On view now through October 22, 2023, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming is the groundbreaking western art exhibition “Alfred Jacob Miller: Revisiting the Rendezvous — in Scotland and Today.”
In 1837 the American artist Alfred Jacob Miller (1810–1874) attended the fur traders’ summer rendezvous held in the Green River Valley in what is now Wyoming. Invited along by the wealthy Scottish adventurer William Drummond Stewart (1795–1871), Miller became one of the first artists of European descent to venture into the Rocky Mountains.
Though this would be his only trip west, he spent the rest of his career revisiting and romanticizing the experience through his art. Miller’s subjects were primarily the Native people he had met, as well as memorable geological formations, landscapes, hunting scenes, and animal encounters.
More immediately, Miller produced over 100 paintings for Stewart, ranging from intimately scaled watercolors to large oil paintings (one measured eight feet wide). The patron displayed them proudly at his Murthly Castle in Scotland, but upon his death they were auctioned and dispersed throughout the world.
Now a large number of them have been reunited to be considered afresh. As if by magic, many of Miller’s works have found their way to Wyoming over the years, so the Center has focused its attention on collections there.
Lenders to this year’s project include Naoma Tate, J. Joe Ricketts in association with the Ricketts Art Foundation, the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, and the American Heritage Center (AHC) at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, which has loaned eight paintings from its Graff family collections. The Buffalo Bill Center itself has provided 21 paintings and one chromolithograph, though it actually owns a whopping 33 Miller works.
Artifacts related to the fur trade era have been juxtaposed with Miller’s paintings to complement and complicate the stories his fanciful art relays. Eight of the paintings are accompanied by historian/playwright Gregory Hinton’s recorded narration of Miller’s own descriptions, and two theatrical stage sets based on his art have been built. One evokes Stewart’s campsite at the 1837 rendezvous, while the other is a fictitious room at his Scottish estate.
This innovative project was catalyzed by a digital research project called “Fur Traders and Rendezvous: The Alfred Jacob Miller Online Catalogue.” Launched in 2015 as a joint effort among the Ricketts Art Foundation, Center of the West, and Museum of the Mountain Man, it spurred the curatorial team to develop this in-person exhibition as a logical next step.
Next year, a version of the show will be presented at Indianapolis’s Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, which has partnered with the Center of the West all along the way.