Park City Museum exhibit examines woodblock creators who sketched the American West
Exhibit spotlights Tavernier and Frenzeny
Before photography was used to illustrate newspapers and magazines, Jules Tavernier and Paul Frenzeny put their own stamp on things by carving woodblocks for printing to document the expansion of the American West.
A new exhibit, “A Great Frontier Odyssey: Sketching the American West,” which showcases the blocks, prints and images made by these two French-born immigrants, is open through April 4 at the Park City Museum.
“This gorgeous exhibit that comes to us through a company called Exhibit Envoy is a great combination of art and history, and features beautiful, hand-colored prints from Harper’s Weekly Magazine that employed these two artists,” said Courtney Titus, Park City Museum’s curator of collections and exhibits. “Jules and Paul met while living in New York City, and Harper enlisted them in 1873 as a team to travel across the country and document the newly opened Western frontier.”
Frenzeny, a Frenchman of noble descent, was one of the leading “special correspondents” in the United States and Europe when woodblock printing hit its peak, according to Titus.
He made a name making images for famous novels such as Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.”
Tavernier was a painter who eventually became an important member of California’s art scene and a founder of Hawaii’s Volcano School, a group of non-Hawaiian artists known for painting nighttime images of the island’s volcanoes.
“Jules’ father was a candymaker and had a shop in Paris,” Titus said. “So, he was inspired by the colorful candies and boxes that were in the shop.”
During their one-year contract with the Harper family, Frenzeny and Tavernier traveled West by train and stage and documented what they saw along the way.
“They focused on pioneers who were heading out West and the railroad workers who were already there,” Titus said.
The two documented indigenous cultures and some of their ceremonies, and they documented the settlers’ destruction of the bison, which included images of hide curing and the stockpiling of bones, she said.
Other images depict miners, cowboys, antelope, bear hunts, windstorms and fires.
“It’s a very diverse and fascinating set of illustrations,” Titus said.
Frenzeny and Tavernier also traveled through Utah, and a couple of the illustrations in the exhibit depict the pioneers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“These illustrations are sometimes humorous, and usually focus on polygamy,” she said.
Because the images were to be printed and published in magazines, they had to be carved out on woodblocks that were sent back to New York to be published, Titus said.
“So they had to draw the images in reverse and carve them onto the blocks,” she said. “The blocks would then be covered with ink, and used in the printing press, which would reverse the image into its original view.”
The Harpers agreed to publish every sketch, but not necessarily in the order they received them, according to Titus.
“They would publish the image that would best serve the stories that were in the magazine at that time,” she said.
The museum’s exhibit features 36 framed engravings and six reproduction watercolors from the magazine’s actual pages, as well as 11 artifacts from Tavernier’s family.
“The engravings that are hand colored really bring the scenes to life,” Titus said.
Complementing the items enclosed in display cases is a book produced by the exhibit’s curator, Claudine Chalmers.
“People can flip through the book if they want to learn more about these artists,” Titus said.
In addition, the museum will host a Zoom lecture with Chalmers from 5-6 p.m. on March 25.
Registration for the lecture is now open at parkcityhistory.org/events. Registration can also be completed by emailing Diane Knispel, the museum’s director of education at email@example.com.
When: Through April 4
Where: Park City Museum, 528 Main St.
When: 5 p.m. on March 25
Registration: parkcityhistory.org/events or firstname.lastname@example.org
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