By BARBARA CANETTI Correspondent – July 1, 2018
A new exhibit at The Bryan Museum is an art installation as well as a history lesson telling the story of Charles Goodnight, one of the best known Texas cattle ranchers in the 1800s.
A dozen large oil paintings, commissioned by Texas businessman James E. Parkman, were created by Western artist Lee Cable, and vividly recount the legend of Goodnight, who blazed a trail from Texas to New Mexico and later Colorado and Wyoming. The award-winning book and movie, “Lonesome Dove,” was generally based on Goodnight and his business partner Oliver Loving’s adventures on a cattle drive.
Goodnight liked to remind people he was born the same year as Texas—1836, and arrived in 1845, the year it became a state. He is credited with inventing the first food truck—the chuckwagon—to take on the long journeys across the plains by storing cooking equipment in the rear of the munitions wagon. He also was a conservationist and worked hard to preserve the American bison, after helping to almost destroy the species. He lived until 1929, dying at 93 years old.
Goodnight has been called the “Father of the Texas Panhandle” because he was one of the first settlers in the area. The exhibit at The Bryan Museum, 1315 21st St., also includes artifacts and photos from the museum’s collection relating to Goodnight and his friend Comanche Chief Quanah Parker. Other items were loaned from the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas, said Nathan Jones, curator at The Bryan Museum. “This is a perfect fit for our museum, combining art and history,” Jones said. “There is a crossover that we think fulfills the values and interests of our visitors. By looking at the paintings, you will learn.”
The paintings depict scenes that were carefully researched by Cable, who spent a decade working on the art project. They illustrate life on the trail ride, on the ranch, in the settlements and out on the plains. Since there are few photographs of this time period, a well-researched visual history can only be envisioned through art, Cable said.
“In the case of Goodnight, much is written, not much is illustrated,” Cable said. His body of work aims to change that. Each painting is paired with the artist’s preliminary study or sketch, with notes showing how he modified his original art to include or exclude objects in the final rendition. The paintings are extremely detailed, and Cable’s background as a wildlife artist is evident in his ability to show emotion on the horses, bison and cattle’s faces as well as portray the ruggedness of the cowboys and frontiersmen and women. He carefully studied the environs in the late 1800s to depict homes, towns, ranches and the West accurately.
The exhibit, which is funded by the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation, will remain at The Bryan Museum until Oct. 22, and is included with the general admission to the museum, Jones said.