On two afternoons last spring, Mary Burke and members of her staff at Fort Worth’s Sid Richardson Museum blocked off time to revisit the legendary Western miniseries Lonesome Dove. All eight hours’ worth.
But there was a purpose behind their binge watching.
The Richardson is a museum of artworks of the American West — among them masterpieces of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, artists who took as their subjects trail drives, frontier battles and wistfulness for a passing open range era.
“We were interested in exploring the overlap, the parallels between storytelling in the miniseries and the novel (Larry McMurtry’s 1986 Pulitzer Prize winner), and the storytelling from the same period by Remington and Russell,” Burke, director of the Richardson Museum, says. “In my way of thinking, they had an approach that was similar. There was this feeling of looking back in a romantic way.”
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When Burke and her staff sat down for the miniseries, she says, “We looked for threads of familiarity.” And they were everywhere. The images created by Remington and Russell seemed taken directly from the pages of McMurtry’s book, and from the storyboards of the miniseries.
“It was eerie,” Burke says.
That synchronicity is at the heart of “Lonesome Dove: The Art of Story,” an exhibition to open at the Richardson Museum on Jan. 15. The display, which will be on view at the downtown museum through June 19, will feature iconic Remingtons and Russells from the Richardson and several other top museums of the Southwest.
Also on view will be pages from McMurtry’s annotated manuscript, one of the earliest known trail drive journals, a Lonesome Dove trail map from the miniseries, storyboard illustrations and pages from the screenplay written by Bill Wittliff.
“You’re seeing McMurtry’s editing and Wittliff’s mindset as he was turning the book into a miniseries,” says Pete Geren, president and CEO of the Sid Richardson Foundation. “Then, there are these fabulous Remington and Russell paintings that illustrate the story in a very powerful way.
“I see this as a perfect fit for the education mission of our museum,” Geren says. “We try to tell the story of the settling of the West, and how that settling was portrayed.”
This year marks 30 years since McMurtry’s Pulitzer for Lonesome Dove. As such, the Richardson museum exhibition initiates “The Lonesome Dove Trail,” a six-month celebration of the novel and miniseries that will take place mostly in Fort Worth. The celebration includes a miniseries screening in Sundance Square Plaza over two nights, a panel discussion with cast members and a symposium. Another exhibit will feature costumes, props, photographs and other items. The activities are open to the public.
Actors Robert Duvall (retired Texas Ranger Gus McRae in the miniseries), Tommy Lee Jones (Gus’ sidekick, Woodrow Call), Diane Lane, Anjelica Huston and other cast members are expected to attend a March 31 reunion gala in the Stockyards. (Tickets sold out quickly.)
Wittliff will also be there to renew acquaintances. Much of the miniseries production material in the Richardson Museum exhibition comes from the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, which is devoted largely to artifacts of Texas literary culture.
“It just thrills me to death,” Wittliff says of the Fort Worth exhibition. “We want these things out there where people can see them.”
To Wittliff fell the daunting task of adapting McMurtry’s book for television. The book, the elegiac story of one of the West’s last cattle drives, was what Wittliff calls “our Gone With the Wind.”
“I feel so fortunate to have had a part in it, you know. What a deal,” Wittliff says. “Whatever Larry had his thumb on continues to resonate not just with Texans, not just in the United States, but all over the world. We were very fortunate that we were able to grab some of that with the miniseries.”
Wittliff says an eight-hour miniseries was too short to do the novel justice.
“Here was the deal with Larry’s book,” he says. “It was not what you put in the screenplay, but what you didn’t. Even an eight-hour miniseries, there wasn’t room for all of it. It was wondrous all the way through.
“I really do believe there are movie gods and the movie gods smiled on us,” Wittliff says. “They said, ‘We’re not going to let you screw this up.’ ”
The Lonesome Dove homage at the Richardson Museum will be noteworthy in another respect. The exhibition brings together four of Frederic Remington’s most iconic paintings. From Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum comes The Fall of the Cowboy, painted in 1895. Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum will loan the 1908 painting The Stampede. From the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, comes the 1908 painting Fight for the Waterhole. Those three join the Richardson’s own Remington masterpiece, Buffalo Runners - Big Horn Basin, from 1909.
“If we didn’t have anything from the Wittliff Collection, and just would have had those Remingtons and Russells, it would have been a powerful contribution to the interpretation of Lonesome Dove,” Geren says. “Those paintings alone, it’s just exciting to have them in the community.”
For Burke, the exhibition also represents an unprecedented opportunity to introduce the Richardson Museum to a much broader audience.
“Quite frankly, we’re excited about this for a number of reasons,” she says. “It’s sort of a marriage, if you will, of history and pop culture. We think this is going to be an exhibition that will appeal to a large segment of the population. Someone who has never stepped into our museum might be enticed to come. Lonesome Dove is so recognizable, and I hear there is a huge allegiance.
“David Coleman, the director of the Wittliff Collection, refers to them as the ‘dovers,’ this whole segment of the population that follows Lonesome Dove around,” she says. “We hope the ‘dovers’ will come to Fort Worth.”
Lonesome Dove: The Art of Story
Jan. 15-June 19
Sid Richardson Museum
309 Main St.
Additional Lonesome Dove Trail Exhibitions and Events
1. “Bullets and Bustles: Costumes of Lonesome Dove,” Feb. 19-April 17, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. 2. Photographs from Lonesome Dove by Bill Wittliff, Cattle Raisers Museum, Feb. 19-April 17. 3. Screening of Lonesome Dove miniseries, Sundance Square Plaza, Parts 1 and 2: March 28, and Parts 3 and 4, March 29. 4. Panel discussion with the cast and crew, March 30, Texas Christian University, and March 31, Amon Carter Museum of American Art. 5. Lonesome Dove Reunion Gala, March 31, River Ranch. 6. “Vaqueros, Cowboys and Cowgirls: Texas Cattle Trails to the World” symposium, April 2, Fort Worth Central Library. 7. Lonesome Dove exhibition, April 30-July 23, Old Jail Art Center, Albany. For more information, visit http://lonesome