Professor Commissioned to Write for National Exhibit
by Helena Witzke
Dr. Nicolas Witschi, WMU professor of English, has been commissioned by the Bank of America’s Art in Our Communities program to write the official companion essay for an exhibition showcasing art, artifacts and images of the American West.
The Bank of America created the Art in Our Communities program in order to increase community stability through the support of museums and nonprofit galleries. It lends communities the use of special exhibitions in its expansive corporate collection at no cost. The exhibition, titled “Searching the Horizon: The Real American West 1830-1920,” will focus on both the common mythologies and the realities of the American West.
Ranging from works of art and photographs of people, places, and artifacts, the exhibition underscores the many different perceptions of the American West. Spanning a period of just under a century, the works available display a vast and teeming array of peoples, cultures, and a nation’s worth of ambition.
“It strikes a wonderful balance between showing the West of people’s imaginations and the West as it was lived historically,” Witschi says. “My hope is that it affects viewers positively by prompting them to rethink their ideas about the history of the American West.”
Western American history has always been convoluted, and at times brutal, as the companion essay discusses. However, it also holds an overpowering place in the popular imagination of what “America” is, and this reputation, Witschi believes, does not always follow.
“We use it [the American West] as a symbol of all quintessentially American ideas and ideals, but beyond the symbolic value lies a complex arrangement of cultures, only some of which may rightly be called ‘American,’” he says.
“Searching the Horizon” will allow communities across the nation the chance to explore and continue the discussion of the impact of this symbolism. The exhibition is currently on view at the New Britain Museum of American Art, in New Britain, Conn., until April, and will travel to different locations across the country over the next few years.