When East Coast artist William R. Leigh (1866-1955) embarked on his first tour of the West in 1906, he recorded in his notebook that his visit to the Zuni Pueblo was like “a waking dream… of endless beauty.” Upon viewing the sacred Dowa Yalanne (Thunder Mountain), a prominent feature near the pueblo, he described it as “…bathed in the magical light of the red, low sun while the town and the plains were already in shadow.” Influenced by the 19th-century American tradition of panoramic landscapes, Leigh carefully constructed Thunder Mountain to emphasize both a sense of grandeur and an Arcadian portrayal of the Zuni in their ancient homeland. One of the most highly trained artists working in America, Leigh also became one of the most prolific painters of the American West. “The West had called forth the best there is in me,” he declared in 1913. Thunder Mountain, then, endures as a distinctive expression of the region’s magic and mystery.
With the support of painting conservator Mark Leonard, the museum recently received a generous grant from the Friends of Heritage Preservation for the conservation of this important painting. Beginning October 26, this unique project will take place in the Denney Wing where the public will be invited to observe the conservator at work. Weekly questio nswer periods with the audience will be held over the course of the treatment which is expected to extend into February.
Sponsored by the museum’s Western Art Council, Leonard will present a public lecture on this project in the Annenberg Theater on January 18.