Surviving images and artistic renditions of Oregon-California Trail scenes are rare. Views by Arkansas artist William Minor Quesenbury (1822-1888) showing trail landmarks in Nebraska and Wyoming exhibit a skill surpassing that of almost all other sketch artists on the trail. The sketches are the basis for Scenery, Curiosities, and Stupendous Rocks: William Quesenbury’s Overland Sketches, 1850-1851, by David Royce Murphy, with contributions by Michael L. Tate and Michael Farrell, published in December 2011 by the University of Oklahoma Press. The book will be featured in the upcoming (March 20, 2012) New York Book Show sponsored by the Book Industry Guild. It received second place in the Professional Books/Scholarly design category.
Murphy, senior research architect at the NSHS, will give a free Brown Bag lecture, “Solving the Mysteries of Quesenbury’s Sketches: Making the Book Scenery, Curiosities, and Stupendous Rocks,” beginning at noon on Thursday, March 15, at the Nebraska History Museum, Fifteenth and P streets, in Lincoln. In 1850 Quesenbury left his Arkansas home for California and returned home in 1851 with daguerreotypist John Wesley Jones, who used selected material for his “Pantoscope,” a gigantic, scrolling, panoramic painting. Most of the sketches cover the 1851 journey. They begin with views of Devil’s Gate, follow the trail east through Wyoming, and include a distant view of Courthouse and Jail Rocks in Nebraska. The prized page of the sketchbook has two remarkably detailed drawings of Chimney Rock. They show the rock in its pristine state, its column tall and intact. The last sketch is an unfinished panoramic sketch of Ash Hollow.
Murphy’s lecture will be recorded for later broadcast on 5City TV and posted on YouTube, courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation. Previous “Brown Bag” lectures at the NSHS have already been posted. Copies of the book based on Quesenbury’s sketches are available at the NSHS Landmark Stores. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor /Publications