A Brush with HIS­TORY

A new art book cel­e­brat­ing the work of Mor­gan Weistling fea­tures the artist’s un­mis­tak­able brand of sto­ry­telling

International Artist - - A Brush With History - By Michael Claw­son

Painter Mor­gan Weistling’s works tell sto­ries big and small. The small ones are right there on the can­vas as his pi­o­neer and West­ern fig­ures go about their daily lives amid whole­some scenes on coun­try farms or small Old West towns. The big sto­ries take place else­where, on other paint­ings, and when assem­bled to­gether re­veal larger nar­ra­tives as char­ac­ters grow up, take on new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and find them­selves in new set­tings.

These two sto­ry­telling as­pects of Weistling’s paint­ings can be clearly seen in a new book about his ca­reer, his work and his long his­tory with art. The book, A Brush With His­tory: The Paint­ings of Mor­gan Weistling, is avail­able now and fea­tures 182 full-color plates of his works, as well as look into his early il­lus­tra­tion ca­reer, his in­spi­ra­tions and his artis­tic fam­ily, which in­cludes wife Joann Per­alta and daugh­ter Brit­tany Weistling.

The for­ward of the book is writ­ten by painter Howard Terp­n­ing, who first met Weistling in 1999. “The first time I saw an orig­i­nal paint­ing by Mor­gan Weistling was at a dealer sem­i­nar in Salt Lake City, Utah. The paint­ing was ti­tled Goats and Roses. It was truly a beau­ti­ful work, and I thought to

The Snake Oil Sales­man, oil, 36 x 56" (91 x 142 cm) The ex­pres­sion “Snake Oil sales­man” is of­ten used to de­scribe a per­son who is sell­ing you some­thing with fraud­u­lent claims. Back in the 1800s through­out the West, there were trav­el­ing sales­man who crossed the land from town to town sell­ing what they claimed to be reme­dies for all man­ner of ail­ments. These char­la­tans would pose as pro­fes­sors of medicine or doc­tors with du­bi­ous cre­den­tials to sell their fake medicines.

Orig­i­nally, Chi­nese la­bor­ers on rail­road gangs had brought to Amer­ica their own oil made from Chi­nese Wa­ter Snakes. The oil they used ac­tu­ally had heal­ing prop­er­ties for joint pain. Soon, a West­ern ver­sion was be­ing pro­duced from a plen­ti­ful snake at hand, the rat­tler. Un­for­tu­nately, the rat­tler snake does not pro­duce any of the ben­e­fits of the Chi­nese wa­ter snake. But that didn’t stop sales­men like this fel­low depicted here. To help sell their elixirs, an ac­com­plice in the crowd would be cho­sen to come on stage and test the magic cure. As in this paint­ing, the “shill” came on stage with his cane and now is ex­am­in­ing the bot­tle. Soon, af­ter a spoon­ful, he will hop around the stage with­out his cane to the de­light of the en­thused crowd. This “doc­tor” will not hang around long. Soon he will pack it up and be out of town be­fore his cus­tomers re­al­ize they have been fooled.

As part of the sto­ry­telling process for Mor­gan, he has threaded the lives of these char­ac­ters through­out his work. With large paint­ings like The

Snake Oil Sales­man it is a fun ex­er­cise to see how many peo­ple are rep­re­sented from other paint­ings. These char­ac­ters have depth beyond the one paint­ing. In this way this cre­ated uni­verse con­tin­ues to present more sto­ries to tell.

my­self, ‘My gosh where did this guy come from, and where has he been?’” Terp­n­ing writes in the book. “…There is hu­man­ity in Mor­gan’s work and a sen­si­tiv­ity that is so ev­i­dent. His work is in­stantly rec­og­niz­able from across the room. In or­der to paint a

sub­ject well, I be­lieve that the artist must be emo­tion­ally con­nected to his or her sub­ject mat­ter. Paint­ing a sub­ject be­cause it’s ex­pe­di­ent—it’s what the col­lec­tor is buy­ing at the mo­ment—will show in the end re­sult. Mor­gan ob­vi­ously feels that con­nec­tion

to his mod­els, and he treats his sub­jects with re­spect on can­vas. He is in com­plete com­mand of his craft.”

Some of the works fea­tured in the A Brush With His­tory in­clude some of his most fa­mous paint­ings, such as In­dian Sto­ries,

the cover im­age, which shows a grand­fa­ther shar­ing an ad­ven­ture tale by the fire­place; The Quilt­ing Bee, which shows nearly a dozen women work­ing on a quilt; Where Sto­ries Were Told, show­ing a coun­try store and its cus­tomers; and The Dance, which won the Prix de West mu­seum pur­chase award in 2001 at the Na­tional Cow­boy & West­ern Her­itage Mu­seum. Ea­gle-eyed view­ers will no­tice re­peat­ing mo­tifs—sto­ries, char­ac­ters, items on shelves or ta­bles, and even pet cats—that pop up again and again in the artist’s works, each one ad­vanc­ing a dif­fer­ent story within the world Weistling has cre­ated.

“I have al­ways said that if it weren’t for know­ing some­one was go­ing to see what I was cre­at­ing, I would not have the de­sire to put all the ef­fort re­quired to pro­duce it. I freely ad­mit that I do these paint­ings for oth­ers to see—to com­mu­ni­cate to some­one else a feel­ing, a mood, and a story that means some­thing to me,” Weistling writes in the book. “This tal­ent to paint is a gift, and it is meant to be shared. Merely pro­duc­ing the art is not enough. It’s that vul­ner­a­bil­ity of show­ing it to some­one for the first time that makes it com­plete. There­fore, paint­ing is a lan­guage for me and re­quires some­one will­ing to lis­ten.”

In­dian Sto­ries, oil, 40 x 46" (102 x 117 cm)A grand­fa­ther re­calls the day a group of Lakota were met on the trail West, a trade was made and that the pipe was given as part of the ex­change. The tra­di­tion of pass­ing down fam­ily his­tory from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion is an im­por­tant theme in Mor­gan Weistling’s life. Many times it is an ob­ject that holds great sig­nif­i­cance and brings back me­mories of a per­son or event. In this case, the Lakota pipe and hints of other sto­ries are emerg­ing from Grandpa’s chest of me­mories. The chil­dren are im­mersed in this story and spell­bound with ev­ery de­tail of his en­counter. Be­fore ra­dio or tele­vi­sion, this was a great form of en­ter­tain­ment, lis­ten­ing to sto­ries. The older girl, Diana, bites her fin­ger­nails as the story reaches a tense mo­ment as the ex­pres­sion on the boy fac­ing us, James, at­tests to.

Ore­gon Trail Fam­ily, 1850, oil, 34 x 50" (86 x 127 cm)Mor­gan Weistling’s sto­ries all be­gin with the brave pi­o­neers that trav­eled West in search of a new and bet­ter life. It was a per­ilous jour­ney and many did not make it. He is cap­ti­vated by the di­aries that were writ­ten by the men and women on the trail. This paint­ing was in­spired by one di­ary that was writ­ten by a young girl with her fam­ily. The end of the day was her fa­vorite time. Food and a lit­tle en­ter­tain­ment helped to keep their minds off the long jour­ney ahead. You can see the young writer sit­ting next to the wagon, pen­ning the very words that in­spired the paint­ing.

Through­out the pages of this ar­ti­cle are im­ages ac­com­pa­nied by text ex­cerpted from A Brush With His­tory: The Paint­ings of Mor­gan Weistling, pub­lished by Black­ham­mer Press. For more in­for­ma­tion about the artist or the book, visit www.mor­gan­weistling.com.

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