Wednesday, December 30, 2015

THE VANISHING AMERICAN WEST & FREDERIC REMINGTON

By Ashley Kath-Bilsky

“I knew the wild riders and the vacant land were about to vanish forever…and the more I considered the subject, the bigger the forever loomed. Without knowing how to do it, I began to record some facts around me, and the more I looked the more the panorama unfolded.” ~ Frederic Remington

[Pictured: The Old Stage-Coach of the Plains, Frederic Remington (1901); Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX]

As a writer of historical fiction, inspiration comes in many forms. If you are writing about the American West, or just interested in the period, one of the best ways to truly understand the scope of the land and its people is through art. And when it comes to images that captured the American West of the late 19th century, there are few artists whose work compares to FREDERIC REMINGTON.

The National Gallery of Art has called him “one of the most gifted interpreters of the American West”. Known for his realistic palette of colors, attention to detail, composition, shadows, and movement, one can look at his body of work and also see the evolution of a remarkable talent.

However, finding one’s destiny is not easy, especially when one is torn between what they love to do and the expectations of others.

The only child of Colonel Seth Pierrepont Remington and Clarissa Bascom Sackrider, Frederic Sackrider Remigton was born 04 October 1861 in Canton, New York.

Despite the fact he lived only 48 years, the work of Frederic Remington immortalizes a time, place, and way of life that still fascinates people throughout the world. Regardless of whatever artistic medium Remington used during his career, his legacy and talent has made him a visual historian of the American West.

Then again, when it comes to history, his family also held a remarkable presence in the history of America and its way of life. On his mother’s side, the Bascom relations came to America in the early 1600s, and founded Windsor, Connecticut. From England, the Remington family came to America in 1637.

[Pictured: Frederic Remington and his dog (1865); Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX]

Among Remington’s blood relations were George Catlin, portrait artist of American Indians, and Earl W. Bascom, a cowboy sculptor. The founder of the Remington Arms Company (America’s oldest gun manufacturer), Eliphalet Remington was also a cousin.

Additionally, three famous mountain men – Jonathan T. Warner, Robert ‘Doc’ Newell, and Jedediah S. Smith – were family relations. Whereas, his father must have inherited his leadership and military skills from another famous family relation—none other than George Washington, first President of the United States of America.

Colonel Remington served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was absent a great deal during the first four years of his son’s life. When the War ended, the family moved to Bloomington, Illinois where Colonel Remington worked briefly as editor for The Republican.

When Frederic was 6 years old, the family returned to Canton, New York. As a child, Frederic Remington loved being outdoors. Indeed, his love of the outdoors, of nature, of adventure, and the American West would define his destiny.

[Pictured: Frederic Remington (1870); Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX]

From an early age, he made sketches of soldiers and cowboys. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, camping, riding, and swimming.

On the downside, he wasn’t a good student and his father, Colonel Remington, worried for his son’s future. Hopes of a military career for his only son, which included getting into West Point, might be a problem. Believing a more disciplined school would improve his son’s academics, the family moved to Ogdensburg, New York.

There, 11-year old Frederic attended the Vermont Episcopal Institute, and took his first official drawing lesson. Although he later attended another military school, Frederic showed no interest in a military career. Rather than excel at academics, he made caricatures and silhouettes of his classmates.

[Pictured: Frederic Remington (1874); Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX]

Not surprisingly, his natural ability and affinity for art pulled Remington to Yale University’s art school.

At Yale, he was the only student in his first year with none other than German-born painter John Henry Niemeyer as his instructor. Yet even at art school, he disliked the rigid formality of lessons. Drawing from still life did not interest him. He preferred drawing movement—or life in action. Although he played football at Yale, watching football and boxing matches proved more exciting to the destined artist. His first published drawing was a cartoon titled “bandaged football player” and appeared in the Yale Courant.

[Pictured: Frederic Remington as student at Yale; photo by Dow Studios,Canton, NY; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX]

In 1879, he left Yale to tend his father, suffering from tuberculosis. In 1880, Colonel Remington died at the age of fifty.

