“Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West” by Peter H. Hassrick
“Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West,” by Peter H. Hassrick, highlights the stunning paintings of the western landscape by Bierstadt, a collection of work that is meaningful in its message and his interest in wildlife conservation and management. The art and history narrative together highlight his work while featuring the Plains Indians and the American bison, along with the changing West of the day. He balanced aesthetic while pushing needed political and social debates related to wildlife and, at the time, Native people.
Known as America’s premier western landscape artist, Bierstadt also should have been known as a historian through his work. His legacy includes documentation of the Native people, along with the slaughter and near extinction of bison, by the settlers in changing West. Bierstadt’s passion for the relationship of the bison with Native people comes through in multiple images. The bounty of the hunt is an important theme showing the adaptability of Natives in their surroundings while living off of the land.
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The book presents the majestic paintings from the exhibition that provide a romance of the West. However, you can see the real West disappear through the migration of, as we would refer to ourselves in today’s political climate, aliens. Bierstadt was an activist of his time through his art, perhaps a moral compass, sparking debates about issues facing the dynamic West. Regardless of one’s current-day political and social beliefs, the book provides a beautiful snapshot in time before Montana statehood and during the era in which Yellowstone became the first national park for all to enjoy. The book will also inspire you to visit the region known for majesty and big skies.
Bryan W. Knicely is the executive director at the Yellowstone Art Museum.