The Ralston/Chief Washakie Exhibit has recently been featured in the August issue of prominent western publication, True West Magazine. Jana Bommersbach, an Emmy winning journalist and Arizona Journalist of the Year wrote, “Crusade for a Chief: A Wyoming town preserves the nerve and pluck of a notable Shoshone Chief”. The article touches on the history of the paintings and Chief Washakie’s role in the development of the west, in addition to the Pioneer Museum’s storied history and recent 100th anniversary.
In October 2016 the Fremont County Pioneer Museum in Lander opened an exhibition of paintings by J.K. Ralston commissioned by Harold Del Monte for the Noble Hotel to tell the story of the life of Shoshone Chief Washakie in 23 paintings. The paintings had not been seen in Lander for almost 50 years when the curtain dropped on the unveiling. “This is a real honor for the exhibit, the museum and Lander,” said Museum Curator Randy Wise. “True West is read by people around the world, and it will really raise our profile as a destination for people.”
In addition to the extensive collection of artifacts from the Lander Valley, the museum is featuring classic western art like the Ralston collection. The paintings were commissioned by Harold Del Monte to hang in the Noble Hotel in the mid-1940s. Ralston was an up and coming western artist, and his epic oils about the life of Chief Washakie were a major feature in the old Noble Hotel.
Ralston went on to become a major western painter, and the Washakie Paintings were on display in the hotel until it closed in the 1960s. They went into storage, except for a brief appearance at the state capitol in Cheyenne. According to the museum staff Lander is where the paintings should be. “They were created here to be displayed here, and are about Chief Washakie, who spent the bulk of his life in the Wind River Valley,” said Wise.
The museum, the Pioneer Association and the Museum of the American West have started a campaign to keep the paintings permanently in Lander. People interested in donating should contact the museum.
The Ralston paintings will be on exhibit through mid-October, then in that part of the museum gallery a new exhibit of Frederick Remington lithographs will be on display. Titled “Dramatic Moments,” the Remington art will be on display for a year. A grand unveiling is set for November 5.
True West Magazine is recognized as the premier magazine about Western American History, and is the world's oldest, continuously-published Western American magazine. Scott Goetz, Fremont County Museum Central Director said, “It is very gratifying for everyone associated with the museums to have our work recognized by such a prominent and popular western history magazine. I am extremely proud of the efforts of all of the staff at the Pioneer Museum that put the exhibit together and thankful to Sandy Del Monte for the loan of the paintings, Dave Raynolds for his and his families patronage and the National Outdoor Leadership School for the loan of the Noble Hotel furniture that is used as part of the interpretation.”
The Lander Pioneer Museum was opened in 1915, and is the oldest history museum in Wyoming. For more information on the museum visit the website at fremontcountymuseum.com or Facebook at Pioneer Museum Lander Wyoming. Hours are Monday through Saturday 9 to 5. Call 307-332-3339 for information.