H. David Wright: Marching to a Dif­fer­ent Drum

In­di­anapo­lis, IN

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS -

Tennessee artist H. David Wright ag­o­nizes over the de­tails be­cause when it comes to his­tory, the devil is in the de­tails. “If you can shoot it or wear it, then we get as close as we can to how it may have looked. Some­times there’s no guess­ing be­cause we have the ob­ject from that time pe­riod still, and other times it has to be recre­ated,” Wright says. “It all helps in my abil­ity to paint an au­then­tic pic­ture.”

Wright cut his teeth as an artist with paint­ings of the Amer­i­can Civil War back in the 1960s, but these days he’s one of the great his­tor­i­cal painters, turn­ing his at­ten­tion to the Amer­i­can fron­tier, early fur trap­pers and traders, and Na­tive Amer­i­cans, all from around 1840 and ear­lier. “My real in­ter­est is in Amer­i­can his­tory,” he adds.

The painter’s work will be fea­tured in a new ret­ro­spec­tive ti­tled Marching to a Dif­fer­ent Drum at the Eiteljorg Mu­seum in In­di­anapo­lis.

Wright was awarded the ret­ro­spec­tive at the 2018 Quest for the West ex­hi­bi­tion, dur­ing which he was given the Artist of Dis­tinc­tion Award. His ret­ro­spec­tive will open con­cur­rently with the 2019 Quest for the West, of which he is a par­tic­i­pant.

Dur­ing the lead-up to the mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tion, Wright took a trip to the Rocky Moun­tains, where he shot nearly 5,000 pho­to­graphs that will be used as ref­er­ence for paint­ings for sev­eral years to come. “John Cly­mer was one of my fa­vorite Amer­i­can artists, and when he moved out West he made a state­ment I liked. A writer asked him if he uses pho­to­graphs. He said, ‘Yes, I do. I need all the help I can get,’” Wright says. “The pho­tog­ra­phy is only part of it, though, be­cause my mod­els use all the right stuff. The pow­der horns, the ri­fles, the gear on the horses…all of it adds re­al­ism.”

Works in the ret­ro­spec­tive in­clude Un­in­vited Vis­i­tors, an oil from 2007 that shows

two fig­ures stand­ing ready as two Na­tive Amer­i­can fig­ures en­ter the paint­ing on horse­back. The en­tire scene takes place in a snowy land­scape, and the back­ground is nearly com­pletely hid­den by fog and fall­ing snow. Other works in­clude The Sta­tion Camp – Dogs & Deer­skins, with nu­mer­ous trap­pers at work in a camp, and sev­eral fron­tier still lifes, such as Amer­i­can Tradition, which shows early Amer­i­can hunt­ing equip­ment hang­ing from a wall.

Some of the works are on loan from the Peter­son Fam­ily Col­lec­tion, which has an em­pha­sis on works in­volv­ing fur trap­pers and moun­tain men, both of which Wright paints in abun­dance. Moun­tain man paint­ings have ebbed and flowed in the mar­ket, but Wright’s work has never strayed too far from one his fa­vorite pe­ri­ods of Amer­i­can his­tory.

“I’m very happy with where I’m at and my sub­ject mat­ter. The fur-trade era of paint­ings started with [Wil­liam Tylee] Ran­ney and [Arthur Fitzwillia­m] Tait and then picked up again with Char­lie Rus­sell and Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton,” Wright says. “Ever since then it rises and cy­cles. Cow­boys have al­ways been pop­u­lar, but I don’t paint cow­boys. I [paint] early Amer­i­can his­tory. I’ve been blessed.”

Rocky Moun­tain Trap­per, 2004, oil on panel, 30 x 24”. Loan cour­tesy Tim and Elaine Peter­son.

H. David Wright at the 2018 Quest for the West, where he was awarded the Artist of Dis­tinc­tion Award.

The Cold Gray Fog of Dawn, 2011, oil on panel, 20 x 30”. Loan cour­tesy Robert and Bar­bara Hunter.

The Sta­tion Camp – Dogs & Deer­skins, 2006, oil on panel, 16 x 20”

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