Imprinting the West: Manifest Destiny, Real and Imagined

Westward expansion was one of the most transformational elements in American life throughout the nineteenth century. Printed imagery played an important role in the dissemination of knowledge and understanding about the West and those who inhabited it. Imprinting the West: Manifest Destiny, Real and Imagined features 48 hand-colored engravings and lithographs that explore these depictions and the influence artists had on the perception of the wild west.

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson purchased the expansive territory known as Louisiana from Napoleon, King of France, a transaction that extended the nation’s boundaries by 828,000 square miles, including all of present-day Arkansas,
Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, and parts of Minnesota, North and South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Louisiana. The Louisiana Purchase set the stage for great exploration and discovery, migration and settlement, in addition to struggle and conflict. Convinced that God wanted the country to extend to the Pacific coast—an idea called “Manifest Destiny”—scores of American citizens, including painters and printmakers, moved west.

The works featured in Imprinting the West explore the potent imagery of the time that shaped how the American Indians and the west were understood. Westward expansion in the nineteenth century was intertwined closely with the experiences of American Indian peoples. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 dislocated native populations in the east to areas west of the Mississippi River and was justified by the self-serving claim that the so-called “savages” would wither in the presence of “civilization.” The migration westward and settlement of white Americans only accelerated territorial tensions, which often culminated in bloodshed.

Several artists, including George Catlin, aspired to document the appearance and ways of the so-called “vanishing race.” Artists also accompanied governmental geographical surveys of the west, making landscapes and portraits that illustrated official publications. Such images were available in a variety of printed formats: portfolios of lithographs, prints made by creating and transferring an image on a prepared stone, were offered by subscription. Hand-colored lithographs, like those featured in Imprinting the West, were sold at higher prices. Paintings by well-known artists, such as western landscape painter Albert Bierstadt, were sometimes engraved for the mass market. Also, later in the century, art was engraved to illustrate articles in popular periodicals, including Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Much of this imagery was created with an international or an eastern audience in mind, and it both drew from and promoted fantasies about Native Americans and the west as much as it documented reality.

Imprinting the West is curated by Dr. Randall Griffey, Associate Curator of Modern American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. In 2011, Griffey contributed “Reconsidering ‘the Soil’: The Stieglitz Circle, Regionalism, and Cultural Eugenics in the 1920s” to the catalogue accompanying the Brooklyn Museum’s traveling exhibition Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties. Griffey has also served as Curator of American Art at the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, and as Associate Curator of American Art at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO.

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Imprinting the West is touring April 2014 through January 2020. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

  • April 6–May 25, 2014 The Culture Lab at Mid-America Arts Alliance
    Kansas City, MO
  • June 16–August 11, 2014 Fort Smith Museum of History
    Fort Smith, AR
  • September 1–October 20, 2014 Arlington Museum of Art
    Arlington, TX
  • November 6, 2014–January 4, 2015 Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
    Montgomery, AL
  • January 17–March 22, 2015 Forsyth Galleries, Texas A&M University
    College Station, TX
  • April 6-May 25, 2015 Santa Fe Trail Center
    Larned, KS
  • June 16–August 11, 2015 Bell County Museum
    Belton, TX
  • September 1, 2015–January 7, 2016 Paul & Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum
    Lafayette, LA
  • January 28–March 16, 2016 Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County
    Moorhead, MN
  • June 16–August 11, 2016 Emporia Arts Center
    Emporia, KS
  • September 1–October 20, 2016 Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum
    Cheyenne, WY
  • November 18, 2016–February 5, 2017 Longmont Museum and Cultural Center
    Longmont, CO
  • April 6-May 25, 2017 Temecula Valley Museum
    Temecula, CA
  • June 16–August 11, 2017
  • September 1–October 20, 2017 Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
    Duncan, OK
  • November 10, 2017–January 7, 2018 Nebraska Historical Society
    Lincoln, NE
  • January 28–March 16, 2018 Refurbishment
    Kansas City, MO
  • April 6-May 25, 2018 The Museum of Western Art
    Kerrville, TX
  • June 16–August 11, 2018 Museum of the Western Prairie
    Altus, OK
  • September 1–October 20, 2018 Atkins-Johnson Farm and Museum
    Gladstone, MO
  • November 10, 2018–January 7, 2019 Park City Museum
    Park City, UT
  • January 28–May 25, 2019 Saint Mary's College Museum of Art
    Moraga, CA
  • June 16–August 11, 2019
  • September 1, 2019–January 20, 2020 Upcountry History Museum
    Greenville, SC

Exhibition Details

  • Content

    Fee Includes
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    Dr. Randall Griffey, Associate Curator of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

  • Organized By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee


  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $1,550 before 7/1/17 and $2,170 after 7/1/17

  • Duration

    7-week display

  • Shipping

    Common Carrier

  • Running Feet


  • Square Feet


  • Security


  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    4 crates/700 pounds

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.