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Release: Feb. 14, 2001

'Into the Sunset' exhibition opens at UI Libraries

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Libraries has opened "Into the Sunset: Views of the American West," a new exhibition in the North Exhibition Hall of the Main Library that runs now through May 2001. The exhibition is free and open to the public during regular library hours.

"Into the Sunset" surveys popular views of the West in a display that mixes materials from the UI Libraries Collections with objects, interpretive text, and perspectives on Opening the West, Popular Fiction, Film and Television, the West on Stage and Shows and Rodeos. "Into the Sunset" complements "The Lure of the West: Treasures from the Smithsonian Art Museum" on view at the University of Iowa Museum of Art through March 18.

Among the vintage artifacts on display are spurs, a saddle, branding irons and U.S. Cavalry stirrups. One case contains books and letters by Buffalo Bill, born William F. Cody in Scott County, Iowa. Buffalo Bill operated one of the most famous Wild West shows, perpetuating myth and shaping ideas about the West.

The West that captured the imaginations of Americans and foreigners alike was the vast land beyond the Mississippi River known as Louisiana. When President Thomas Jefferson purchased it from Napoleon in 1803, the West was not just a geographic region. It was, and still is, a concept of the mind, of the spirit, often more mythic and imaginary than real.

Lewis and Clark were the first explorers sent out to officially define the expansive region. A series of explorers, photographers and artists followed, all of whom provided scientific and artistic documentation that often encouraged mythic interpretations. Land entrepreneurs lured emigrants with exaggerated claims of idealistic conditions. Those who lived in the West seemed larger than life. Native Americans, mountain men, gold seekers, military heroes, cowboys, gunfighters, outlaws, and farmers all became part of the imaginary western environment. The entertainment media Wild West shows, films, fiction and music further popularized the West.

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Larry McMurty observed, "It's a sad, but to my mind inescapable fact, that most of the traditions which we associate with the American West were invented by pulp writers, poster artists, impresarios and advertising men."

The exhibition was prepared by Kathy Wachel, Karen Zimmerman, Carlette Washington-Hoagland, Rob Van Rennes, Lisa Kelley and Anna Embree.