Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in GREAT PLAINS QUARTERLY 11:4 (Fall 1991). Copyright © 1991 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


It is difficult to write objectively about a living artist, and though Tom Lea's accomplishments span seven decades and a critical assessment would seem in order, this book is best considered a handsome homage. Indeed, the textual matter is limited to a brief foreword by Kathleen Hjerter, the book's compiler, and an introduction by William Weber Johnson. The rest-219 pages---consists of plates, many in color, arranged in five chronological divisions but entirely lacking in commentary. The pioneer painter George Catlin in 1870 rejected an offer to publish a complete edition of his Indian outlines because no text was contemplated and he feared the critics would dismiss it with a sarcastic, "What a splendid illustrated catalogue-price 100 dols." The price of The Art of Tom Lea is less than half that, but the rest of Catlin's description applies. At a time when western art scholarship is coming of age, it is deflating to find a figure as interesting as Lea encased in what aspires to be nothing more than a coffee-table book.