An uncle secured a clerical position for his nephew in Albany, New York, which enabled Frederic to return to Ogdensburg on weekends to continue courting his girlfriend.

Eva Adele Caten was two years older than Frederic, and a student at St. Lawrence University. When Eva’s father refused permission for the couple to marry, Remington briefly became a reporter at his uncle’s newspaper then pursued other short-term forms of employment.

Rather than return to art school, Remington embraced his yearning for adventure. With the help of his inheritance and other jobs for income, he traveled west to Montana. A bit of a dreamer, he thought to acquire a cattle operation or invest in a mining venture. He soon realized, however, he didn’t have enough funds.

In 1881, not yet 20 years old, Frederic Remington found himself surrounded by the American West. The sights and sounds resonated and triggered his talent for art.

He bore witness to battles between the United States Cavalry and various tribes of Native Americans. [Pictured: Through The Smoke Sprang The Daring Soldier, Frederic Remington (1897); Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX]

He saw unfenced, unending vistas of prairies, and herds of buffalo steadily being extinguished. Cowboys with skilled horsemanship. He felt the intense power of the sun upon parched land, and the bitter sting of snow, ice, and wind in winter. And he was there 25 years before Zane Grey and N.C. Wyeth.

A hasty sketch made on wrapping paper at this time, was mailed back East and became Remington’s first published sketch with Harper’s Weekly.

In 1883, wool trading and sheep ranching were very lucrative. So, Remington moved to Peabody, Kansas and invested his entire inheritance in a sheep ranch. However, it didn’t take long before the 22-year old found being a sheep rancher to be boring and too isolated.

Within a year, he sold the ranch and returned home. For his next venture, and with funds provided by his mother, he went to Kansas City and opened a hardware store. When that business failed, he invested what remained of his funds in half ownership of a saloon.

Remington returned to Ogdensburg in 1884. Believing his daughter’s determined suitor owned a hardware store, Eva Caten's father granted permission for her to marry Frederic Remington. The newlyweds traveled back to Kansas City. However, life in Kansas City was not what Eva expected. She didn't like the fact her husband was partner in a saloon, or that he spent time sketching the sordid people who patronized the business. When the truth of his occupation became known, Eva returned to Ogdensburg.

[Pictured: The Herd Boy, Frederic Remington; Museum of Fine Art, Houston, TX]

Sometimes, one must hit rock bottom to find themselves. With his young wife gone, and the saloon not doing well, Frederic Remington pursued painting and drawing the American West as an occupation. In short order, he found success, and realized his art could become a profession. When he returned next to Ogdensburg, New York, he reunited with his wife with newfound hope in a career as a professional artist.

The couple moved to Brooklyn and Remington studied at the Art Students League of New York. Learning that newspapers were hungry for illustrations and articles about the West, Remington realized he had just what they needed. Soon, Harper’s Weekly and Collier’s published his sketches and illustrations. And on 06 January 1886, Frederic Remington became first page news, A full-page cover under his name was published in Harper’s Weekly. He was just 25 years old.

[Pictured: Aiding A Comrade by Frederic Remington (1890); Museum of Fine Art, Houston, TX]

His increasing popularity brought new opportunity. In 1886, Remington was sent to Arizona by Harper’s Weekly. As artist-correspondent for the publication, his assignment was to cover the war between the United States Government and Geronimo. Although he was unable to paint Geronimo, he took the opportunity to refine his talent by authentically mastering what would become the Remington palette of colors that he witnessed in the West, particularly the shadows of horses.

[Pictured: The Blanket Signal, Frederic Remington (1894)]

In addition to continuing with commission work at Harper’s Weekly, Remington provided drawings for Outing Magazine. He produced ink and wash drawings for commercial reproductions.

In late 1887, 27-year old Frederic Remington received a commission to provide 83 illustrations for ‘Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail’, a book authored by none other than Theodore Roosevelt.

Before its publication, the book would be serialized in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. At that time, 29-year old Roosevelt felt he had a lot in common with Remington. He had also lost money on a ranch but had accumulated great knowledge and experience on the American West. Needless to say, the commission as illustrator not only gave Remington great recognition, it began a lifelong friendship with Theodore Roosevelt.

