Pioneer Association closing in on goal to purchase famous Chief Washakie paintings
(Lander, Wyo.) – The Fremont County Pioneer Association has been working diligently to help save an important part of Fremont County’s history: The famous Chief Washakie paintings that hung for decades in the Noble Hotel.
The paintings were exhibited in the Museum’s main gallery in 2015 to great acclaim, and the museum made the decision to try and keep them in Lander permanently. “The paintings were created here, are about this area and its most famous citizen, they should stay here for everyone to enjoy,” said Curator Randy Wise. Wise said if the museum acquires the paintings it will create a “Washakie Gallery” on the 2nd floor to display them permanently along with many other pieces from the museum’s Native American collection.
According to Wise, all of the paintings are back on display in the museum, some in the main gallery, and some in the Western Gallery.
The Pioneer Association has been raising money for nearly a year and have raised $64,000 according to a Pioneer Association spokesperson. The group needs to raise $80,000.00 to permanently acquire the paintings. Money has been donated from the Wyoming Arts Council/Cultural Trust Fund, The Grainger Foundation, The Wyoming Episcopal Trust Fund, and various private organizations and people.
The Pioneer Association was created to preserve the area’s history, and they are still an active and dynamic group supporting the Lander museums. “Saving our history for the future is our mission,” said Association President Bill Elder. “These paintings tell the story of our most famous resident and need to stay here in our museum.” According to Fremont County Museums Central Director Scott Goetz, the Association has worked extremely hard fund raising to save the paintings. “They also support the museum in many other ways,” Goetz said. “Without their help, popular programs like Halloween Night at the Museum, Sheep Shearing Day and our art openings simply wouldn’t happen.”
The paintings were commissioned by Harold Del Monte, owner of the Noble Hotel in 1945. Del Monte, an avid historian, wanted guests to experience western history while they stayed at his hotel. He amassed a large collection of Indian artifacts, had western style furniture made to create the feeling of a mountain lodge, and used western themes throughout the hotel.
He hired Montana artist J. K. Ralston to create a series of paintings about the life of Chief Washakie, who Del Monte recognized as one of the most important Wyomingites. Ralston, then at the beginning of his career, spent time in Lander researching the landscape and clothing of the Shoshone. He then painted twenty three large scale oil paintings. The paintings cover important parts of Washakie’s life from his becoming chief, to the battle of Crowheart Butte, the coming of white settlers, the creation of the reservation and his death as a revered leader. Ralston went on to become one of the major western artists and his work is highly sought after by collectors.
When the hotel closed in 1969 the paintings went in to storage. They were on display briefly at the state capitol in Cheyenne. The Alice C. Del Monte Trust, which owns the paintings, approached the Pioneer Museum about displaying them in Lander again, which led to the 2015 exhibit.
To donate please contact the museum at 332-3373, or by mail “Save the Ralston Collection” c/o The Pioneer Association, 1445 Main Street, Lander, Wy 82520.