|Frederic Remington (1861-1909). From the Santa Fe Trail to the Oregon Trail, he came to possess firsthand knowledge as a rancher, a military scout, a hunter and trapper, and as a reporter. Few of his contemporaries were equally devoted to capturing that particular historical moment, the three brief decades that saw the taming of the expansive and dangerous western frontier. Looking back at his career in 1905, Remington wrote: "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."
As did his talent. His evolving clarity of purpose and the naturally vivid subject matter inspired Remington to compulsively record the details, producing thousands of illustrations in the course of his twenty-three year career. Their accuracy, immediacy and drama, anchored by his equestrian expertise, fused his functions as artist and historian.
Following his graduation from Yale's new art school in 1880, Remington roamed the country west of the Mississippi for five years. His drawings began appearing regularly in Harper's in 1886, answering the popular need to know about Indian wars, wagon trains and cattle drives. He would return to the West for three months annually for many years, aware of his mission and of the source of his success: the crucial marriage of his "hard as nails" style with his subject matter. One critic said that his uncompromising depiction of the "stark reality" of Western life "gives him both his style and his interpretation". Another said that "under a burning sun, he has worked out an impressionism of his own". And the painter Childe Hassam wrote enthusiastically to the artist: "You are sure to have lots of success...Nobody else can do (these pictures)." He turned his studios into veritable museums of Western artifacts. Theodore Roosevelt offered this blunt praise in 1907: "He has portrayed a most characteristic and yet vanishing type of American life." His dedication to representing the facts of the Western experience was at the core of his endeavors, to which this country owes its most complete, faithful and compelling portrayal of its frontier heritage, from the most vivid, savage conflict to the lost, vast stillness of real wilderness. - J.P.