HOORAY! The manuscript for the Vanishing Ice catalogue was emailed to the editor thirty minutes ago. Here is a sneak peek at one of my favorite artworks in the exhibition:
Thomas Hart Benton’s (American, 1889-1975) journey to the Canadian Rockies inspired Trail Riders, a sweeping, cinematic view of Mount Assiniboine. The artist faithfully documents the landscape setting and the mountain’s conical shape resembling the famous Matterhorn in the Alps. (According to the U.S. Geological Survey, glaciers on Mount Assiniboine have decreased 820 feet in twenty-three years, an average of more than 35 feet per year.)
Casting a nostalgic look at American history, Benton presents an unusual mid-twentieth century interpretation of Manifest Destiny. The artist, a grandnephew of a prominent, populist Missouri senator who helped shape the policies of American expansionism, harks back to a time when trailblazers settled the American West. Throughout his life, he mythologized this theme, beginning with early paintings like The Pathfinder (1926) and culminating in the grand-scaled mural, Independence and the Opening of the American West (1959-62), commissioned for the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. In the 1930s, such themes earned Benton recognition as a “regionalist” artist who celebrated Middle American values by depicting rural culture.
Trail Riders also draws upon classic Hollywood Westerns that celebrated the loners and nomads along pioneer trails. The artist’s gigs in Hollywood for Life magazine and Walt Disney enabled him to see first-hand the creation of these idealized heroes.
In this painting, Benton mediates on his personal relationship to the land: The protagonists riding along the trail represent the artist and his friend, who explored the Banff region on horseback in 1963. Benton turned to the mountains for solace after his regionalist aesthetic was scorned by an art world enamored with another movement, Abstract Expressionism, in the 1950s. The landscape assuaged the artist’s loneliness and distaste for America’s increasing urban culture.
—Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art