Minerva Teichert (American, 1888 - 1976)
Oil on canvas
72 x 130 in.
Signed lower right, “M. Teichert '34”
In 1934, after reading a book by Washington Irving, Minerva Teichert began two monumental canvases featuring the explorer Captain Bonneville, with no particular destination in mind. The works were acquired soon after by the indefatigable Alice Merrill Horne — founder of the Utah Division of Arts & Museums, along with dozens of other arts institutions — who featured the works prominently in two of her Summer Salons. Teichert considered the works among her finest, and seeing them hung together, called them her "shrine." For nearly two decades, one of these murals, Cache (1934) has been in a private collection, and now we are very pleased to offer it, the most important work by Teichert we have had available in more than twenty years, for sale at Anthony's.
Best-known today for his short story Rip Van Winkle, the American author, diplomat, and historian Washington Irving published The Adventures of Captain Bonneville in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West in 1837. Three years earlier, both Irving and Bonneville had been guests of John Jacob Astor — the New York businessman who first made his fortune in fur trading. Bonneville entranced Irving with tales of his 1832 expedition through Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, mapping the Great Salt Lake and establishing the California Trail. Irving bought Bonneville's journals, including maps and notes of the expedition, and published his account. His book would become an important resource for Gold Rushers and for Brigham Young who instructed Mormon pioneers to settle in many of the areas explored and described by Bonneville. The explorer's name would become synonymous with several settlements and geographical features, including Lake Bonneville. Despite his tremendous impact on Western culture, it was not until Minerva Teichert's paintings that Captain Bonneville was depicted in the kind of monumental scale befitting his importance. (Brian Jay Jones. Washington Irving: An American Original. New York: 2008, p. 323.)
Born in Ogden, Utah — under the shoreline of the ancient Lake Bonneville — Minerva Teichert would become among the most-admired and well-trained figurative artists of her time. She studied both at the Art Institute of Chicago — where John Vanderpoel, one of the world's leading figurative artists, considered her a star pupil — and the Art Students League of New York. It was in New York that her teacher, Robert Henri, encouraged Teichert to paint the story of her people.
Minerva eventually returned to the West, married, and, in 1927, moved to Cokeville, Wyoming where she raised horses with her husband and children. Despite her remoteness from any artistic center, Teichert doggedly pursued her art. Shortly after moving to Cokeville, Teichert became a regular visitor of the local Cokeville Elementary School Library — the town's only public book repository — where she checked out Irving's book on Captain Bonneville so many times that the principal of the school eventually gave the artist the book to keep. (Marian Eastwood Wardle. Minerva Teichert's Murals: The Motivation for Her Large-Scale Production. Masters Thesis, Department of Art. Brigham Young University. Provo: 1988, p. 72.)
In it, Irving describes in various passages taken from Bonneville's journals how essential the practice of properly cacheing supplies and goods for trade was to the expedition and future settlements:
Captain Bonneville now made his arrangements for the autumn and the winter. The nature of the country through which he was about to travel rendered it impossible to proceed with wagons. He had more goods and supplies of various kinds, also, than were required for present purposes, or than could be conveniently transported on horseback; aided, therefore, by a few confidential men, he made caches, or secret pits, during the night, when all the rest of the camp were asleep, and in these deposited the superfluous effects, together with the wagons. All traces of the caches were then carefully obliterated. This is a common expedient with the traders and trappers of the mountains. Having no established posts and magazines, they make these caches or deposits at certain points, whither they repair, occasionally, for supplies. It is an expedient derived from the wandering tribes of Indians. (Washington Irving. The Adventures of Captain Bonneville in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West, 1837)
In her mural, simply titled "Cache," Teichert shows a complete cast of characters present in Bonneville's journals: trappers, settlers, soldiers, and Native Americans all gathered to cache and trade their goods. There is an air of caution and excitement as we, the viewers, are placed behind a large boulder where Captain Bonneville is inspecting some goods freshly unearthed from a well-stored cache. There are two lookouts, placed in the background, ensuring privacy. And, even further back, we can see a horse laden with a full travois.
The scene is set in Cache Valley, Utah, originally named "Willow Creek Valley." It was renamed due to the large number of trappers, traders, and Native Americans that would meet in the Fall throughout the century to barter and cache goods.
In 1931, Teichert traveled to Salt Lake City where she met with Alice Merrill Horne. Horne would become Teichert's agent and most ardent advocate, promoting the artist's works through a series of exhibitions and touring salons. But, despite glowing reviews of critics in local newspapers, Teichert's works went unsold. Her luck changed with the establishment in 1935 of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA) that oversaw an ambitious Federal building program that included funds for placing monumental artworks in new government buildings during the height of the Great Depression. Cache was the first of some fifty-seven monumental canvases Teichert would create between 1934 and 1940.
These murals were not painted in the comfort of a studio. Teichert painted her murals, when weather permitted, on canvases hung on the outside wall of her kitchen, between taking care of the family and farm. When weather was poor, she would bring works inside her long narrow kitchen and view them through the wrong side of binoculars in order to create a sense of distance as she painted her large figures (Wardle, op. cit., pp. 61-62).
Teichert has come to be recognized among the most significant artists of her era and the subject of several retrospective museum exhibitions celebrating her work and influence. Teichert's paintings can be found in major museums and public collections. Among all these, there are few, if any, murals in size, subject, quality, and historical significance that have the gravitas of Cache.