Western art from Great Falls going to Wyo. museum

By Karl Puckett
Great Falls, Montana (AP) April 2012

More than 60 sketches and paintings of the last “pre-reservation” warriors of the West are on their way from a Great Falls gallery to the University of Wyoming Art Museum, where they will be displayed from May to August.

The art work is part of the David Humphreys Miller collection and, according to Wrangler Gallery owner Brad Hamlett, the collection is invaluable.

It’s his hope that displaying the fine art at the large museum will increase its exposure and attract a benefactor willing to buy the collection and then donate it to a university museum somewhere.

“They were the pre-reservation Indians and that’s significant because the whole culture changed when the buffalo were gone,” Hamlett said of the works. “They could freely go where they wanted.”

The 64 sketches, pastorals and oils on canvas depict American Indian warriors who participated in buffalo hunts, raids and battles with the U.S. Army in their younger years.

They were completed by Miller of Ohio, who was 16 when he came to Montana and the Dakotas in 1935 to interview the surviving warriors who had wiped out the U.S. Army forces led by Gen. George Armstrong Custer in 1876.

Miller also interviewed survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 in South Dakota in addition to Blackfeet warriors in Montana, Hamlett said.

University of Wyoming’s Nicole Crawford, curator of collections, and assistant curator Rachel Miller were at Wrangler Gallery on Central Avenue to pick up the pieces, which they placed in bubble wrap. They will be loaded in an SUV today for the trip to Wyoming.

“People need to see this collection,” Hamlett said.

Hamlett described the works as a learning, interactive and research collection that includes field notes and photographs. But just half of the fine art portion is going to be put on display at the University of Wyoming.

In addition to conducting interviews, Miller sketched and painted the warriors. He was interested in the warrior culture and did the work and research to document history, not for profit, Hamlett said. The collection is a unique body of work in that regard, he said.

Every two years, the museum focuses on art of the American West and the Miller collection fits the theme, Crawford and Miller said. Crawford noted the mission includes telling the American Indian point of view. Humphrey published a book in 1957 called “Custer’s Fall: The Indian Side of the Story.”

The collection will get exposure at the museum, which has more than 7,000 objects, because it will be on display during the tourist season May 19 to Aug. 11, Miller said. Professors also will be able to use the paintings and sketches to teach about art and history, Miller said.

Hamlett said a former business partner, Doug Johns of San Francisco, owner of the Johns’ Western Gallery, is in possession of Miller’s estate. The partners originally shipped the items to Great Falls to sell at the C.M. Russell art auction but later decided to keep the collection together. They’ve said previously that they want the collection to remain in Montana.

At the Wrangler Gallery, Hamlett displayed a few of the paintings and sketches headed for Wyoming. One was of Chewing Black Bone, a prominent Blackfeet from Montana, and Black Elk, who was at Little Big Horn. A photo shows Miller as he sketches White Cow Bull, a Sioux warrior, in South Dakota in 1930 with colored pencil and crayon on tinted paper. White Cow Bull signed the sketch in English.

“He really documented the northern plains warrior culture,” Hamlett said.