In 1837 the American artist Alfred Jacob Miller (1810–1874) attended the fur traders’ summer rendezvous held in the Green River Valley in what is now Wyoming. Invited along by the wealthy Scottish adventurer William Drummond Stewart (1795–1871), Miller became one of the first artists of European descent to venture into the Rocky Mountains.
Though this would be his only trip west, he spent the rest of his career revisiting and romanticizing the experience through his art. Miller’s subjects were primarily the Native people he met, as well as memorable geological formations, landscapes, hunting scenes, and animal encounters.
More immediately, Miller produced over 100 paintings for Stewart, ranging from intimately scaled watercolors to large oil paintings (one measured eight feet wide). The patron displayed them proudly at his Murthly Castle in Scotland, but upon his death they were auctioned and dispersed throughout the world.
As if by magic, many of Miller’s works have found their way back to Wyoming over the years, and now a large number of them have been reunited to be considered afresh. On view now through October 22, 2023, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming is the groundbreaking western art exhibition “Alfred Jacob Miller: Revisiting the Rendezvous — in Scotland and Today.”
Artifacts related to the fur trade era have been juxtaposed with Miller’s paintings to complement and complicate the stories his fanciful art relays. Eight of the paintings are accompanied by historian/playwright Gregory Hinton’s recorded narration of Miller’s own descriptions, and two theatrical stage sets based on his art have been built. One evokes Stewart’s campsite at the 1837 rendezvous, while the other is a fictitious room at his Scottish estate.
Next year, a version of the show will be presented at Indianapolis’s Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, which has partnered with the Center of the West all along the way.
Celebrate the power and endurance of watercolor at next year’s Watercolor Live!