Gift of Currier & Ives Prints

In June 2016, Conagra Brands (formerly ConAgra Foods, Inc.) donated its corporate collection of nearly 600 original Currier & Ives prints to Joslyn, giving the Museum one of the largest public collections of these popular and historically important illustrations. ConAgra obtained the Currier & Ives works in the late 1980s when the company acquired Beatrice Foods, the collection’s former owner. Portions of the collection were on display at ConAgra’s Omaha campus, but viewing opportunities for the public were limited, and the majority of the works remained in storage. ConAgra’s generous gift to Joslyn ensures that the collection will be permanently available to share with the Omaha community and beyond. The works enhance Joslyn's growing works on paper collection and serve as an important cornerstone of the Museum's American art collection.

What's pictured: Frances Flora Bond Palmer (British, active in United States, 1812–1876), artist; Currier & Ives (American, 1834–1907), publisher and lithographer; American Farm Scenes: No. 4, 1853, colored lithograph, Gift of ConAgra Foods, 2016.20

The New York-based firm of Currier & Ives was the most influential and widespread publisher in nineteenth-century America. Founded by lithographer Nathaniel Currier in 1835, he was joined in his venture by the accountant James Merritt Ives. Together, they produced lithographic and chromo-lithographic print images of current events, sporting life, landscapes, industry, politics, and fashion, touching on almost every aspect of American life and popular culture. Currier & Ives developed new commercial techniques that enabled them to produce more prints more quickly than their competitors, allowing the firm to distribute illustrations of newsworthy events within days of their occurrence and sell them at affordable prices.

The success of Currier & Ives also coincided with a period of tremendous growth in the United States. From the 1830s to the 1880s, the nation doubled in geographic size, increased in population almost five times over, and saw the emergence of a burgeoning industrial economy. A new middle class emerged that had both the time and disposable income to decorate its homes with affordable art. Currier & Ives was a ubiquitous presence for decades, creating an unmatched panorama of life in nineteenth-century America.

The Maximilian Journals

Between 1832-34, the explorer and naturalist Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, Germany, embarked on a voyage into the furthest reaches of the American Interior. Accompanied by the Swiss artist Karl Bodmer, Maximilian set forth from St. Louis in April 1833 on a 2,500 mile journey by steamship and keelboat up the Missouri River, traveling as far as Fort McKenzie, Montana. Wintering at the Mandan village near Fort Clark, they returned downriver the following spring, having spent over a year amongst the tribes of the Upper Missouri. The watercolors that Bodmer produced on this journey remain one of the most perceptive and compelling visual accounts of the West ever created. Meanwhile, his patron Maximilian was equally hard at work on a journal documenting his scientific and anthropologic observations. Few historical chronicles are as informative and eloquent, describing the topography, Native peoples, natural history, and the burgeoning fur trade of the High Plains. Today, Maximilian’s journals are a centerpiece of the Joslyn collection, accompanied by his collection of over 350 watercolors and drawings by Karl Bodmer. 

In September 2012, Joslyn Art Museum published the third and final volume of the English translation of The North American Journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied, one of the most important documents of the nineteenth-century American West. Volumes 1 and 2 were published in 2008 and 2010 respectively. In 2008, Volume 1 was named the "Outstanding Nonfiction Book" of the year by National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. In the fall of 2011, Volume 1 received the Western History Association’s Dwight L. Smith Award, a biennial award recognizing outstanding bibliographic or research work. Earlier in 2011, Volumes 1 and 2 were reviewed by Stuart Ferguson of The Wall Street Journal, who called the works a "magnificent chronicle."

The North American Journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied — Volume 1: May 1832–April 1833;
Volume 2: April–September 1833; and Volume 3: September 1833–August 1834 are available in Joslyn Art Museum’s Hitchcock Museum Shop for $85 per volume. The Journals are edited by Stephen S. Witte and Marsha V. Gallagher. Volumes 1 and 2 are translated by William J. Orr, Paul Schach, and Dieter Karch with forewords by John Wilson. Volume 3 is translated by Dieter Karch with a foreword by Joslyn’s Executive Director and CEO Jack Becker.

Support for the Maximilian Journals Project has come from many sources. Robert Daugherty funded the completion of the translation in 2003. The Bodmer Society, Charles W. Durham, and Marlene and J. Joe Ricketts made timely contributions to support initial editing and production costs. Dorothy and Stanley M. Truhlsen, Arader Galleries, Ann and Steve Berzin, Judy and Terry Haney, Susan and Michael Lebens, Pinnacle Bank, and Phyllis and Del Toebben provided additional support. Joslyn was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the University of Oklahoma Press received funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Ultimately, however, it has been the extremely generous gifts of Howard L. and Rhonda A. Hawks and The Hawks Foundation that have made this important publication possible.