One of the most significant names in western art would have to be Frederic Remington. Remington contributed a large number of sketches, oils, and sculptures depicting the old American West as he saw it and lived it- during its vanishing; days as a wild empire, From his birthplace in New York to Yale University to the Kansas prairie and then all over the world, he illustrated and wrote about what he saw in a dramatic and many times sensitive manner. One of his close friends, Theodore Roosevelt, had this to say about Frederic Remington:
"The soldier, the cowboy and the rancher, the Indian, the horse and the cattle of the plains, will live in his pictures and his bronzes, I verily believe, for all time."
The following article, culled from the FRAHS archives in the Frederic Remington High School Library, was written by Frederic Remington High School student, Phil Epp, in December 4, 1969. The accompanying Frederic Remington paintings, sketches, etc. used by the gracious permission of Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY.
Photo courtesy: Frederic Remington Art Museum , Ogdensburg , NY
Frederic Remington was born in 1861 in Canton, New York, the son of a newspaper publisher. At the age of ten, he began drawing pictures of objects around him. His favorite subject was horses. At this time he was appointed official mascot of Canton’s Fire Engine House No.1, where he sketched the fire horses. Soon after this he became interested in depicting frontier clashes between the cavalry and Indians. This became, of course, one of his favorite subjects until his death.
At the age of seventeen, Remington began formal art training at Yale University. More important to Remington, however, than his art training was his position as "rusher" on the Yale football team and his intercollegiate heavyweight boxing. He later illustrated some of Yale's football clashes in Harper’s Weekly. One important acquaintance of Remington’s at Yale was .Robert Camp. It was Camp who later encouraged Remington to come to Kansas.
In 1880 Remington's father died and left Frederic several thousand dollars. He then, after a year and a half at Yale, quit school and began traveling in the western states of Montana, the Dakotas, Texas, and the Arizona territory. He conceived the idea of depicting and recording the vanishing era of the old west following this trip. At this point Remington began portraying some of his excursions to the west through illustrations and written articles in Harper's Weekly.
Following his school years at Yale, Remington corresponded with his friend Robert Camp, Camp, who graduated in 1882 from Yale, set up sheep ranching on the plains of Butler County, Kansas. He strongly encouraged Remington to join him in this venture. Remington probably would have preferred to set up cattle ranching rather than sheep ranching, but due to insufficient funds decided to join his friend in Kansas.
Camp made the necessary arrangements for a small ranch next to his on which Remington would live. In 1883 Remington said farewell to his friends and family in New York and set out for the plain of Kansas. Butler County during this time was a prosperous sheep raising, area and many single men other than Remington decided to enter the carefree life of sheep ranching. Some of these single men became close friends of Remington and Camp during that year in Kansas. Two of these were Charlie, an Englishman, and Bill Kerr, who worked for Remington. One of the first chores performed by Remington was that of purchasing a horse. He purchased a half breed Texas and thoroughbred of a light gold dust color.
She was promptly named Terra-Cotta, although to the other boys on the ranch, who had not had the advantage of a year and a half at Yale art school, she was called Terry.
Apparently Remington's early months on the Kansas prairie were quite happy and fulfilling: "The gallop across the prairie," he wrote in describing an early morning ride to Bob Camp’s place, "was glorious. The light haze hung over the plains, not yet dissipated by tie rising sun. Terra-Cotta's stride was steel springs under me as she swept along, brushing the dew from the grass on the range."
His life on the prairie, even though quite fulfilling, was not as exciting as his letters sent to New York. An example of this would be a hasty letter which he wrote to a legal friend in Canton, New York:
May 11, '83, Peabody
Papers came all right—are the cheese—man just shot down the street—must go.
