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The University of Arkansas and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will present a day-long conference on the “Wild West” and how it is portrayed in art and early film. The event, “Fact Amidst Fiction,” is set or Monday, Oct. 1, and will include two panel discussions at Crystal Bridges, a lecture on the UA campus, and an opportunity to visit the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville.
All events are free and open to the public, but seating is limited for the panel discussions. Reservations can be made at the Crystal Bridges lectures website.
Event organizer and UA communications professor Frank Scheide siad the university and museum are “uniquely positioned” to host the conference. “Many historic ‘Old West’ events – in real life and on film – happened within a 250-mile radius of Northwest Arkansas,” said Scheide. “Frank and Jesse James rode this area, as did the outlaw Henry Starr, and the first Western film star, ‘Bronco Billy’ Anderson, grew up in Pine Bluff.”
Kevin Brownlow, a filmmaker and silent film historian who received an honorary Oscar for his contributions in preserving the art and history of silent cinema, is the inspiration for the conference and will be a featured speaker. In his book The War, the West, and the Wilderness, Brownlow pointed out that some of the men who helped make early silent Westerns were actually former outlaws and lawmen who knew the “wild West” first hand.
At 10:30 a.m. Brownlow will join three panelists: Crystal Bridges assistant curator Manuela Well-Off-Man; curatorial assistant Ali Demorotski; and Elliott West, Distinguished Professor of history at the University of Arkansas. They will discuss “Separating Fact from Fiction” – the ways that artworks on display at Crystal Bridges can be studied and analyzed to get at the historical reality of the subject.
Before and after the presentation, guests are invited to tour Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and view works that include depictions of the Old West.
The second panel, “Preserving and Interpreting America’s Western Past,” will begin at 1:30 p.m., with Western historian Robert Myers; Steven Gragert, curator of the Will Rogers Memorial Museums; and distinguished American film preservationist David Shepard. Among other topics, Myers will discuss interviewing confessed liar and bank robber Albert Beck, and how the historian learned to separate fact from fiction.
Following this panel, people attending the conference are invited to visit the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, a private collection of Native American artifacts on exhibit to the public.
The conference will conclude with Brownlow’s lecture on silent westerns and the facts hidden in the films. It will be held at 8 p.m. in Giffels Auditorium in Old Main at the University of Arkansas. Brownlow is considered by many to be the foremost silent film historian in the world.