H. David Wright: Marching to a Different Drum
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”