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Interpreting the artist's studio memorial: An exhibition strategy of museums of western art

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  • American Studies|History
  • United States|Art History
  • Design
  • Linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Religious Science


As part of their interpretive strategy, museums of western art, those dedicated to valorizing western subjects, frequently incorporate an artist's studio memorial into their galleries to evince historical accuracy and, paradoxically, to evoke the creative process. This dissertation explores the role of the artist's studio memorial in altering the discourse on the “authenticity” of western art. ^ Chapter One briefly surveys various nineteenth-century prototypes of American studio memorials and their relationships to other interpretative models in an overview of structures that have been the subject of historic preservation projects; the development of period rooms in art and history museums; and other approaches that link regional history or national ideals to specific buildings. Chapter Two examines the contrasting institutional rationales of two twentieth-century preserved artists' studios: sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens's studio in Cornish, New Hampshire, as a shrine to “genius,” and German émigré sculptor Elisabet Ney's Austin, Texas, studio memorial as a regional art museum. Chapter Three establishes Charles M. Russell's in situ log studio memorial in Great Falls, Montana, as the first museum of western art, a new type of American museum that blended aesthetic and documentary value in interpreting art. Installation of the Frederic Remington Studio Collection in the Whitney Gallery of Western Art in Cody, Wyoming, examined in Chapter Four, initiated the phenomenon of integrating studio artifacts into the art gallery, a technique refined over the years in a dialogue with the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. ^ The “western aesthetic” of an artist's studio, original or replicated, and its (re)location into museums of western art validated the art's historical authenticity, while ironically the displayed studio's evocation of artistic creativity and process simultaneously negated the art's “documentary” status. The ubiquitous studio exhibition in museums of western art is instrumental in reconstructing the creative foundations for western art and, thus, in restoring national mythology rather than regional identity as the primary enterprise of the genre of western art. ^

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