The Gerald R. Ford Museum

Grand Rapids, MI

(616) 254-0400


Window on the West: Views from the American Frontier -- The Phelan Collection

July 3 - September 26, 2004


The Gerald R. Ford Museum is pleased to announce the opening of Window on the West: Views from the American Frontier -- The Phelan Collection on Saturday, July 3, 2004. The exhibit will remain on display through September 26, 2004, with three special programs planned in conjunction with it. (right: Ransom G. Holdredge, Sioux Camp in the Rocky Mountains)

It is not just the West that you have seen in the movies, and not the stuff of legend, but rather the West as a newly minted place ­ a land of surprise, quick settlement and authentic grandeur, as seen by the artists who personally explored it and visually documented what they discovered.

These 60 paintings from the Arthur J. Phelan Collection were selected to give an historically accurate cross-section of what really happened in the expansion of the West. They depict the people who moved west from the Mississippi, the land they passed through and chose for their new homes, the settlements they created, and the Native Americans already inhabiting the land. These images examine how the West was gradually transformed over the decades as the continent filled and the frontier receded and then disappeared.

Included are works by the greats -- Frederic Remington, Carl Wimar, Alfred Jacob Miller, Karl Bodmer, John Frederick Kensett, and Albert Bierstadt. Also included are Lone Wolf who was perhaps the first academically trained Native American artist, and one of the first two women artists of California. In the end, however, this is an exhibit in which the subjects of the works and the way they are depicted are more important than the names of the artists.

"What I've looked for in the pictures is some kind of message about the past," says Phelan, talking about an interest which grew from his graduate studies in American history at Yale. "I use art as a way to try to visualize the past -- it becomes my personal time machine. Let's not take John Wayne's West or the Indian aficionados West as the only West. There were many Wests."

Rather than looking for European roots in the subject and technique of the paintings he has collected, Phelan has been more interested in the artist's documentation of how the landscape, settlements and people of the Wet actually appeared to the artists capturing these subjects on canvas. His collection is our Window on the West, a balanced, historical view from the artists themselves.

On the Gerald R. Ford Museum's web site there are 54 artist biographies and many images from the exhibit.


Programs planned in conjunction with Window on the West:


Arthur J. Phelan
Tuesday, July 13, 2004 7:00 p.m.
Arthur Phelan made his first journey to the American West in 1954, before entering Yale University where he studied American History and Literature. It was during that trip that this Maryland native was introduced to the landscapes he had only seen in books. He made his first purchase of Western American art in 1963 and has continued to develop his collection for over 40 years. Mr. Phelan will discuss how he collected these works as well as his interest in western art.
James H. Nottage
Tuesday, September 14, 2004 7:00 p.m.
James Nottage has been involved in the field of Western American history for over 30 years, focusing on the history of the American West with particular emphasis on how the region has been perceived through fine art and popular media. Currently he serves as Vice President and Chief Curatorial Officer at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis. Mr. Nottage has worked closely with Arthur Phelan and his western art collection. He will explore the west from the artist's viewpoint.

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