The Oregon Trail: Images of the Journey West

September 20, 2011 – March 11, 2012

John Falter, The World Seen Upside-down, oil on canvas, 1980
John Falter, The World Seen Upside-down, oil on canvas, 1980.

The Oregon Trail was a pathway to the west that began around 1843 when more than 350,000 pioneers headed west during a 25-year span. As the harbinger of America’s westward expansion, the Oregon Trail was the route to the Pacific for fur traders, gold seekers, missionaries, and others. Today, more than 2,000 miles of trail ruts and traces can still be seen in the vast undeveloped western lands – reminders of the sacrifices, struggles, and triumphs of early American travelers and settlers. The Museum of Nebraska Art celebrates this visual story with two exhibitions honoring this significant journey through Nebraska’s history.

The journey westward is experienced through the eyes of various artists in the exhibition The Oregon Trail: Images of the Journey West. Embodying the spirit of pioneers who headed west in search of a better life and drawn from historic collections across the state, the selections range in viewpoint from artists who experienced the trail first-hand to contemporary artists reinterpreting these accounts.

Beginning with the discovery of South Pass in 1816 by the Astorians, continuing with expeditions and events that led up to the first wagon train heading west, and ending with the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad, the artworks in this exhibition tell the visual story of one of the most profound events in our nation’s history.

Over 350,000 emigrants made the journey west in the mid 1800s. It is estimated that over 3,000 recorded their experiences in journals and letters. Loaned artworks included those from the Scotts Bluff National Monument, the Nebraska State Historical Society, Falls City Library and Arts Center, and private collectors.