The Vanishing Frontier art movement and sculpture of art like End of Trail was one of the three greatest influences on my sculpture."
James Earl Fraser was born in the 1870's in the Minnesota but grew up in the West. He remembered and saw first hand, while young "Manifest Destiny". Probably best summed up by Horace Greeley's, "Go West Young Man." He sculpted End of Trail out of Plaster-of-Paris. The original was huge. No bronze could be spared to cast the piece until after WWI due to shortages. He became the student of Augustus St. Gaudens who designed Americans $10 and $20 dollar eagle and double eagle gold pieces. Fraser like his mentor would eventually design coinage for the US Mint. As the frontier closed in the 1880's many American's were shocked that there was really no place to expand and that the wild in the west was dying (Historically this was summed up by the Turner Thesis which tied the previously shifting frontier to American democracy and that this frontier had closed). Collectively we mourned and we did it in diverse ways. Some of that mourning is still visible and as is often the case most visible in art. Whether it was guilt for having drastically reduced the Native American population and taking away their freedom by placing them on reservations (Example of mourning: "The red man was pressed, from the heart of the west, it is doubtful that he'll every return". Home on the Range). The very near extinction of the America's Bison (Example of mourning: What is on the back of the pictured nickel above left?). Paintings were rendered showing idyllic scenes of Native American life...simple, free, happy and non-complex. Nostalgia is a set of rose colored glasses. Collectively this movement became known as the "Vanishing Frontier". It lasted clear into the 1920's and beyond and extended to foreign artists that never meant to be a part of the movement.
Victor Wierusz -Kowalski (1840-1915)) painted "The Lone Wolf" and it was meant to depict Polish rural life ( immediately above) in this case a wolf on a hill overlooking a village. The village is European not American. The painting struck such a chord in America that it was the most copied painting in the 1920's according to some sources. I grew up with it in my grandmother's home, then my mother's home. I still have the print in an old frame. When I said earlier that it was the most copied painting of the 1920's I meant it. The copy I inherited looks just like the one above except the village is on the right and the wolf is facing the right looking down on the village but the withered tree is still on the left. The sky is not as artfully rendered as the original either. The original's sky reminds me a bit of what Van Gogh might have painted if he wanted a more realistic starry night. Finally, I believe the most iconic sculpture of all time is "End of Trail" by James Earl Fraser (uppermost left) for two main reasons:
- It is so obviously and successfully aimed at our hearts. Native Americans now and especially then were a proud, tough people. Perhaps the irony is what does it. The contrast of what we know and admire Native Americans to be (this is a generalization too of course) and the sculpture of a native plains warrior with lance mounted on a war pony and both are either utterly defeated or so weary they can barely move. It works either way. It works on our hearts and if we associate it with what was done to Native Americas our guilt as well. I have never seen a horse with its tail brought up between its legs like a frightened dog's in real life unless the wind was blowing or it was swatting flies on its belly. I have owned a bunch of them. Fraser knew about horses too. What effective artistic license he took to tear at our hearts so.
- The piece ("The End of Trail") has lasted and grown since before WWI until today you see it on T-shirts both in white tourist shops or in support of a native cause. Go into any Western Tourist Trap and you will see a redone image of this sculpture in one form or another. It is in many homes. The image is redone in small busts, is on enough metal art to recycle a good portion of the junk yards in America and so many coffee mugs that it should become a trademark for a coffee company. Maybe it is. Regardless 100 years from its inception it is still going strong and it is still... beloved.