Saturday, June 14, 2008

Accretionary Wedge #10: Geology and Art

The Prospector
by Newell Convers Wyeth

Click here for a larger image.
Thumbnail image is from The Mineralogical Record.
Oil painting on canvas (1906)

This post is a submittal to the June Accretionary Wedge, which is being hosted by John Van Hoesen at Geological Musings in the Taconic Mountains. Mine will be a bit short (for me, that is).

"The Prospector," by Newell Convers Wyeth, is a colorful rendition of the early western prospector. It was commissioned by McClure's Magazine to illustrate "The story of Montana: The treasure of Butte Hill and development of the great copper industry," which was published in the November, 1906 issue of that magazine, number 28, page 27.

Christopher Powell Connolly - who had a short career as a muckraker from 1906 until about 1914, when World War I began - wrote the story, an expose of some of the excesses of the copper mining industry in Montana in the early 20th century. The website, Montana: Big Sky Country, writes about Connolly as follows:

Connolly wrote the story he knew best, Montana's copper wars. His publisher, McClure's Magazine, advertised the Clark-Daly feud, spiced with the struggle between Standard Oil and Heinze as "the most thrilling fact story that has ever come out of the West" and illustrated it with rare photographs and N. C Wyeth's The Prospector...

Though [the story] was accused of bias, "The Story of Montana" launched Connolly's career, and he went on to write three more articles for McClure's detailing Heinze's court battles with Standard Oil's Amalgamated Copper Company and others.

"The story of Montana" is potentially for sale at, but is currently unavailable. Keep your eye out for a copy, if you are interested in American history.

I chose the painting "The Prospector" because 1) I wanted something related to mining and 2) I like the colors and shapes in the painting. I'm not usually a fan of early American western-style paintings, but this one appealed to me. I can't say much about artistic influences on N. C. Wyeth's work, but he studied under Howard Pyle in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. The National Museum of Illustration (NMAI) has an excellent biography of N. C. Wyeth. In it they state that Wyeth's instructor, Pyle

exhorted his students to “jump into their paintings to know the place” they were depicting. To go and experience the environments, and Wyeth took him literally, and went out West and lived with the Utes and Navahos. For three months he punched cattle, herded, was a mail-carrier, and documented his experiences in meticulous drawings. When he returned his incredible artwork was sought after and published at an astonishing rate.

Perhaps it's his dedication to place that strikes me in this particular painting. In any case, N. C. Wyeth put a lot of effort into gaining the experience he needed to paint what he wanted to paint. Most of his paintings aren't strictly geological in nature, but this one shows a backdrop that looks like Mt. Whitney in the southern Sierra Nevada of California. It could also be many places elsewhere in the west, including certain high peaks in Colorado, Idaho, and Montana, and probably other areas as well.

Accretionary Wedge #10: Geology in Art


David Bressan said...

Very inspiring indeed - the rappresentation remembered me the picture "The geologist" by Spitzweg, painted 1860.

Silver Fox said...

That's an interesting one - geologist with hand lens - thanks for the link.