The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999 Page: 119
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The Amon Carter Museum holds the principal collection of Smith's work, and
for this exhibition of approximately one hundred vintage prints, curator
Barbara McCandless drew heavily on the museum's collection, as well as the col-
lections of the Nita Stewart Haley Memorial Library in Midland, and the Texas
Memorial Museum of the University of Texas at Austin. The photographs are
the main focus, of course, but they are effectively supplemented with a few of
Smith's personal possessions and sketchbooks, a number of generic ranch-relat-
ed artifacts, and even recordings of cowboy songs available through individual
The exhibit is organized around a series of interpretive themes, such as "The
Day's Work" and "The Wandering Knights of the Plains," in order to place the
photographs in historical and artistic context. The photographs alone would be
worth the visit, and many visitors are obviously immediately drawn to the pho-
tographs and may well get through most of the exhibit (as I did) without read-
ing any written materials. A return journey through the galleries to read labels
(as many of us did) proved well worth the effort. One of the main themes car-
ried throughout the exhibit detailed the unique combination of Smith's rough
cowboy realism and his traditional artistic training. Although Smith shot many
spontaneous photographs, he also used his artistic training to carefully compose
many scenes, painstakingly planning and waiting for hours to get the right con-
ditions for a particular shot. Accompanying interpretive labels illustrate some of
his techniques, which ranged from tossing gunpowder in a campfire for suffi-
cient light on a campfire scene, to cropping negatives for a more artistic compo-
sition. Especially amusing is the thought of Smith organizing his gruff, no-non-
sense subjects into staged poses, a process that might take hours, for the sake of
achieving the most "realistic" look.
In place of the usual exhibit catalog, the exhibit is accompanied by the first
comprehensive biography of Smith since J. Evetts Haley's Life on the Texas Range
was published in 1952. The publication, titled Imagining the Open Range: Erwin E.
Smith, Cowboy Photographer, was written by B. Byron Price, director of the Buffalo
Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. An excellent chronicle of Smith's life,
it also contains 175 duotone illustrations.
Although installed and interpreted primarily for an adult audience, the orga-
nizers have attempted to increase the exhibit's accessibility to school children by
providing written educational materials, including a teacher's guide and a young
viewer's guide. Related programs, including performances by singer Don
Edwards and cowboy poet Paul Zarzyski, were also held at the Amon Carter
Museum during the exhibit's tenure there.
After closing in Fort Worth the show will travel to the National Cowboy Hall of
Fame, Oklahoma City, from September 25 through December 18, 1998, and the
Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, from April 9 through July 4,
1999. A smaller version of the exhibit, drawn from modern prints made from
the original negatives, will travel to ten other venues in Texas, including the Old
Jail Art Center, Albany, Texas, from June 6 through August 8, 1998. Other
venues were pending as this review was being written.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999, periodical, 1999; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101219/m1/144/: accessed March 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.