[Pictured: The Hunters' Supper by Frederic Remington (1909); National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma]

Harper’s Weekly (who now had first option to buy Remington’s work before he sold it elsewhere) promoted Frederic Remington as “He draws what he knows, and he knows what he draws.”

In 1890, 29-year old Remington had his first one-man show at the American Art Galleries, where 21 of his paintings were exhibited to critical acclaim.

That same year, Frederic and Eva moved to New Rochelle, New York where Remington could have a more extensive studio for work, as well as a rural lifestyle where he could enjoy horseback riding and the outdoors. The Gothic revival style house was named Endion by Remington, a word meaning “the place where I live” in the Ojibwa language.

Among the Army officers still embroiled with Indian battles, Frederic Remington was both respected and invited to document history. Given exclusive access to the soldiers, he became known as “The Soldier Artist”. As a side note, one cannot help but feel his father would be particularly proud of this title.

[Pictured: The Stampede by Frederic Remington (1908)]

Without question, Remington's paintings and illustrations of Indian tribes, cowboys, soldiers, weather, horses in motion, etc., documented the imagery of a place, a time, a way of life, and the diverse people who lived in the American West.

In many respects, he was the right person at the right time to witness and use his talent to visually preserve something that all too quickly was disappearing.

For people of his era, they were able to see the West. The shadows of the horses. The hues and colors of changing Seasons. The way the wind lifted the edge of a Indian’s blanket. The slashing rain and the unprotected rider, and the weathered lines on the faces of the people who called the American West their home.

Frederic Remington is now considered one of the great American artists. He produced over 3,000 paintings and illustrations. His work was published in Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s Monthly, Century Monthly Illustrated Magazine, Collier’s, Outing, Boy’s Life, and Cosmopolitan.

Many of his illustrations were accompanied by articles that he wrote. In fact, his magazine articles were published into works of fiction and non-fiction. His eight published titles are Pony Tracks (1895), A Rogers Ranger in the French and Indian War (1897), Crooked Trails (1898), Sundown Leflare (1899), Stories of Peace and War (1899), Men with the Bark On (1900), John Ermine of the Yellowstone (1902), and The Way of an Indian (1906).

For many, however, Remington is today best known for his bronze sculptures. In 1895, he produced his first work -- “The Broncho Buster”. Remington made 22 bronze sculptures before he died. [Pictured: The Bronco Buster by Frederic Remington (1895), Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas]

Frederic Remington died on 26 December 1909 after an emergency Appendectomy. He was 48 years old, survived by his beloved wife, Eva. [Note: Eva Remington died in 1918.] The couple had no children. At the funeral, one of Remington’s oldest friends, Almon Gunnison, gave the following eulogy.

“His versatility was surprising. He made his pen almost equally skillful with his brush. He learned the sculptor’s art, and created works which rivaled those of an age which was thought to have passed away. And his last work was his best. He built a new home away from the distracting throngs, that he might do the largest, finest work he ever did, because he believed that his past achievements had only taught him how to give expression to the finer visions which had hitherto eluded him. And then the end came. But his place in American art had been fixed. He was the acknowledged historian in pictorial form of the most precious age from an artistic and patriotic standpoint in our American life; its revelator and interpreter, and that place will forever be secure to him.”

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share the story of Frederic Remington, and his work. ~ AKB

Resources:

Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

19 comments:

  1. Such an impressive post, Ashley. I know you spent some time and thought researching and writing this piece.
    I can relate so well to Frederick Remington and his struggle to do what he loved and what he really possessed a talent for. It is so common to see parents determined to put their children into "practical" jobs for the sake of security, prestige, or pride and completely ignore the child's wishes. and dreams. Because he followed his own dream, Remington gave his family and the people of the United States a huge chunk of Americana to see and remember. I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Ashley. All the best to you. I hope the new year rewards your talents.

