Eli Wilner & Company reframes Alfred Jacob Miller's "Our Camp" for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

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Eli Wilner & Company reframes Alfred Jacob Miller's "Our Camp" for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Alfred Jacob Miller's "Our Camp" in the collection of the Whitney Western Art Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, before and after reframing by Eli Wilner & Company. Images courtesy BBCW.

NEW YORK, NY.- Eli Wilner & Company announced they have recently completed the reframing of Alfred Jacob Miller’s painting, “Our Camp,” circa 1846-1860 for the Whitney Western Art Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. The project was the winner of Wilner’s 2020 fully-funded replica frame grant. Submitted by Karen B. McWhorter, the Scarlett Curator of Western American Art, the Miller reframing was unanimously selected by an independent panel of jurors from a very strong field of submissions. Wilner will be announcing a new grant opportunity for the museum community in the coming weeks.

“Our Camp” is one of thirty-three Alfred Jacob Miller paintings and drawings in the Center of the West’s collection. It is one of five major oils in their holdings, and is significant in terms of its scale, subject, and rarity. Miller was the only artist to visually record the fur trade era in the Rocky Mountain West during its time.

In 1837, Miller attended the fur trappers’ rendezvous in what would become the Wyoming Territory. He was invited by Sir William Drummond Stewart, a Scottish nobleman and adventurer, to document the journey to the annual gathering of Native Americans, suppliers, and trappers. Along the way, Miller made drawings and paintings, creating a record of the West at a time when few on America’s East Coast and in Europe had seen it. The artist later worked up his field sketches into major studio works like this one.

“Our Camp” has an extensive publication and exhibition record, is on nearly constant view at the Center of the West, and is slated for inclusion in a 2023 traveling exhibition celebrating the transatlantic patronage relationship between Miller and Stewart, organized by the Center of the West. “Our Camp” features Stewart prominently, astride a white stallion in the foreground.

The process of reframing the Miller began with approval of an historically-appropriate frame choice via digital mockups: a replica of an American period frame, circa 1850, gilded with applied ornament and a rock patterned cove.

Once the frame style and scale were confirmed, the Museum’s collections department provided detailed measurements for the painting and Wilner’s woodworking team began working on precisely refining the profile drawing. They then shaped the molding to build the complex wooden substrate. While some areas of the frame were ready to be joined, the cove section of the frame had to be kept separate to allow for the application of the delicate rock-shaped sand pattern. First the design was meticulously hand-drawn using a pencil directly on the finely sanded gesso surface, and then each elliptical shape was painted with glue and the textured particles were applied. Meanwhile, the many other areas of ornament on the original period frame needed to be recreated, which was accomplished using silicon box molds. After the rock cove pattern was complete, the frame was securely joined and the newly created cast ornaments were applied. The gessoed surface was then painted with layers of ochre and red bole (a liquid clay) in preparation for water gilding. After the gold leaf was applied, the frame was selectively burnished and then patinated to a period-appropriate finish.

In the late summer of 2021, the new replica was completed at Wilner’s studio in Long Island City, New York. It was then crated and shipped to the Whitney Museum of American Art at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, where it was paired with the painting and installed in the galleries.

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