According to historical records such an event never took place. It makes one question the authenticity of his dramatic portrayal of the west. Remington's personality while in Kansas ranged from being extremely boisterous and jovial to one of near depression:
Several acquaintances who knew him then recalled that he was inclined to be melancholy, "moody beyond anything I had ever seen in man" reported one of his friends. "In his moments of despair he was not only morose but recluse. He hid from the majority of all his fellows save one, a chap of his own age, James Chapman, who hovered near as something of a guardian angel." The cause of this attitude is now hard to ascertain. All his life Remington was inclined to be volatile—for a time intensely enthusiastic, then despairing; but as he grew older this behavior gradually disappeared. Possibly the youthful Remington, when he first reached Kansas, had been disappointed in love or it may have been that one of his chief interests in life —drawing— had as yet brought him little satisfaction, or the death of his father, all may have played a part. But in the development of his new life the melancholia wore off and Remington soon become more jovial and was well-known and popular over the countryside.
One activity which is referred to in numerous books in connection with his year in Kansas was that of "coursing jacks" This activity consisted of chasing a jack rabbit and touching it with a 1ong stick. Touching the rabbit was seldom a success, but the sport seemed to be very enjoyable for Remington and his young friends. Remington made numerous sketches of this activity.
Another activity . . . told about occurred during a grade school Christmas program at nearby Plum Grove. Apparently Remington and his friends who attended the affair decided to throw spitballs at one of the community’s prominent citizens. This behavior was immediately reprimanded, and Remington and his friends were asked to leave the school building. They reacted to their being expelled by building a fire near the school house. As the fire became visible to the individuals inside the school house, Remington began yelling "Fire, fire!" Apparently some people became SO alarmed that they literally ran out of the doors, some even exited through the windows. This activity made Remington extremely unpopular with most of the more upstanding members of the community, and some of them even filed a warrant for his arrest. This public disapproval of the boisterous and "wild" Remington was probably one reasons for his leaving Kansas that following spring.
While in Kansas, Remington continued to draw nearly every thing around him. The walls of his farmhouse were filled with sketches of horses, sheep, and his friends. He went to Plum Grove and sketched the preacher who visited the schoolhouse on Sundays and the sketch was passed around, the audience. Many evenings a crowd including children would gather at Remington's house to watch him draw. He would often sketch friends as they boxed. This was a popular pastime with the young ranchers; however, few chanced a match with Remington who was considered somewhat of a professional.
Many of the sketches done at this time appear to be proportionally inaccurate and somewhat elementary considering the realistic quality of his later work. One picture of Robert Camp (pictured at the top of this page) is evidence of this. Regardless of the quality of his sketches at this time, he continued to send illustrations to Harper’s Weekly, and originated Some sketches which later developed into significant works. One such sketch which later influenced an oil painting called "The Cowboy," also influenced his first, and one of his most famous bronze sculptures, "The Bronco Buster. . . . Another famous painting which originated in Kansas was one depicting General Custer’s war with the Indians in Montana called "Last Stand."
The letter from Lakewood Brown to Mr. Elwood King . . . would verify that Remington's year in Kansas was influential to his later success as an artist and should by no means be considered an insignificant year of his life.
In the spring of 1884 Remington left Kansas for the Southwest. It was here that his most prominent paintings and bronzes were depicted. His oils show environmental quality through the use of "cold" blues and vibrant reds. The "individualness" of the cowboys, soldiers, Indians, and mountain men take on an almost caricature-type quality. One thing which is not often recognized in regard to Remington’s later work is that it appears much more "brushy," almost impressionistic. An example of this is one of his last paintings called "The Sentinel."
It is interesting to note that not all of "Remington's later work was done depicting the American west. He often returned to New York and finally set up his studio there. From New York he took frequent trips back to the west, and one rather extensive trip through Europe, Africa, and Asia. He illustrated and wrote stories in the Harper Harper’s New Monthly Magazine concerning his trip abroad and sketched numerous pictures of the slave markets in Africa.
Remington's works have since been used to illustrate many books concerning the old American west, and are present in some of the United States' largest museums-- the Frederic Remington Art Museum , Ogdensburg , NY . Remington succeeded in depicting an era of American history which, but for his work, may be remembered differently today.