THE ART OF RESEARCH

This buffalo hide lodge is one of only a handful in the world. Hand tanned and sewn with buffalo sinew, it provides a glimpse that can be translated onto canvas. It is shown here at Teter’s camp along the Wind River in Wyoming.

Lee Teter’s “history” pictures are made to provide a seamless and appropriate window to a realm that would otherwise remain invisible. Lee says, “Without art there would be no way to see America’s pre-photographic past.” He reminds us,”Every representation of the pre-photographic past comes to us through the mind of an artist”. Research is vital if any modern image is to provide a suitable glimpse into the past.”

Painting pictures of early America is challenging because detailed period drawings and paintings  of early American culture and technology are relatively rare. Due to scarcity of art and lack of photography, visual resources are scarce. By the time photography could provide a reliable vision of American culture, the world had already been altered by merging international traditions and industrial technology.

Lee’s research had been focused on finding and acquiring VISUAL references that apply to the pre-photographic past. Printed words are helpful but inadequate for the visual arts. Lee needs information that (to quote Lee) “catches light and throws shadows”.

Because of the need to correctly understand pre-photographic visual resources Lee assembled an extensive library. At one point he had a personal library of more than eight hundred books related to American history and technology. His research notes are the result of tens of thousands of miles traveled, tens of thousands of pages read, and thousands of photographs of artifacts and historical landscapes. Distilled and sifted, this information is woven together by untold hours of study to become visual art. Making history art is an “art” long before a brush is dipped in paint.

Lee’s pages of decades old research papers are mingled with fresh and recent notes and sketches because his search is never over. Letters from Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, and other countries are mixed with generous correspondence and source material from great American scholars like John Ewers and Ted Brasser. Drawings, sketches, and notes, are jammed into margins or pasted beside photographs of related artifacts so they don’t get lost in trail worn notebooks. If half finished art and furniture needed by an artist could be ignored, Lee Teter’s studio would seem to indicate that research, rather than art, has been the focus of his lifetime.

While artists have been the sole means of visual representations of pre-photographic history, most of them were (and still are) more concerned with art than with America’s vanished culture. Lee, however, is committed to combining art and history appropriately. He has a lifetime of knowledge to do it with.