Visions of the West: Art and Artifacts from the Private Collections of J.P. Bryan, Torch Energy Advisors Incorporated and Others, edited by Melissa Baldridge, Gibbs-Smith, Salt Lake City, 1999, $60.
This good-looking 320-page work showcases one of the nation’s largest corporate art collections, mostly assembled by J.P. Bryan, senior managing director of Houston-based Torch Energy Advisors Inc., and past president of the Texas State Historical Association. There are 150 color photographs and 250 black-and-white photos of paintings, spurs, guns, American Indian clothing and many other objects spanning more than 400 years of Western history. “These collections exhibit the spirit that compelled people to live in the West and all they touched in the process,” Bryan writes in the introduction.
While the book is definitely a visual treat, there is plenty here to read, too. Essays accompany all those nice images, and the multicultural reality of the West is stressed. “The complex interactions between groups and cultures spill over into the realm of visual history and iconography, too,” writes Melissa Baldrige, curator of the Torch Collection, in the preface. Historian Patricia Nelson Limerick reminds us in the short “Art Unbounded” section: “Rather than offering us one settled way of seeing the world, western art invites us to experiment with point of view–because no group has exclusive ownership of, or rights of definition over, the art, history, or literature of the American West.” And so there are essays by experts on such subjects as the black West, missionary-led Indian communities, cowgirls, the Plains Indians and Christian art and imagery in Mexico.
Guns and spurs get their due, too. Richard Rattenbury, curator of history at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City, writes about firearms in “Tools of Triumph and Tragedy.” The color shots accompanying his essay just might make your day. Anyone who has ever ridden a horse on the range–or has enjoyed watching men and women ride horses on the range–will delight in Jane Pattie’s essay, “Horseman, Ride West! The Evolution of the Spur.” The artwork accompanying William Loren Katz’s essay “The Black West” is a delight, ranging from a Frederic Remington 10th Cavalry painting (A Pool in the Desert) to Deacon Eddie Moore’s 1992 wood-and-paint sculpture Bill Pickett, First Bull Dogger, 1906. Here, as in the genuine Old West, black cowboys sometimes were the ones who rode off into the sunset.