BYU Exhibit Explores the Ever-Changing American West

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • PROVO, UTAH

Maynard Dixon's Round Dance symbolizes the strong link between the American West and Native American culture. This painting can be seen in a BYU exhibition about the American West from February 19 to August 13, 2016.  Photo courtesy BYU/MOA.

Article Highlights

  • "Branding the American West: Paintings and Films, 1900–1950" reflects the changing nature of the American West.
  • The exhibition runs from February 19 through August 13.

“These images of the land as well as the various peoples have deeply informed our current ideas about the American landscape and American identity.” —Janalee Emer, head museum educator at BYU's Museum of Art

The American West has long been romanticized for its vast landscapes, big skies, and seemingly endless possibilities.

Church history is, of course, inextricably linked to the American West. It was here in the West where the Mormon pioneers settled with prayerful hopes of religious freedom and prosperity. Church headquarters was established, and remains, in the shadow of the Rockies.

And to this day, Latter-day Saint congregations in all corners of the globe sing We’ll find the place which God for us prepared, far away in the West” (“Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns, no. 30).

But the American West is also defined by complexity and change. Like a winding river, it’s never really the same place twice. It continues to evolve, provoke, and fascinate.

A new exhibition at the Church-owned Brigham Young University Museum of Art reminds viewers of the many angles offered by the American West. Entitled Branding the American West: Paintings and Films, 1900–1950, the exhibition includes 90 pieces of art that, according to the museum, “reveal the multiple and changing brandings of the American West during a complicated time of war and racial unrest.”

Over the past century, the wide-open story of the American West—including the Mormon pioneer experience—has been told largely through film. So the influence of motion pictures plays a prominent role in the exhibition, which runs from February 19 through August 13.

Organized by the BYU museum and the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas, Branding the American West includes the works of many of the heavyweights of American Western art—including Frederic Remington, N. C. Wyeth, and Maynard Dixon.

Clips of Western flicks roll alongside the artwork to augment their stories.

Cinema helped craft the highly-romanticized story of the American West, as captured in this movie poster of the early 19th century Douglas Fairbanks flick. Western film plays a part in the BYU exhibition about the American West, which runs from February 19 to August 13, 2016. Photo courtesy Douglas Fairbanks Pictures.

“This exhibition will allow viewers to examine complex and contradictory images of the West as constructed and promoted by artists and filmmakers in the first half of the 20th century,” said Janalee Emmer, the head museum educator, in a museum release. “These images of the land as well as the various peoples have deeply informed our current ideas about the American landscape and American identity.”

The American West exhibition continues BYU’s tradition of bringing collections of secular and religious art to the Church-owned campus and its extended community. In recent years, patrons have enjoyed exhibitions that range from the Christ-centered altar pieces of Carl Bloch to the iconic Americana illustrations of Norman Rockwell. In June, the museum will open the exhibition To Magnify the Lord featuring six centuries of religious art.

Branding the American West is free to visitors. Visit moa.byu.edu for additional information.

Maynard Dixon's oil Mesa in Shadows (1926) captures the vastness of the American West landscape. This painting can be seen in a BYU exhibition about the American West from February 19 to August 13, 2016.

The Cattle Buyer by William Herbert Dunton captures the popular image of the cowboy plying his trade under open skies in the American West. This painting can be seen in a BYU exhibition about the American West from February 19 to August 13, 2016. Photo courtesy Stark Museum of Art.

Mormon artist Minerva Teichert's Stampede in the Canyon is included in a BYU exhibition about the American West. Photo courtesy BYU/MOA.