santa Fe regions because the landscape was so different--challenging and intense--and they thought the Pueblo Indians were fascinating food for artistic inspiration. Many of the Anschutz paintings came from this colony.

But times change. Today, photography records events we want to remember--and does so in exact detail. Artists may preserve the images of corporate and government leaders in portraits, but rarely are they commissioned to capture in oils or watercolors the wonders of a geographic area.

The Anschutz Collection is now in storage, resting after its last tour and with no immediate plans for more travel. But there are signs of resurging interest in the Santa Fe area and in Western art, too. And why not? "In Santa Fe, you see the land around you and not the buildings. The colors are beautiful, the lights brilliant," says Cunningham. "I think a lot of people feel more in touch with nature when they're in the West than when they're in any other place in the country."
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Corporate Gallery: The Anschutz Collection; collection of American West paintings
Author:Couch, Robin L.
Publication:Financial Executive
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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