On the Trail 9-14-09 | TheFencePost.com
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On the Trail 9-14-09

Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.
Candy MoultonW.H.D. Koerner (1878-1938). Madonna of the Prairie, 1921. Oil on canvas, 37-by-28.75 inches. Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyo., Museum Purchase, $25.77.

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Always an inspirational venue because of the outstanding examples of Western art on its walls and free standing exhibit cases, the Whitney Gallery of Western Art at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody is now newly refurbished opening up new vistas and visions.

The walls have literally been broken down – or moved – and they have been brightened with the use of dominant colors like red, blue, and green making artwork stand out. The wall that once restricted your vision of the gallery is now gone and instead, when you stand at the entrance to the gallery, the view is past outstanding examples of Western art to the outdoor sculpture “The Scout.”

The new interior showcases the art held by the Whitney by grouping it in thematic areas (rather than by artist as had previously been the case). Now you may see a historic piece by Albert Bierstadt adjacent to a modern work. You may even see art from the other galleries in the BBHC – perhaps a rifle to reflect a buffalo hunter, or some Indian beadwork – showing that art comes in many forms.

The renovations at the Whitney Gallery of Western Art were final and the venue reopened in June. Now visitors will experience interactive elements created especially for the Whitney gallery. “Exploring art in the Whitney is no longer a passive experience,” says Gretchen Henrich, the historical center’s Children’s and Family Programs Coordinator. “Throughout the gallery, children and adults alike can share some genuinely creative activities.”

With the theme “Artists shape our perceptions of the West,” the center’s education department has worked diligently to develop engaging, thoughtful settings with a mix of low tech and high tech activities.

“We know that each individual has his or her own learning style,” explains Emily Hansel, Interpretive Specialist and Natural Science Educator. “With this tremendous variety of methods to engage our visitors, we know they’ll have a great time exploring the Whitney.”

At the “Create a Postcard” station, travelers use the gallery for inspiration to design their very own postcards to send to family and friends. A new computer program titled “Create Your West” has over a hundred elements taken from the center’s art collection that can be mixed and matched for a “new” masterpiece.

“Here, users can create their own western landscape,” Henrich adds. “They can choose Albert Bierstadt’s sky, T.D. Kelsey’s bucking horse, a Native American from Joseph Henry Sharp, and mountains from Carl Rungius. When they like what they see, they can print their creation to take home.” Henrich says there are 13 categories including sky, land, animals, plants, trees, dwellings, people, etc., and each level has eight choices. As Henrich observes, “the possible combinations are astronomical!”

Touch screen kiosks are located near some large paintings where viewers choose certain parts of the painting on the computer monitor before them, and when the image is highlighted, additional information appears. The Frederic Remington studio now includes an interactive computer element as well as a sound recording about the artist. The new Alexander Phimister Proctor studio highlights a plaster cast of the monumental Teddy Roosevelt sculpture, accompanied by a 20th century film of the sculptor at work.

“Popular western sculptor Jeff Rudolph has created a model of Proctor’s Roosevelt – in exactly the same parts and pieces as Proctor used,” Henrich says. “This is sure to be a favorite stop as visitors try their hands at assembling the sculpture in much the same way as Proctor did, except on a smaller scale.”

At various “Create a Label” stations, guests are invited to add a label for a piece of artwork and peruse the collection of labels created to date. At the far end of the gallery, with the stunning view of the Scout and the soaring Absaroka Mountains behind it, a sketching station is the perfect spot for art enthusiasts to reflect on the West.

And with all these interactive opportunities, remain the impressive art that is part of the permanent and loaned collection on display in the Whitney. Until early October, the impressive landscape “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” by Thomas Moran remains on display at the center, a loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Viewing this magnificent painting is worth the price of admission alone.


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