Visit the wild west at the Tacoma Art Museum

The art of the great and unlucky painter John Mix Stanley

Tacoma - Native Americans gathering on the shores of the Pacific Ocean at sunset.Surveyors looking for the best route for a railroad to Tacoma. Newlyweds leading a wagon train on the Santa Fe Trail.

Just some of the beautifully rendered scenes you'll find at the Tacoma Art Museum exhibit "Painted Journeys : The Art of John Mix Stanley".

"Stanley was one of those people that just had an explorer's spirit," says Curator of American Art Margaret Bullock. "He had always been interested in what was happening outside the life he knew."

Over the course of 11 years in the mid 1800's.,  Stanley journeyed over 8,000 miles all across the American West, creating a vast, visual record of its people and landscapes.

"Some of the scenes are based on exact portraits," says Bullock. "Others are kind of his own imaginary creations of what life was like --or based on bits and pieces of other sketches."

Like Alfred Hitchcock, he would even paint himself into a picture.Stanley can be seen in one popular painting, joining Blackfeet indians on a buffalo hunt.There are also elements of fantasy in his landscapes.

"He is using things that he saw. He's using things that he knows from other places and he's bringing in elements that he thinks would make an interesting picture," says Bullock.

Stanley would be far better known today had it not been for a series of notorious fires beginning with the 1865 Smithsonian blaze where he lost nearly 150 portraits.It was just one of several ruinous fires forcing Stanley to recreate most of his paintings.


"We've been calling him The Unstoppable John Mix Stanley," says Bullock. " because he just keeps coming back and keeps coming back as an artist. It was his life and the most important to thing to him."

It is our good fortune that so many of Stanley's works have been collected for this travelling exhibit.  In a single gallery you too can visit the American West at its most wild.

"Painted Journeys : The Art of John Mix Stanley" runs through May 1 at the Tacoma Art Museum.








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