Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Winter 2008


Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 1, Winter 2008, pp. 67-68.


Copyright 2008 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Since the appearance of Francis S. Grubar's William Ranney, Painter of the Early West, a catalogue raisonne published to accompany the artist's 1962 retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Ranney's reputation has revolved around the thirty-odd images of western trappers, hunters, and pioneers he worked up in New York {and later in an impressive two-story studio he kept across the river in West Hoboken} during the 1840s and early 1850s, at least in part from sketches dating to the time of his enlistment as a soldier in the Texan war for independence more than a decade earlier. The present account, Forging an American Identity: The Art of William Ranney, while paying more balanced attention to the artist's broader oeuvre, nonetheless privileges these same western images-works described by Sarah E. Boehme as pictorial narratives of roughly contemporary life on the prairies that "contributed to the region's significance in the national mythology."

The publication documents, celebrates, and targets visitors to the 2006 Ranney retrospective organized at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center's Whitney Gallery of Western Art in Cody, Wyoming, which has since traveled to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it closed in August 2007. Not having seen the exhibition, I will limit my comments to the book itself, the scholarly ambitions of which are both evident and admirable though uneven.