Exhibit exemplifies art of American West

Collection: Fifty pieces featured at Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College include 19th-century photographs, paintings, drawings and prints.

Arundel Live

January 13, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

From the prairie, to the Rockies and Sierras, to the Pacific, the American West has captured our imagination as no other region of our vast and beautiful country.

That point will prove hard to escape when you take in "The Phelan Collection of Western Art," which is on display at the Mitchell Gallery on the campus of St. John's College in Annapolis.

The collection of 50 paintings, prints, drawings and photographs from the 19th century revolves around three main themes: scenic splendor, Western settlement and Manifest Destiny's human side.

Much beauty awaits the viewer in the portion of the exhibit titled "National Wonders and Overpowering Mountains."

One stunner is Washington Friend's watercolor "Canyon of the Rio Las Animas," which pictures a train rounding a segment of track perched precariously above a deep valley in southwestern Colorado.

The coming of the railroads would one day prove ruinous to the pristine beauty of the Western landscape, but, somehow, in this scene, the man-made element actually seems to heighten nature's serenity.

Lovely images of a blue-tinged Alaskan glacier and Yellowstone's "Old Faithful" convey the majesty of nature's realm minus the intrusive human touch.

Western towns often appeared in the unlikeliest spots in response to gold strikes, the building of missions or the discovery of a supply of cool, clear water.

The exhibit's "New Town in the Old West" presents several such settlements in memorable fashion.

The dark greens and grays of Gilbert Munger's "Mission San Carlos" lend a haunting air to a lovely outpost near Carmel, Calif., in mid-19th century.

James Everett Stuart's "Eastern Oregon Cattle Ranch" juxtaposes the majestic sweep of a Pacific Coast landscape with the lonely melancholy of a single dwelling, while Walter Paris' "Broadmoor Casino" is a reminder that even the folks on the frontier near Colorado Springs got to experience some European high style once in a while.

The viewer also is introduced to the missionaries, cowboys, Indians, settlers and sheriffs who inhabited the Western lands.

Film buffs will no doubt recognize the sheriff in Frederic Remington's 1891 watercolor "I Settle My Own Scores," for the artist's figure is the legendary repository of Western law and order, shown with a pair of six-shooters at the ready. The title of the picture, crafted to illustrate a serial story in Harper's Weekly, is what the lawman said after he shot the bad guy. He dealt in lead, friend.

More realistic images can be appreciated in Allen Redwood's down-to-earth rendering of Puyallup Indians, and in titles such as "Hopi Maiden" and "Ranch Hand."

If you're like me, you'll find that even amid the shoot-'em-up iconography that defines the American West in popular imagination, reality is far more gripping than myth.

"The Phelan Collection of Western Art" will be on display through Feb. 18.

Information: 410-626-2556.

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