|At the turn of the 20th century, artistic representations of American Indians, cowboys and cavalry, pioneers and prospectors, and animals of the plains and the mountains served as visual metaphors for the Old West and, as such, were collected eagerly by an urban-based clientele. Through some 65 bronze sculptures by 28 artists, the traveling exhibition The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925 explores the aesthetic and cultural impulses behind the creation of statuettes with American western themes so popular with audiences then and now.|
The development of fine art bronze casting in America is traced through the works displayed in this exhibition. Unlike marble, which was quarried in Europe and shipped across the ocean at great expense, bronze—an alloy composed of copper, with lesser amounts of tin, zinc, and lead—became readily available in the United States following the establishment of the earliest art bronze foundries around 1850. Because of its accessibility and relatively low cost, bronze came to be considered both as an American material and a democratic one
The exhibition covers the period 1850 to 1925 (with several later exceptions) and centers on four specific themes: the American Indian, wildlife, the cowboy, and the settler. While the American Indian and animals were favored subjects throughout this 75-year period, the cowboy was not portrayed in sculptural form until the 1890s, and the pioneer not regularly until the turn of the 20th century. Among the historical figures represented in the exhibition will be Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé, frontiersman Kit Carson, silent-film actor William S. Hart, and humorist Will Rogers.
The section on American Indians presents a range of sculptures that convey the changes endured by Indian nations. The documentary impulse to record individual American Indians had begun in the 1820s with painted portraits and extended to bronzes by the 1870s. However, the majority of sculptural representations of American Indians are records of their ways of life, from day-to-day activities such as hunting to sacred ceremonial rituals, melding storytelling narrative with universal themes. Hermon Atkins MacNeil’s Moqui Prayer for Rain (1895–96, private collection) was inspired by his visit to Arizona in 1895, where he witnessed the Moqui (Hopi) people’s annual prayer for rain at the top of the mesa at Oraibi. MacNeil’s swift runner carries writhing snakes coiled around his arms and even in his hair, symbols of the lightning that brings rain to the arid climate.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Website