New Acquisition Spotlight: “For Freedom” by Dean Mitchell
By Johanna M. Blume, curator of Western art, history and culture
For Freedom, 2020
30 x 22 inches
Gift of Catherine Turner , 2020.6.1
The Eiteljorg Museum is committed to sharing the stories of the many diverse communities who are part of the Western experience. This requires an inclusive approach that makes space for groups often missing from art of the American West. Over the last several years, the museum has prioritized collecting works by artists from underrepresented communities and works that depict underrepresented aspects of the American West.
An exciting recent acquisition from a donor, For Freedom by Dean Mitchell, is an important addition to the permanent collection. Despite the fact that African American settlers, soldiers and cowboys were a part of the historical American West, there are very few depictions of them in early Western art. This lack of representation is a contributing factor in their erasure from the history of the American West. It is also in part what inspired Dean Mitchell to create the piece. Through his work he is interested in honoring a history that he hadn’t been taught, and honoring people who are overlooked by society.
Additionally, the subject of this piece is African American, a Union soldier. The model was a Civil War re-enactor at Fort Scott in Kansas. Kansas was the first state to recruit, train and deploy Black soldiers into combat in the Civil War, and Fort Scott was the home base for the First and Second Colored Infantry. The history of that war in the American West and the role of African American soldiers in the Civil War are subjects rarely tackled in Western art, and completely unrepresented in the Eiteljorg’s permanent collection. The addition of For Freedom to the collection enables the museum to share this piece of history with visitors.
Image courtesy of the artist
Dean Mitchell is an extraordinarily talented watercolorist, and For Freedom is an example of his skill in that medium. With this piece he wanted to focus on the man, leaving the background abstract, and drawing the viewer in to the weariness of the soldier, “leaving nothing else around to entertain you except that he has a gun.” The end goal is that the viewer has to “confront this man as a soldier and a human being.”
For Freedom was one of Mitchell’s artworks spotlighted in the Eiteljorg Quest for the West® Virtual Art Sale in September 2020. A collector who is a dedicated supporter of the Eiteljorg, Catherine Turner, purchased the painting and donated it to the museum.
New acquisitions such as For Freedom are an important step in expanding the museum’s ability to interpret the full range of stories and experiences that make up the American West. This work is ongoing, and just one facet of the museum’s commitment to fulfilling its mission.
Editor’s Note: The above article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of Storyteller magazine.
Read this excerpt from a Feb. 15, 2021, article in Forbes.com by Chadd Scott about the Dean Mitchell painting For Freedom: