Time is beginning to run short on "Tahoe: A Visual History," the current exhibit on display at the Nevada Museum of Art. Available for viewing through Jan. 10, the exhibit is one-of-a-kind in capturing works across the ages that reflect the value, beauty and resources of the Lake Tahoe basin.
"Most of these works have never been shown together before," said Amanda Horn, director of communications at the NMA, which is open Wednesday through Sunday.
Five years of effort went into pulling the exhibit together, which features more than 400 pieces in all, Horn said. Many of the works of art were borrowed from public or private collections and are on loan for a short time.
Paintings, pictures, maps, prints, models, books and more help to tell the story of Tahoe across more than 150 years as development began to peek in and build up, particularly through the addition of trains and automobiles, and as the lake's resources moved toward more full-throttle use. Yet, it's clear that the beauty of the lake has prevailed, and that artists across time have felt compelled to capture that essence and continue to do so today.
After walking through the exhibit, broken up into various themed galleries, visitors can stop in the museum store and purchase the 470-page book "Tahoe: A Visual History." A 30-minute documentary DVD can be purchased, but also can be caught in looped viewing in the NMA's media gallery on the second floor.
Following are a few of the standout pieces Horn recommended:
- Washoe Basketry Gallery: Miniature baskets, made by Dat So La Lee, who worked under the name Louisa Keyser, showcase true attention-to-detail and fine finger finesse. Encapsulating Washoe weaving styles, these miniature baskets date between 1900 and 1919 and are available courtesy of the Gene & Julie Quintana collection.
- First Views: Mapping and Sketches: A 1863 ink on parchment California Nevada survey map shows that Lake Tahoe once had a different name: Lake Bigler. This came from the third governor of California, John Bigler, but only remained the lake's name for a short period of time. Another item to check out in this gallery is a first-edition (1872) copy of Mark Twain's "Roughing It."
- Golden Age: 19th Century Landscape Paintings: An oil on paper laid down on canvas by Albert Bierstadt highlights an underwater scene at Emerald Bay. Dating to 1871, it catches the translucency of the water and is unique because it is much smaller than many of his other works, also on display. "It's really easy to admire something that's big, but it's more of a subtle appreciation when you have to take notice of a smaller work," Horn said.
- Surmounting the Summit: Donner Pass in the 19th Century: The Alfred Hart photographs on stereo cards in this gallery illustrate the impact of the Central Pacific Railroad in the area. Hart hired on as the official photographer for the railroad and these images clearly help to tell a unique story about the railroad tunnels. "Definitely stop and take a look at (those)," Horn said.
- Harsh Realities: Donner Pass: The Mian Situ oil on canvas in this gallery is a contemporary work, but meant to capture life on the Central Pacific Railroad for the Asian railroad workers who did much of the labor. In "A Short Respite," Situ uses the Socialist Realist style of painting to capture the spirit of the workers while on break.
- Tahoe Timber: The Carleton Waktins albumen print in this gallery illustrates the way the resources of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area were being utilized. "South of Carson City" dates to 1876 and is available courtesy of the Nevada State Museum. It shows massive amounts of timber from the Tahoe Basin area loaded at a railroad, much of it presumably headed for underground mines in the Comstock.
- Rise of the Resort: A central idea of this gallery is the influence of automobile upon development and visitation at the lake. In the 1920s, Frank Lloyd Wright even developed "Summer Colony" plans for Emerald Bay, none of which came into fruition, but a 1995 model of these plans can be viewed in this gallery. Also, the Anne Brigman photographs of various figures ensconced in nature help to capture the ethereal nature of the lake and its surroundings. Horn described Brigman, who did much of her greatest work between 1900 and 1920, as both progressive and daring, particularly for a woman at the time, and also said that Brigman traveled into Desolation Wilderness with her equipment occasionally to work.
- Altered Landscape: This gallery captures the influence of humans upon the landscape and environs of Lake Tahoe. A Robert Dawson gelatin silver print from 1988 shows a large black gate atop a wooden dock that extends out into the water. Entitled "Private Property," the work is mean to evoke controversy and discussion about water rights and resources at the lake.
- Water Woes: This contemporary gallery addresses some of the issues about water and water availability at the lake, while still showcasing its beauty. Sculptor and artist Maya Lin has commissioned work on display here and viewers can also see a piece by Phyllis Schafer, a landscape painter and instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College, who captures her imagery directly from the environment.
- Lake Tahoe Postcards: Old postcards that showcase the spirit and beauty of the lake as while as the sentiments of those visiting can be seen in glass cases in the Center for Art and Environment Research Library. Many similar thoughts are surely still sent out on postcards today.