The Great West Illustrated: Celebrating 150 Years of the Union Pacific Railroad
6/30/2012 - 9/16/2012


What's Pictured:
(Above) Andrew J. Russell (American, 1830–1902), Promontory Trestle Work and Engine No. 2, 1869, albumen silver print, Union Pacific Historical Collection

   This exhibition is organized in collaboration with

In 1868, photographer Andrew J. Russell came west to document construction of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha to Promontory Summit, Utah. The results of this partnership were published the following year in an album, The Great West Illustrated, which is recognized as one of the most important photographic series of the nineteenth century. Its fifty images offer an account of the Union Pacific’s engineering skill as well as a pictorial record of a landscape that is both challenging and dramatic. In addition to prints from The Great West Illustrated, the exhibition will also feature other Russell photographs taken along the transcontinental line, many of which have never been published or exhibited. Together, these images offer a remarkable account of the western landscape at the moment of its transformation by what was arguably the greatest industrial accomplishment of the nineteenth century.

“A.J. Russell’s work is rare, scattered in public and private collections. We are proud of Union Pacific’s photographs, which make up the largest and most comprehensive collection in  existence. Having served on Joslyn’s Board of Directors for many years, it’s great for me to see these two organizations connect to publicly share these images that are so important to Omaha’s history and future,” said Jim Young, chairman of Union Pacific.

Jack Becker, Ph.D., executive director and CEO of Joslyn, noted, "As a leading art museum, we were delighted when the opportunity arose to showcase the work of Andrew J. Russell, who is recognized as one of the most important photographers of the nineteenth century American landscape. In addition to the art historical significance of this exhibition, we are also pleased to partner with Union Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, from whose collection these works are drawn. It is fulfilling when industry and the arts find common ground, and we are proud to present this exhibition in celebration of the long history of our nation's largest rail company and one of Omaha's most admired and respected institutions." 

The Project 
With the support of Union Pacific, Russell made three trips west between1868 and 1869, traveling with several cameras, a portable darkroom, and a supply of glass plates for making 10 x 13 inch wet-plate negatives. When the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869, Russell photographed the occasion. Together, his images of the extraordinary achievement of spanning the West by rail captured the attention and imagination of citizens across the country. His photographs were used to advertise commercial enterprises, reproduced as engravings and lithographs in travel guides, and shown as slides during public lectures about the West.

Joslyn Collection Connections
The Great West Illustrated is a remarkable companion to Joslyn Art Museum’s collection of watercolors by the Swiss artist Karl Bodmer, offering complementary visions by one of the first artists to encounter the trans-Missouri West and photography’s early documentation of the developed landscape. Joslyn Art Museum is noted for its comprehensive holdings of works by Bodmer, whose watercolors and prints follow his 1832-34 journey through the Missouri River frontier with the German naturalist Prince Maximilian of Wied. A selection of Bodmer's images are on view in the Museum's Art in America permanent collection galleries.

Also during the exhibition, Joslyn will present The Great West Revisited, an installation of works by contemporary photographer Mark Ruwedel from his series Westward, which traces the routes of abandoned nineteenth-century rail lines. Documenting the first wave of industrial expansion into the western landscape, many of his images refer to Russell and The Great West Illustrated, highlighting the influence of his nineteenth century predecessor.

More to See at Union Pacific Railroad Museum
Russell's photographs were also produced in stereo card format. A stereo card presents two nearly identical images, mounted side by side on cardboard. When viewed through a stereo viewer, they present a three-dimensional image. Union Pacific Railroad Museum owns 600 Russell stereo cards, a selection of which will be on view there during the time of the exhibition at Joslyn.

Exhibition Events & Programs
On Friday, June 29, Joslyn members will enjoy a preview of the exhibition. Click here to join Joslyn!

Public events include:

  • Thursdays, July 19 and August 16 @ 6:30 pm — Gallery talks by Toby Jurovics, Joslyn’s Chief Curator & Richard and Mary Holland Curator of American Western Art (Free with regular Museum admission; $5 on Thursdays from 4-8 pm) 

  • Saturday and Sunday, July 14 & 15 @ 9 am–5 pm daily 
    Railroad Days 2012 — Joslyn Art Museum is a venue in 2012 for this annual celebration of all things train and track, presented by Union Pacific. Admission to Joslyn that weekend is free; however those wishing to participate in Railroad Days and access all venues during the weekend pay $15 per family (limit 2 adults).  Click here for complete details.
  • Sunday, August 5 @ 1–4 pm — Everyone admitted free to a Family Fun Day that will have you hopping from station to station, gathering facts and making art. This event, celebrating The Great West Illustrated and Contested Terrain, is sponsored in part by Wiesman Development and the Joslyn Art Museum Association.

  • Saturday, September 8 @ 1 pm — Presentation by art historian Glenn Willumson, director of the graduate program in museum studies and Professor of Art History at the University of Florida, and photographer Mark Ruwedel. Willumson is the foremost expert on Russell's photography and author of the soon-to-be released book Iron Muse: Picturing the Transcontinental Railroad (University of California Press). Ruwedel’s photographs reflect his decades of experience tracing the imprint of the railroad on the western landscape. Free with regular Museum admission.