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    1. Thank you so much, Sarah J. It is so true that parents often fail to encourage a talent out of concern their child will not be able to make a living. It is something to realize that Remington's affinity for art started in early childhood, and remained constant with him. I also understood his search to find what he could do to make a living, and also be able to marry the girl he loved. He certainly was determined. We can only wonder what works he might have given us had he lived longer. He enjoyed sculpting so much and his bronze creations are amazing. But I am grateful for the legacy he left us through his work, and the example that we must use the gifts given to us, for they are ours for a reason. Happy New Year.,

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  2. I love Frederick Remington's art. This was a wonderful post, Ashley. I had always wondered if he was related to the arms family and now I know. How sad he died so young.

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    1. Thank you, Carolyn. I was surprised how young he was when he began his career. Also, that he was a writer. Yes, his untimely death was very sad. His surgery was done at home, and there were complications from anesthesia and the appendicitis. The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth has a wonderful collection on Remington, and I have read diary entries he made, and copies of correspondence between him and Teddy Roosevelt. Very sad to read the last entry in his journal was by his wife, saying he was gone.

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  3. Once again, Ashley, you have outdone yourself with an outstanding post. Excellent, as always.
    Here in town, at various friends' homes, I have seen sculptures and paintings that I can identify immediately as "A Remington." One lady recently passed away, and I have wondered what her daughters and her family did with the treasures she owned..both scultures and paintings and coffee table book...she was a real fan, but what of her daugthers? Will they appreciate these priceless artifact?
    I had never heard that he died at such a young age. Who of our young generation know of him?
    Thanks so much, not only for the information but for the fantastic photos. You know I am a "visual" person....I like and need to see the subject I'm reading about. Thanks so much.

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    1. Thank you, Celia. I have often admired Remington's work and his bronze sculptures. How wonderful to own one of his pieces. but in Texas we are lucky that the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth and the Museum of Fine Art in Houston have Remington pieces for people to see--and learn about the man. I think if young people knew of him, of all he accomplished in so short a time, it would inspire them to do the same. I am reminded of the famous quote from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." I believe Fredric Remington is a perfect example of doing just that. And how fortunate we are that we have his art to give us a visual of the West, and inspire some of us to write about it. Happy New Year.

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  4. Ashley, I'm exhausted just thinking about the amount of research you put into this post, but what a fabulous post it is! Thank you so much for sharing all this information. I've always admired Remington's work, but I never knew much about him as a man. Now I know a BUNCH about him. :-D

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    1. Thank you, Kathleen. I am so happy you found the post interesting. I loved learning more about him, and studying his work anew. I cannot decide which of his paintings I love the most. :) Happy New Year to you and yours.

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  5. I've always been a huge fan of Remington. Wonderfully researched article, Ashley.

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  6. Wonderful post, Ashley. Your research is impressive and I absolutely love the old photos. May 2016 be your best year ever, my friend!

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    1. Thank you, Lyn. I wish you and your family the best of everything in 2016.

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  7. Oh wow, what a talented man. You wonder what he would have done if he had lived decades longer. Thanks for a great post!

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    1. I feel the same way, Linda. One can only imagine, especially since he was focusing more on sculpting and excited about that medium. So glad you enjoyed the post. Have a great 2016!

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  8. I sure enjoyed your post, Ashley. I've always admired Remington's paintings and have three of his sculptures, The Bronco Buster, The Outlaw and The Cowboy. They are proudly displayed on our mantel.

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    1. Thank you, Cheri. Oh, lucky you! How wonderful that you have three of his sculptures. The detail is amazing. Your mantel must look amazing. :) Have a Happy New Year!

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  9. My Mother was an award winning artist and she loved Remington's work. We had a book full of his art. What a great asset he was to those of us who love the history of this country. Great post, Ashley. :)

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    1. Thank you, Paisley. I can well understand how Remington must have been inspiring to other artists. After all, his paintings inspire my writing, as well as my love of the American West.

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  10. My Mother was an award winning artist and she loved Remington's work. We had a book full of his art. What a great asset he was to those of us who love the history of this country. Great post, Ashley. :)

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