Editor’s Note: This version of Fred Fraikor’s letter was published in the winter/fall issue of Mines magazine. However, it is a much shorter and significantly edited version of the original letter. To read his original text, and to see the photographs and maps referenced, please click here.
More on Bierstadt Restoration
The impetus for the Bierstadt collaboration between Mines and the Denver Art Museum began at a lunch in early December, 2008, for my impending retirement as acting director of technology transfer. During the lunch, it was mentioned that the school had a valuable painting by Bierstadt and that President Scoggins felt that it needed to be restored and put on display for a wider audience.
By sheer coincidence, a Mines/DAM partnership in which I participate was meeting at the Geology Museum the very next day. An appointment to view the painting was made and President Scoggins generously took the time to discuss it with us.
After establishing authenticity, DAM staff said they would be pleased to have the painting on loan from Mines to display in their forthcoming Western American Art exhibit. Furthermore, DAM conservators would restore the painting at no cost to the university.
Ironically, in the same week, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in its ‘American Treasures’ series honoring Bierstadt with a painting of Yosemite almost identical to the Mines painting, with one notable exception: the Mines Bierstadt has the spectacular waterfall in the right side of the canvas. In fact, of the many known landscapes of Yosemite painted by Bierstadt, this is the only one which combines this magnificent view of the famous domed valley with a waterfall.
With that intriguing mystery in mind, I contacted Kenny Karst, who works for the company that manages Yosemite Park. He identified all of the famous points in our Bierstadt (see photo at magazine.mines. edu)and provided a topographical map labeled with these same points, suggesting a possible vantage point for the painter (viewable online). The waterfall is not ‘fictitious’ [as was claimed in the Mines article]; Bierstadt merely created his own tectonic forces, shoving the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls several miles to stand right next to the Three Brothers and the famous El Capitan peak, throwing in an ancient lake and swirling clouds in the middle of the valley to create a dramatic and very marketable landscape.
So it is thanks to President Scoggins’s acumen and perception, and the skilled efforts of the DAM staff, the people of Colorado can now view the Mines Bierstadt in the original 19th century brilliance and color.
Fred Fraikor, Research Professor (retired)
Editor’s Note: This is a much shorter and significantly edited version of Fred Fraikor’s original letter. To read his original text, and to see the photographs and maps referenced, please click here.