Students will examine Wind River Country and discuss Bierstadt’s manner of creating his paintings in terms of their accuracy and exaggeration of the areas depicted. They will then research their local area and create a travel brochure using both realism and exaggeration to entice potential visitors.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonTwo 50 minute lessons
Standards AreaSocial Studies
Students will be able to:
- compare and contrast information from multiple sources about the same historical subject;
- locate a specific area on a map and distinguish actual geographical information from an artist’s interpretation; and
- research local human and geographical features and portray them in a travel brochure using both realism and exaggeration.
- Show students the image of Wind River Country and ask them if it reminds them of anywhere they have been or seen before? Why? What things remind them of a place they have been or seen (e.g., rocks, trees, mountains, the sky, etc.)? Where is this place that they remember? Are there things in this painting that are a little different from where they were? Does Wind River Country look like a place they would like to go? Why or why not?
- Share with students information from the About the Art section and explain that the artist Albert Bierstadt traveled to the Rockies from New York in the mid-1800s as a member of an expedition that explored Western lands. This painting was inspired by the Wind River mountain range that he saw in western Wyoming.
- Have students locate this area on a projection of Google Earth, a map of the United States, or a map of Wyoming. Bierstadt identified the river here as the Sweetwater River, and the prominent mountain as Fremont’s Peak, known today as Temple Peak. Locate these things on the map as well. Does the painting look accurate based on its location on the map? Have one or more students locate where they live on the map and trace a route to the Wind River range. Is it close or far? Does where the students live have geographic features similar to the Wind River range?
- When Bierstadt’s trip was over he brought back photographs, sketches, notes, and specimens to his studio, where he used them to compose large landscape paintings that expressed the grandeur of the American West to people who had not seen it. Around the time Wind River Country was painted (1860), interest in the American West had reached a high point.
- Show students details from the “Details” section of the About the Art section and point out ways that Bierstadt has heightened certain aspects of the area, and ways that he has used specific detail to give the viewer his impression of the vast grandeur of the landscape. He used a combination of exaggerated and realistic imagery to create a vision of the place that he wanted his viewers to know.
- The painting is a lot like a travel brochure enticing people with what they could experience if they traveled west. Tell students that they are going to work in groups to create a travel brochure describing the area in which they live to someone who lives in another part of the United States in a way that makes them want to come for a visit.
- Give students time to research their area to find what they view as the most important and interesting elements about where they live. From this research they will categorize and write text that shares these experiences with the reader.
- Working in a style similar to Bierstadt, students will gather sketches, photos, and other representations that visually represent their surroundings, and arrange these visuals in the brochure, along with text, with the goal of enticing someone to come for a visit. If possible, have examples of travel brochures in the room for students to reference.
- Provide an area to display the finished travel brochures.
- About the Art section on Wind River Country
- Color copies of Wind River Country for students to share or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Access to and a way to display images from Google Earth, or United States map and/or a Wyoming state map
- Examples of travel brochures to share with students
- Magazines, especially of the local area, to cut up
- Sketch paper
- Drawing implements
- Scissors and glue
- Construction paper
- Access to a library or the Internet to research information about the local area
- If possible, access to a word processor and printer
- Social Studies
- Become familiar with Colorado historical eras, groups, individuals and themes
- Understand chronological order of events
- Ask questions, share information and discuss ideas about the past and present
- Analyze historical sources using tools of a historian
- Become familiar with United States historical eras, groups, individuals, ideas and themes
- Become familiar with Colorado geography
- Become familiar with United States geography
- Recognize similarities and differences about regions and people using geographic tools
- Understand people and their relationship with geography and their environment
- Use geographic tools and sources to answer spatial questions
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Envision and Critique to Reflect
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Research and Reasoning
- Writing and Composition
- Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
Albert Bierstadt was born in Solingen, Germany in 1830, and was brought to New York at the age of two. He returned to Germany when he was twenty-one years old to study at the Düsseldorf Academy. Eight years later, in 1859, Bierstadt made his first trip to the Rocky Mountains when he joined a government expedition led by Colonel Frederick W. Lander (for whom Lander, Wyoming was named). Following this trip, he opened a studio in New York, where he drew from his sketches, photographs, specimens, and Indian artifacts to create large landscape paintings. Through his artwork, Bierstadt introduced Easterners to the scenery of the Rockies. While still in his early thirties, Bierstadt became one of the most successful and highly paid painters in the United States.
What Inspired It?
The Wind River Range is part of the Rocky Mountains, located in western Wyoming. Bierstadt identified the river here as the Sweetwater River, and the prominent mountain as Fremont’s Peak, known today as Temple Peak. Bierstadt liked the Wind River area enough to return there after he left the Lander expedition. As one of America’s early artist-explorers, he was looking for personal adventure and hoping to establish his artistic “territory.” The Wind River area is the subject of many of his works. Around the time Wind River Country was painted (1860), interest in the American West had reached a high point. This was in part due to western movement along the Oregon Trail; and to the writers, artists, and surveyors who had reported on the region over the past thirty years. Interest in finding American landscapes that would rival the European Alps was also growing. Bierstadt’s paintings satisfied on both counts—they delivered both heightened grandeur and specific details and places.
Bierstadt liked the theatricality of a large painting. Wind River Country measures 42 ½” wide x 30 ½” tall, and some of his later pictures were four times that size. Sometimes, Bierstadt would show his work on a stage with dramatic lighting and viewers could pay admission to look at the painting with opera glasses.
Bierstadt was very interested in early photography, shooting photos on his journeys west that he could view through a stereoscope for a three-dimensional effect. Working with photographic source material in his studio may have contributed to Bierstadt’s convincing illusion of space. Looking at the mountains we can see clearly that some are close to our vantage point, while others are far away.
Warm colors highlight areas touched by the sun. The viewer’s eyes are drawn to lighter areas, particularly the mountains in the distance.
Bierstadt guides the viewer through the painting by arranging elements of the scenery along diagonal lines.
The foreground is full of details—carefully rendered foliage, rocks, a hollow log. In his studio, Bierstadt drew from multiple field sketches and photos to compose a pleasing picture. The scene we see here is a composite view, not an individual scene that the artist witnessed.
We see nature here as untouched by humans. The landscape appears rather inaccessible; there is no clear way one would be able to navigate through the scene.
The image of a grizzly bear feeding on an antelope contributes to the sense of scale and adds drama to the scene.
Bierstadt uses several pictorial techniques to suggest the importance of the distant peak. It is placed only slightly off-center, and has framing elements on all sides—trees, clouds, and the darker mountains in front of it are parted aside. The hazy air makes the peak lighter and brighter.