Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 1, No. 4, Fall 1981, pp. 271-72.
In 1979 the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, in collaboration with the University of Oklahoma Press, published Mildred Ladner's useful study of the Montana painter Olaf C. Seltzer, one of Charlie Russell's proteges. Gilcrease director Fred Myers, in a foreword, described this venture as "a harbinger of Gilcrease participation in the maturation of American art and art awareness."
Duane Cummins's William Robinson Leigh now follows quickly as the second volume in this series and attests to the seriousness of the Gilcrease commitment-if not to the maturation of American art, then at least to the enhanced understanding and appreciation of Western art and artists. Certainly any scholarly consideration of the life and work of both these men, as well as of others of similar accomplishment, must involve careful attention to the rich visual and archival material at the Tulsa institute.
For William Leigh (1866-1955), the Gilcrease Institute can offer his reconstructed New York studio, 923 of his works (easily the largest single collection), and the bulk of his papers. This remarkable lode has now been effectively mined for the first time by Duane Cummins, a sometime history professor who is presently associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Louis. All in all, he has done a most creditable job. In tracing the personal history and assessing the achievement of this western artist, he has given us what will be the standard work on Leigh for some time.
Cummins's task was not easy. It was made the more difficult by the fact that his experience in the discipline of art history appears to be minimal. In consequence he presents a somewhat one-dimensional and untextured delineation of his subject against the artistic milieu of the early twentieth century. His efforts at aesthetic analysis (i.e., of the pictures as art objects as opposed to documents of this or that), when attempted at all, are uncertain and rudimentary.