The Surg­ing, Thun­der­ing Herd: Vin­tage Bison En­grav­ings, 1758-1910

Billings, MT

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS -

Cu­ra­tor and col­lec­tor Lee Sil­li­man’s trav­el­ing ex­hi­bi­tion The Surg­ing, Thun­der­ing Herd: Vin­tage Bison En­grav­ings, 1758-1910 hits five mu­se­ums across the state of Mon­tana, in­clud­ing Yel­low­stone Art Mu­seum, and fea­tures a va­ri­ety of more than 50 orig­i­nal en­grav­ings de­pict­ing bison, an iconic beast and clas­sic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Amer­i­can Western fron­tier. The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures en­grav­ings from Sil­li­man’s print col­lec­tion and in­cludes steel and cop­per en­grav­ings (1700s to early 1800s), wood­block en­grav­ings (mid 1860s to the end of the 19th cen­tury) and chro­molithographs, color en­grav­ings made from dif­fer­ent types of stone de­pend­ing on the color (mid-1800s to be­gin­ning of the 1900s). Some of the steel en­grav­ings are hand tinted, which in­volves tak­ing trans­par­ent wa­ter­col­ors, tint­ing them and ap­ply­ing the color by hand with a brush, a process nor­mally done by ma­chine.

En­grav­ings are a sub­cat­e­gory of col­lect­ing that Sil­li­man says he has been work­ing on for the past 25 years. “It takes years and years to as­sem­ble the kind of col­lec­tion I have,” says Sil­li­man. “As I col­lect these, I get enough to

cre­ate a theme.” He con­tin­ues, “[Bison] were cen­tral to high plains Na­tive Amer­i­can cul­ture. I’ve long been fas­ci­nated by our his­tory with Na­tive Amer­i­can peo­ple and our re­la­tion­ship with them as time pro­gressed. Se­condly, [bison] are the largest an­i­mals in the Amer­i­can West.” Prom­i­nent artists whose works are fea­tured in this ex­hi­bi­tion in­clude Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton and Karl Bod­mer.

Sil­li­man is a one-man show, ex­plain­ing his process: he pur­chases the art­work, does his own cus­tom mat­ting and fram­ing, and then con­ducts the his­tor­i­cal re­search to sup­ple­ment the art­work. “I’m a his­to­rian, I’m more than just a print col­lec­tor,” he says. Sil­li­man ex­plains that he draws upon books writ­ten in the first per­son from Western fron­tier ex­plor­ers and uses di­rect quotes about their ex­pe­ri­ences en­coun­ter­ing bison to sup­ple­ment the art­work on dis­play in this ex­hi­bi­tion. “For me, [view­ing art­work] is just the be­gin­ning of the ex­pe­ri­ence,” Sil­li­man says. “I want to know the story be­hind the pic­ture.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion will be on view at Yel­low­stone Art Mu­seum from Au­gust 16 through Oc­to­ber 14.

Frédéric Theodore Lix (1830-1897), In­di­ens des Prairies Chas­sant le Bison, 1892, chro­molitho­graph.

Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton (1861-1909), Con­jur­ing Back the Buf­falo, 1892, wood en­grav­ing.

P. Sum­ner, A Prairie Fire, 1890,chro­molitho­graph.

Un­known artist, Bison, 1880, chro­molitho­graph.

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