Tavernier documented life in the upper prairiesAs an educator of art techniques and art history, I am always on the search for resources of information to bring back to my students. Most accredited art schools require a survey series in art history and many (if not all) use one of perhaps two textbooks that cite fine art works dating back to about 35,000 B.C.
By: Sharon Cox, The Jamestown Sun
As an educator of art techniques and art history, I am always on the search for resources of information to bring back to my students. Most accredited art schools require a survey series in art history and many (if not all) use one of perhaps two textbooks that cite fine art works dating back to about 35,000 B.C. I teach the same required two-semester survey and use the premier text on Western art history. Like many professors connected with high-standard colleges and universities, I use a text for classes so students planning for graduate schools after college will make the transition sans prerequisites. Thus the traditional set of books.
Fine arts do not include crafts or many media still under scrutiny regarding the basis for making art: The idea is original to the artist, and the work makes a new and original contribution to the world of art. And it must be unlike a previous artist’s work. The decisions authorities make regarding what is “art” or “good” or makes a contribution is oftentimes subject to discussion and disagreement. The standard texts do not include a genre labeled “regional.”
So the work of Remington and Karl Bodmer and Jules Tavernier are not included because they are upper-Midwestern “regionalists.” It’s the same for the N.C. Wyeth family of the northeastern U.S. Though well known in art circles, bought and shown universally, the authorities pool their contributions into the same category as Norman Rockwell and Remington: They are regional artists who document the world where they live. Commercial, illustrative and folk art (with a few exceptions) are usually left out of standard art history textbooks.
I understand that art is the idea manifested by the artist, but I believe Remington, Rockwell, the Wyeth family and a number of other artists made greater contributors to the world of art than some “one-canvas wonders” in that art history book. Because of that, I augment my standard survey class with the histories of excluded artists and explain to the students why it’s left out but also why I include them in our studies.
That being said, it’s understandable that I’d be interested in learning about a “regionalist” whose work documented many settlers from back east making the trek westward. While at a gathering at Fort Totten recently, I learned about two artists whose work contributed to the movement west.
Tavernier and Paul Frenzeny were Frenchmen who documented these prairies right alongside the work of Karl Bodmer and Philippe de Trobriand. I’d never heard of either until Vance Nelson piqued my interest. Nelson and his wife, Karen, are from Ogallala, Neb., where the couple retired from Omaha. He told me about Tavernier’s work. He said that Tavernier was trained in Paris and used his country’s Barbizon aesthetic in works that he did for “Harper’s Weekly” and of Native Americans living near San Francisco.
Nelson said the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, Neb., houses the largest collection of Tavernier’s work, some of which will join additional works in 2014 when his art will be shown at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif.
Tavernier and Frenzeny jointly signed their names on many pieces they did of the western prairies. They painted across the United States from coast to coast, and emphasized the native peoples in each area, marking their work as reference resources for eventually documenting artifacts. It is the documentary narrative work of deTrobiand, Bodmer and other artists who illustrated the way things were, what people wore, and how they lived that now function as resources for museum accuracy. Because the camera was not yet invented, their value for historic documentation is immeasurable. Now I can add Tavernier’s work to those resources.
If anyone has an item for this column, send it to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.