Imagine part of your job description was to read the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove and watch the miniseries of the same name.
That’s exactly what Mary Burke, director of the Sid Richardson Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, recently tasked her staff with in preparation for their newest exhibit, Lonesome Dove: the Art of Story.
While the Sid Richardson Museum is renowned for its extensive collection of Charles Russell and Frederic Remington paintings and sculptures, the Lonesome Dove exhibit will be the first to mix the components of fine art with pop culture and history under one narrative: namely, the cowboys and cattle drives of the late 19th century.
“We’re really enjoying that juxtaposition,” says Burke. “We might introduce our museum and our collection to new visitors through their love and appreciation of the Lonesome Dove story.”
Burke’s vision for the exhibit originated from the book and film. She and the staff took notes from scenes in the novel and miniseries that could be represented in paintings they had from their collection. More than a dozen Russell and Remington paintings—from four museums and private collections—will be hung together in the rare display.
But Burke didn’t just stop with the masterpiece paintings. She also worked with the University of Houston and the Wittliff Collections to procure annotated pages of Larry McMurtry’s first draft of Lonesome Dove and pages from screenwriter Bill Wittliff’s first draft of the screenplay, respectively.
“The most interesting aspect of planning this exhibit was to be able to share with our visitors this process by which you take something in your mind—whether you’re an author or an artist—and translate this story into some visible form—a book, a film, or a painting,” Burke says.
The trail map, casting page, storyboard sketches, set illustrations, costume drawings, and other production materials are also on loan from the Lonesome Dove production archives at the Wittliff Collections. Burke also located historical pieces from the time—which proved perhaps the most difficult to find. She finally turned up the earliest known day-by-day journal of a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas by a Texas cowboy in 1868, Journal, Written by Jack Bailey, from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Okla.
“It’s just delightful what he has written, the way he has written it, and the penmanship it’s executed in,” Burke says of the Spencerian penmanship the Texas cowboy used in documenting his daily experience on the trail.
“All this is informed by that time in our history,” Burke says. “We seem to have piqued folks’ interest. Lonesome Dove is a favorite of many, whether it be the book or the miniseries, so I think people are going to be excited about seeing these objects.”