Want to experience the Old West as it was being settled? A new online exhibit by Museum on Main tells the story, starting with European immigrants as they prepare to leave New York in 1873.
"A Great Frontier Odyssey: Sketches of the American West" features 40 prints by Paul Frenzeny and Jules Tavernier, artists hired by Harper's Weekly to document frontier life.
After the opening of the Transcontinental Railroad, which went through Pleasanton, there was a public clamor for images of the newly accessible land. Frenzeny and Tavernier traveled from New York to San Francisco in 1873-74 creating drawings filled with action and drama that depicted settlers, places and events on the frontier.
This is the museum's first virtual exhibit. Museum on Main Curator Ken MacLennan leads viewers through the display, which is now inside the museum building, sharing its highlights and providing informative narration.
The artists captured experiences including work at the iron mills of Pittsburgh, the Great Plains, cowboys in Texas, Native American life in Arizona and Nebraska, miners in Colorado as well as the Denver cityscape, Mormon life in Utah, and colorful scenes San Francisco.
"In addition to chronicling Frenzeny and Tavernier's journey across the continent, the exhibit gives us a peek into their methods with … comparisons between their original watercolor sketches and the final published prints," MacLennan says.
The artists carefully transferred their images, mirrored, onto blocks, which were carved at the publishing house into their final versions.
The virtual exhibit can be seen on Museum on Main's YouTube channel, as well as its Facebook page. Both are accessible through its website, www.museumonmain.org, which also has other videos on historic subjects and museum activities.
"A Great Frontier Odyssey" is a traveling exhibit sponsored by the nonprofit organization, Exhibit Envoy. It was curated by Claudine Chalmers based on her book, "Chronicling the West for Harper's: Coast to Coast with Frenzeny & Tavernier in 1873-1874."
Museum on Main, 603 Main St., has been closed since mid-March, and the staff has been working on ways to engage with the public, including posting daily updates on its website. This exhibit is due to leave June 28, but a reopening date for the museum has not yet been set.