Islands of the Blest
The photographs in Islands of the Blest depict various places in the American West. They were taken over a one-hundred-year period, from the 1870s through the 1970s. The photographers presented range from the completely unknown to some of America’s most distinguished practitioners of the medium, including Timothy H. O’Sullivan and Dorothea Lange. All images were sourced from digital public archives, such as the Library of Congress and the United States Geological Survey Library, and remain readily available to download.
Artist Bryan Schutmaat and art historian Ashlyn Davis selected the pictures with an eye toward telling a history of the exploration, settlement, and industrialization of the West. They worked with the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Curator of Photography, Brian Sholis, to create the sequence presented at the Mercantile Library. It is a poetic chronology of a region that retains its mythical status in the American imagination. “The West” as myth resounds throughout history: the exhibition’s title comes from Roman poet Horace, who wrote about an imagined West as a place of limitless bounty in the first century AD, long before the New World had been discovered. The reality of the American West in particular is more complicated. This exhibition conveys both hope and its suspension.