While U.S. artists answered the call to document a “vanishing race,” American Indian artists created drawings that portrayed their experiences of this period of intense conflict and change. ~ The Art of Conflict: Portraying American Indians, 1850-1900.
So how about 2020’s Fall Arts Festival painting?
For the first time a painting devoid of any visual reference to Jackson Hole’s globally recongizable Tetons is the pick for Jackson’s FAF featured artwork. The artist is Thomas Blackshear, and his Jackson gallery, Trailside, has sold 14 of 18 new paintings by the artist.
Though you might not find much social media conversation about Blackshear’s “Hunter’s Watch,” people are talking. Native Americans have been portrayed in festival poster paintings in the past; in 2017 Mark Keathley’s painting of Indians set against the Tetons set a record for FAF featured artist auctions, bringing in $77,500.
In Fall Arts Festival history, Blackshear is the event’s first Black artist. That alone makes a little bit of Jackson Hole arts history, and incredibly it’s happened smack in the middle of a global pandemic amplified by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Well, where is the setting for this painting? Jackson Hole is an arid alpine region, a landscape of rugged pine trees, sage, cottonwood trees, aspens and more. It’s not known for maple trees, a species found in the northern central and eastern parts of the United States. Seasonally, “Hunter’s Watch” appears to be set in summer–leaves are green and lush, the forest is thick. Blackshear’s Indian has prey in sight, a target out of our view. Vigorous stability marks Blackshear’s composition; his subject is framed by a circle of maple leaves lighted by the sun. The painting suggests natural paradise, a golden moment.
Whereas Natives are faced daily with a spectrum of portrayals of their culture by non-Native artists, they themselves paint, sculpt and draw their own culture, their own history.
Blackshear has coined a new genre name, Western Art Nouveau. But what was the original namesake movement?
Art Nouveau was a relatively short art movement spanning the last years of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Marked by highly stylized renditions of nature, it was often sleek and stylistically showy. Art Nouveau brought Victorian flourish to a dizzying climax and denouement. Boldly graphic, highly illustrative, decorative, lush, sensual and botanical, Art Nouveau emphasized a merging of the human body and nature. Its style easily translated to glossy illustration and design.
Art Nouveau was pretty sexy. And so is Blackshear’s Fall Arts hunter. Interestingly, “Hunter’s Watch” is the least embellished of all Blackshear’s paintings included in Trailside’s exhibit. Whereas Natives are faced daily with a spectrum of portrayals of their culture by non-Native artists, they themselves paint, sculpt and draw their own culture, their own history.
Indians, says Blackshear, “pique his imagination,” and he often uses non-Natives as models for his paintings. “See the exciting new and favorite works from Thomas Blackshear featuring a Western feel,” beckons the artist’s website.
Certainly, Blackshear’s paintings connote old Hollywood, glitz and the heights of illustration. Recently named to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, Blackshear’s art has risen in Western art prominence only recently. Clients include Disney, George Lucas Studios, Universal Studios, and National Geographic. He illustrated 30 U.S. postage stamps and a set of stamps entitled “I Have a Dream,” noted by author Alex Haley.
During the mid-19th century depictions of Native Americans by non-Indians became popular. Blackshear is open about history taking a back seat to artistic impact; the practice is nothing new in the Western art genre. But, timing is everything and America–as well as the world–is experiencing historic upheaval, deep diving into social injustices. Far ahead of Covid-19, Native Americans have sustained protests and movements to take back their lands and draw attention to their own people; far too many languish on reservations.
After Lewis and Clark’s expedition journals were made public, Anglo Americans treated Native Americans violently, and at the same time lauded them as an almost mythical, innocent people with uncanny abilities to commune spiritually with nature. Since the white man’s encroachment on the West, Natives have found themselves the focus of our imagination. Decades of war and brutality all but decimated the West’s indigenous peoples…..yet Indians were described as vanishing, disappearing—as if by evolution.
This painting, at this time, rings a lot of bells.
As a friend and art academic points out, museums are feverishly reevaluating their collections to reflect the world’s diversity. The trend is to add works about Native Americans created by Native Americans. Of course, this brings up the question of who should create art about what, and when? Art is all about breaking rules, and making rules about who can create art, when they can create it and what it should depict is a slippery slope and a form of censorship.
Colleagues note that they have sincere admiration and awe of the subjects they paint. Heartfelt investment in a subject transforms potentially commercial depictions into meaningful art.
What about donating a portion of the sales price to a relevant and deserving non-profit that supports Natives, Wildlife, our Parks, the Wilderness?
In this perplexing, volcanic new era of crying out for social justice and global reflection, it’s perhaps an unexpected gift that Blackshear’s painting is front and center this particular September. Fall Arts Festival featured artists and paintings are chosen well in advance; when this painting was picked, we had yet to feel the intense impact of Black Lives Matter that we feel now (the movement was founded in 2013). Maybe “Hunter’s Watch” is a bellwether painting, an indication of future trends for our beloved Fall Arts Festival, and perhaps all the more valuable for that.
Idealizing the West, portraying nostalgia and history are not new; it’s the times that are new.
Should all this be something Fall Arts organizers consider in the future? What about donating a portion of the “Hunter’s Watch” sales price to a relevant and deserving non-profit that supports Natives, Wildlife, our Parks or the Wilderness? Blackshear’s “Fancy Feathers,” shown above, is priced at $42,000. Let’s assume “Hunter’s Watch” sells somewhere north of that figure. Ten percent of $50,000 is a lovely $5,000.
YES! Let’s do this! After all, the eyes of the world are upon Jackson Hole. For more information on Thomas Blackshear and the history of depicting Native Americans in art, visit these links:
Fall Arts Festival 2020 will look very different this year, as the Town of Jackson, the Chamber, galleries and event coordinators place public safety at the forefront. We won’t know how things play out until they play out, but most events will be held at least partially on line. Those events include:
Wednesday, September 9, 2020: Western Visions Jewelry & Artisan Sale
Saturday, September 12 – Sunday, October 18, 2020: Western Visions Paintings, Sculpture, and Sketch Show and Sale
Sunday, September 13, 2020: Takin’ It to the Streets
Saturday, September 19, 2020: QuickDraw Live Art Creation (On Line)
Saturday, September 19, 2020: Jackson Hole Art Auction
Sunday, September 20, 2020: QuickDraw Online Auction
Quick Draw creations will happen around town in various galleries and locations, in the customary time limit of 90 minutes. Then, a live, on line auction of finished works takes place, including the sale of this year’s featured artwork “The Hunter.”
Events cancelled due to Covid-19 include Palates & Palettes and Historic Ranch Tours. Probable cancellations include the Tours of Homes and the Sunday Art Brunch Walk (darn).
For more information on this year’s Fall Arts Festival email the Chamber at [email protected].