I am traveling this week, so I come to you this morning from gate D2 at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. The goal of this trip is to help advance the profile of our museum across the nation. I have been in St. Louis working with our conservator, Claire Barry, and the conservators at the Saint Louis Art Museum on a proposed exhibition project that we hope to partner on.
George Caleb Bingham (1811–1879), Jolly Flatboatmen in Port, 1857, oil on canvas, Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 123, 1944
The exhibition will explore the series of paintings the American artist George Caleb Bingham (1811–1879) made during the 1840s and 1850s of life along the Mississippi River—the edge of the western frontier at the time. While we are interested in the compelling cultural narrative Bingham's work suggests about western expansion, we are also exploring his working process. Yesterday we examined through technical process the underdrawings Bingham made on his canvases and their relationship to the highly finished drawings he made of his primary subject: the men who worked on the river. Through the science of conservation—the art museum equivalent of CSI—we hope to better understand how Bingham linked drawing on paper and canvas to achieve complex, multi-figured paintings. Put another way, we’re endeavoring to get inside his head as a working artist creating a national story for his day. Our process began yesterday to reconstruct Bingham's process, and it will continue for more than a year.
Building partnerships with other art museums to advance scholarship is just one reason to travel on behalf of the Amon Carter. Tomorrow, I continue north to Chicago to develop more relationships that will help bring Fort Worth's great American art museum to the nation.