This exhibit explores both the real and the romanticized West. The definition of romanticize is “treat as idealized or heroic” or “to present details, incidents, or people in a romantic way.” Most people’s idea of the West is greatly shrouded in folklore due to romanticization. It can be said that the romanticism of the West started as early as the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806). For the United States, the West was used as a way to personify the American dream, manifest destiny, and the rugged nature of the land. Patricia Nelson Limerick in her book The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West says, “The West was the national region most associated with optimism and opportunity…” Throughout history, the American West has been romanticized in many ways. Romanticized versions of the West have appeared in art, literature, dime novels, movies, television, and Wild West Shows. This exhibit explains how all of these things have contributed to the romanticized view of the West.
“Images of the West” features lithographs, paintings, prints, bronzes, carvings, and kachinas from the Museum’s collections. Some of the featured artists include Frederic Remington, Charles Marion Russell, Jack Bryant, Sr., Olaf Weighorst, Robert “Shoofly” Shufelt, Doc Tate Nevaquaya, and others. As Robert “Shoofly” Shufelt has said, “Most of today’s cowboy art romanticizes and thus misrepresents the cowboy. I know of no other labor that involves so much skill and hard work for so little pay as that of the professional cowboy. My relationships and involvement with the culture is the cause and effect that kindled the art. It involved long hours of hard work, whether sitting in my saddle or at the drawing board.”
The exhibit also features a viewing area where you can watch the short cartoon “Little Tombstone” and the feature film “The Santa Fe Trail” starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey, Ronald Reagan, and Alan Hale. With the cartoon and film, visitors can see how these entertainment forms romanticized the West. As historian Patricia Limerick said, “If Hollywood wanted to capture the emotional center of Western history, its movies would be about real estate. John Wayne would have been neither a gunfighter nor sheriff, but a surveyor, speculator, or claims lawyer.” There are also three printed dime novels from the University of South Florida Libraries Special and Digital Collections. Guests are welcome to read these dime novels to see how they depicted the West.