The Call of the Mountains

The Call of the Mountains: The Artists of Glacier National Park

Author: Larry Len Petersen

Published by: Settlers West Galleries, Tucson, AZ

Year: 2002

Visual artists of many styles and various mediums have long found great inspiration for their work in the vistas, landscapes, flora and fauna, and peoples of the Crown of the Continent region. Some of their work pre-dates the founding of Glacier National Park. The works of these artists - oil paintings, water colors, poster art, photos, bronze -, especially those that focus on this magnificent Park, reflect both the conventions, interests, and artistic tastes of the times in which they were created as well as the personal impressions and artistic philosophies and practices of the individual artists who made them. In this wonderful book at hand, which we strongly recommend to anyone who wants to get a broad overview of some of the most impressive works of art in this vein and of many of the most important artists, we are treated to a coffee table format publication that highlights and sets into artistic and historic contexts works that were created primarily during the first half century of Glacier National Park. My only and very minor complaint is that, given the fact that the book deals almost exclusively with artists from the first forty or fifty years of Glacier National Park (which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year), the title should perhaps read “…The early Artists of Glacier National Park.” But given the overall excellence of this book, that’s quibbling.

Following a brief introduction by Larry Len Peterson, the book is organized into four major chapters that discuss and offer a magnificent sampling of artistic works that exemplify that chapter’s special focus. Each of these four chapters is divided further into sections on individual artists. The first chapter constitutes something of an anomaly in that it deals with what the author has chosen to call “Sign Talkers: The Authors,” rather than visual art and artists. But the descriptions and samples from the writings of George Bird Grinnell, James Willard Schultz, Walter McClintock, and Frank Bird Linderman provide an insightful and rich introduction to what the early enthusiasts, advocates, explorers, and scholars of the Park saw, learned, and were awed by. The chapter is amply illustrated with photos, book covers, posters, and paintings (McClintock was also an exceptional painter) that tie writing and visual art together in striking and important ways. The final section of this chapter is dedicated to a discussion of “the Promoters,” that is, those writers such as Mary Roberts Rinehart (Through Glacier Park in 1916 and Tenting To-Night), Agnes C. Laut (Enchanted Trails of Glacier Park and Blazed Trail of the Old Frontier) or Walter Prichard Eaton (Skyline Camps) and Margaret Thompson (High Trails of Glacier National Park) who played an important part in popularizing Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountain West among the broad American (and European) populations. Many popular images of Glacier and the Rocky Mountain West,--realistic, romantic, and nostalgic-that still abound in the heads and imaginations of people around the world, find some of their earliest “promotions” in such works.

The book’s second chapter also focuses on “promoters” of Glacier National Park, the so-called “Empire Builders. The Hills and Their Artists.” This chapter discusses the powerful role that James J. Hill and his son, Louis Hill, and their Great Northern Railway played in developing many of the iconic facilities (lodges, chalets, hotels) and images of Glacier. Unlike the writer “promoters” discussed in the previous chapter, these promoters were interested in advancing the Park for commercial reasons. This important chapter offers plenty of history and a wide range of artistic and commercial images from the era of the Hills. The posters, post cards, photos, and commissioned art works that are replicated here illustrate the themes and nostalgic images that were used to intrigue and inspire prospective visitors to the Park and its romantic accommodations, wilderness activities, and awe-inspiring landscapes and vistas. Particularly the extensive collection of Glacier National Park posters shown in this chapter underscore the basic themes that these “promoters” wanted to emphasize: fresh air and outdoor activities such as hiking and horseback riding, the proximity to Native Americans (especially the Blackfeet), rustic but comfortable and even majestic accommodations, and adventure. “Their artists” who are featured here include the outstanding photographers Fred A. Kizer and T.J. Hileman, and the intriguing painters John Fery and Winold Reiss. The numerous works by all of these artists included here remind us of how so many of the iconic and popular images of Glacier National Park had their origins in the works of these and other early artists. Readers will undoubtedly recognize some of the works shown here, such as Hileman’s photo of Blackfeet Indians in full head dress greeting tourists at East Glacier, Kizer’s hand-colored-in-sepia postcards of Blackfeet Indian Encampments at St. Mary’s Lake, or Reiss’s brightly colored paintings-become-posters as advertisements for the Great Northern Railway. But even well-versed readers in things related to Glacier will find numerous other works here by these “classic” artists who significantly influenced and continue to influence our notions of what Glacier National Park was, and still is perhaps, all about.

The third chapter of the book builds on that aspect of the previous one that dealt with the “promoter” photographers Kizer and Hileman in that it provides us with a tremendous overview of the aptly named “Shadow Catchers. The Photographers.” Some of the photographers represented here are certainly known to most readers (Edward Curtis, Roland Reed), but others perhaps are not so well-known (Ted Marble, Norman Forsyth). Regardless of whether their names or photos are immediately recognizable or not, this chapter presents a wealth of extraordinary photographs and images of many important aspects of Glacier National Park: lakes and mountains, wildlife and glaciers, Native Americans and tourists. One comes away from this chapter not only admiring the images reflected in these photos, but the artistic genius of these early landscape and outdoor photographers in general.

The fourth and final chapter in the book, titled “Word Painters: Charles M. Russell and Friends,” offers not only impressive replications of several Charlie Russell paintings of Glacier National Park where he lived in a cabin on Lake McDonald for many years, but also samples of the works of numerous other painter “friends”, including Philip R. Goodwin, Joe De Yong, Joseph Henry Sharp, Maynard Dixon, John Clarke, and one of the few Native American artists featured in the book, Lone Wolf. This longest chapter in the book offers an outstanding range of paintings of diverse realistic and romantically embellished images of the Park. The spectrum of styles and approaches to their topics and scenes is particularly impressive and illustrates how amazingly varied individual artists’ approaches to creating images of the same or similar landscapes and topics can be and were. Readers who aren’t familiar with the paintings of Goodwin, De Yong, Sharp, Dixon, Clarke, and Lone Wolf are in for a special treat with their works that are featured in this chapter.

The Call of the Mountains is an exceptional book, one that every admirer of Western art and Glacier National Park, separately but especially together, should own, look at again and again, and give to likeminded or even potentially like-minded friends and family members on special occasions. We owe Larry Len Peterson much gratitude for gathering these artists and works together, and for supplying extremely important textual background and information about the artists, their artistic works, and the amazing Glacier National Park that inspired them.

Story by Jerry Fetz
Photo by Kait Perrodin