By Skye Ann
A portrayal of the American West is taken to a whole new level at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dreams, ambition, fortune, and adventure are all captured within intricate bronze statues at “The American West in Bronze” exhibit, featured at the museum.
The exhibit is divided into four sections, each with a unique theme. There are noble and stoic Indians, rambunctious cowboys, unyielding settlers, and roaming animals all carved from bronze perched on raised pedestals. The interactions between these themes in the exhibit represent the coexistence between Indians, cowboys, white pioneers, and wildlife in the Old West.
The exhibit is dimly lit and uses rays of light to focus on each individual statue, illuminating the bronze and making each figure seem animate.
Henry Merwin Shrady’s Buffalo (1899) and Charles M. Russell’s Smoking Up (1904) are statues that portray usual sights of a daily life in the Old West. Each statue is produced by a special wax casting technique that realistically depicts even something as thin as a woven basket of an American Indian, a lasso of a cowboy, or even the ruggedness of a bison’s fur coat, despite being made out of bronze.
There are about 65 bronze statues. The artists represented in this exhibit tended to use the metal because of the material’s accessibility and cheapness.
The statues, although depicting the beauty of the Old West, also remind us that the Old West was not all romance. They show the physical and emotional tension between and within the inhabitants of this land as well.
The statues are manifestations of the idea that the Old West was beautiful but unforgiving, playful but violent, and free but still bound to the Earth.
This exhibit has many gallery programs such as a K-12 Educator program, a family program, and a film event.