You Oughta Be in Pictures

It’s time for a confession: The thought of being without my various technological devices when something new and exciting happens sends a shiver down my spine. If a great event occurs and someone does not snap a shot for group consumption on social media, did it really happen at all? If an occasion of worldwide significance transpires, photographs proliferate, memes flourish, and we can all see the images in an instant.

I’ve been thinking about the inevitability of images in today’s society in relation to the periodical illustrations of Frederic Remington (1861–1909)—a leading visual recorder of the newsworthy events of his time. If Remington wanted to share with a wide audience a scene of cowboys on the range, a nasty skirmish between warring factions, or even a bicyclist passing a stagecoach on a dusty road, he had to engage in several modes of creation to ready his rendering for mass dissemination.

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Frederic Remington, The Right of the Road-- A Hazardous Encounter on a Rocky Mountain Trail, 1900, 1961.246

He often captured what he witnessed in a one-of-a-kind grisaille (or, as we’d call it today, grayscale) oil painting, intentionally created without color so that it could be translated into print media. Imagine going to all that trouble! To take advantage of modes of reproduction, he might also do a drawing of the scene. The drawing would then be transferred by any number of skilled wood engravers in reverse onto the end grain of multiple wooden blocks, which were then inked and used to reproduce the image in magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, Scribners, or Collier’s.

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Printing block and special conservation housing

Jodie Utter, the museum’s conservator of works on paper, recently collaborated with me on an installation of wood blocks used by periodical publishers to make several of Remington’s illustrations. Such blocks were typically destroyed after printing or were sanded down and reused to make other newsworthy images, so it is rare to see them intact. We invite you to take a look in the special drawers in our Mezzanine Galleries to see them and better appreciate the labor-intensive process of yesteryear image making.

When you take your next selfie and post it to Instagram, think of the road Remington’s images needed to travel for anyone to see them. Of course, this begs the question, “Were we better off when it was more difficult to spread an image far and wide?” After all, if my friends had to carve their photos of me into wood blocks in order to share them, I bet many an unflattering image would be lost in thin air!

Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator

And now this from Jodie Utter:

What's In Our Drawers?

The Amon Carter has a varied and vast collection of masterworks; our largest collections, works on paper and photographs, are also the most sensitive to light. As the museum’s paper conservator, I spend a lot of my time documenting light-exposure histories for each paper object before it goes on display. Besides controlling temperature, air quality, and relative humidity, light gets most of my management attention. That said, the drawers in our Mezzanine Galleries are a paper conservator’s dream.

Why? Most of our art on paper collection is kept in dark storage with a fraction put on display each year. This is partly due to changing exhibitions, a finite display area, and most importantly to the history of display of individual objects—in other words, exposure to light. I will now put on my conservation hat –don’t leave—stay with me: Light damage is irreversible—and cumulative—therefore it’s of great importance to limit the display of light-sensitive works. This is why we keep close record of exactly how long a work has been on display since its arrival at the museum.

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Inspecting the drawers in our Mezzanine Galleries

Okay, still with me? That’s why I love those drawers! If a work is displayed on the wall for four months (our typical length of exhibition) it would receive approximately 1000 hours of light exposure; however, in one of these drawers for one year, the work receives less than sixty hours (or approximately one week) of exposure. I love it. Of course, not everything can be displayed in a drawer, nor would I suggest such craziness. But it’s pretty great that when a work on paper is not being viewed, it’s in the dark! See why I love these drawers?

Jodie Utter, Conservator of Works of Art on Paper