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New Art Exhibition Opens

John Muir And William Keith Go North To Alaska

Historic California Collection Reunites John Muir and William Keith

For immediate release: February 7, 2002

Hearst Art Gallery and the William Keith Collection: 925-631-4069 or
Gallery web address:

MORAGA -- The third in a series of four exhibitions exploring the collaborative travels of painter William Keith and naturalist John Muir, " North to Alaska," opens Saturday, March 16, 2002, and continues through Sunday, April 21, 2002, in the William Keith Room of the Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College.

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Muir made three forays to Alaska to continue glacier studies begun in Yosemite Valley a decade earlier. During each trip, he sent a series of articles to the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin. These reports excited the paper's readership with eye-witness accounts of the Northern frontier. Keith was among those strongly affected, and his conversations with Muir intensified his interest.

Keith traveled by steamer to British Columbia and Alaska in 1886 with his sketch books. The paintings made from these sketches are perhaps the first Alaskan paintings to be inspired by, rather than simply descriptive of, the Alaskan landscape. In 1868 the Oregon Navigation and Railroad Company commissioned Keith to paint the spectacular Sunrise, Columbia River, on view in the current exhibition, and other dramatic Northwest scenes for promotional posters. During the summer of 1886, Keith sketched Davidson Glacier, Glacier Bay, Sitka, and Mt. Fairweather from the deck of a steamer. Shortly after returning to San Francisco, Keith exhibited Dreams of Alaska in his studio and at the Bohemian Club.

In 1887 Muir enlisted artists to illustrate Picturesque California. Keith, of course, was recruited, and in July 1888 the two began a three-month extensive trip to the North together with many halts and side excursions to collect sketches and descriptions for the publication.

The pair's most extensive trip to Oregon and the northwest was in the summer of 1888. They began at Lake Tahoe and continued to Mt. Shasta, Portland, Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, Multnomah, Snoqualmie and Spokane Falls, Puget Sound, the Columbia River, and Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Keith sketched Mt. Shasta, Mt. Baker, Bradford Island, Columbia River, Black Butte, Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier. This trip allowed further exploration for a series of articles published later that year in Picturesque California, along with two Keith paintings, an etching of the Olympia Range from Victoria, and a photogravure of Mt. Rainier from Lake Washington.

Muir was by no means a well man when he left home in 1888, but in a train letter to his wife he expressed confidence that he would "be well at Shasta beneath a pine tree." In spite of his persistent indisposition, Muir made the ascent of Mt. Rainier. "Did not mean to climb it," he wrote to his wife Louie, "but got excited and soon was on top."

Mt. Rainier, one of twenty Keith paintings owned by Muir and displayed in Martinez, is on loan by the Muir-Hanna family. In addition to the paintings and sketches from the Saint Mary's College Collection, the exhibition includes Inuit ivories acquired by Muir for his daughters, first edition books inscribed by the naturalist, and paintings on loan from the Crocker Museum and private collectors.

"North to Alaska" is the third of four exhibits in the Keith Room showcasing the friendship between Keith and Muir. Original documents are on loan from the John Muir Memorial Association's William F. and Maymie B. Kimes Collection. The exhibition was organized by Steve Pauly, member of the John Muir Memorial Association and the Friends of the Hearst Art Gallery.

The Hearst Art Gallery, accredited by the American Association of Museums, is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Suggested admission donation is $2. Call 925.631-4379 for information about membership, group tours and special events.

Contact Heidi Donner at 925.631-4069 or for more information.

Other Exhibits in the Series

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