Albert Bierstadt: Artist, Conservationist, Activist


Portrait of Albert Bierstadt, Picture taken on exhibit at the Gilcrease Museum.


Sustainability and conservation are topics that seem to be coming up over and over again today. Protecting our resources is vital to the stability of our nation and our culture. This seems like a concept that has just developed in the last 30 years, but surprisingly it has been an important focus since the mid-19th century.

Gilcrease Museum’s new exhibition titled Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West highlights the artist’s focus on how the West was changing during the period of Westward Expansion. This period ranges from about 1803-1900, and is marked by wagon trains headed out to the frontier in Manifest Destiny. The exhibit is co-curated by Gilcrease Museum and Buffalo Bill Center of the West of Cody, Wyoming.

Bierstadt valued the beauty of the landscape as well as the Native Americans who still inhabited the lands. Through his paintings, Bierstadt preserved beautiful images of the West before the rapid Euro-American expansion changed the landscapes. His early works include beautiful images of the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Plains. He often depicted Native American’s in prominent position, and he rarely included white settlers. His focus was on the importance of remembering and conserving our precious nature, and his paintings showed the world the changing and disappearing beauty of Western Landscapes and Native Americans.

The exhibit pays homage to his influences such as Thomas Cole, and connects his artwork to the crisis of the disappearing bison. Bierstadt’s powerful images rallied public opinion and helped preserve public lands. By the 1880’s, the bison population was diminishing by the millions because of the slaughter of bison for their hides. Bierstadt brought attention to this crisis through his art. He was equally passionate about the preservation of public lands. He fell in love with the landscapes while traveling and he painted so that the world could see its beauty before it disappeared. His passion for preservation is apparent through documents showing that he became the very first member of the Boone and Crockett Club which was established in 1888 and was committed to preserving and managing North America’s wildlife and wild lands.

The Gilcrease exhibition reflects modern conservation efforts and shows that preservation and conservation have been engrained in America almost since its inception. It also shows us how art can be used to bring awareness to issues on a global scale. The exhibit will only be shown at the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody and at Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. It has already finished its run in Cody, so be sure to check it out in Tulsa before it is gone! Head over to the Gilcrease Museum website and see some of the amazing pieces in the exhibit!


Museum Science and Management Student Angie Williams