Reliving history with Artist of Distinction David Wright

Reliving history with Artist of Distinction David Wright

By Johanna M. Blume, interim curator of Western art, history and culture

Last year, artist H. David Wright of Gallatin, Tenn., was named by The Western Art Society as the Artist of Distinction at the Quest for the West® Art Show and Sale. A new exhibition of Wright’s paintings is open at the Eiteljorg through Nov. 17.


David Wright is best known for his paintings of the early American frontier and the people who shaped it. His focus on the frontiersman archetype, or “longhunter,” helped to establish his reputation as one of the top artists working in this genre. He is one of a small group of painters who have carved their own path through the Western art world, those who march to a different drum.

The 2018 Quest for the West® Artist of Distinction — whose work is on view at the Eiteljorg through Nov. 17 — was born in 1942 in Rosine, Ky. He was raised in Kentucky and Tennessee and today lives outside of Nashville. Art was a part of his life from an early age, and he remembers his mother drawing pictures for him when he was a small child. One of Wright’s earliest pieces, a small painting of a dog, was done when he was 15. It hangs in his studio today, a reminder of where he started. He gravitated towards subject matter that reflected the history of his home state, including the American Frontier, and the Civil War.

He painted his first image of a mountain man in 1976. It was published as a limited-edition print by a company based in Nashville, Tenn. The popularity of the print, and the positive response Wright received for this new subject matter, encouraged him to finally leave the commercial art world and begin painting full time. He focused on landscapes early in his career, but by the 1980s was concentrating on paintings of frontiersmen and the Native American cultures of the Eastern Woodlands region.

H. David Wright
The Cold Gray Fog of Dawn, 2011
20 x 30 inches
Loan courtesy of Robert and Barbara Hunter
On view in the exhibition H. David Wright: Marching to a Different Drum through Nov. 17

Historical accuracy is extremely important to Wright. He researches his subjects through primary and secondary written sources, as well as through material culture that he personally collects or that he finds in museum collections. In addition to these more traditional research avenues, Wright also takes time to immerse himself in the ways of life of the frontiersmen he paints. He refers to his hands-on research as “reliving history,” rather than reenacting it. His goal is to gain a deeper understanding of how frontiersmen lived in and negotiated the landscape by going out into it, and he uses the same kinds of tools and gear authentic to the period. These experiences inform his attention to detail when painting.

H. David Wright
At the French Post, 2007
34 x 23 inches
Loan courtesy of Carla and Mike Leppert
On view in the exhibition H. David Wright: Marching to a Different Drum through Nov. 17

Wright’s career as an artist has spanned nearly 50 years. He continues to find inspiration in the land around his home in Gallatin, Tenn., and in the history of the region. Wright takes great satisfaction in the process of researching the particular period of history that has captured his imagination, and then translating that into a visual medium. He hopes to share that satisfaction — and the experience of history — with those who view his paintings.

Special exhibit of the 2018 Quest for the West® Artist of Distinction
Gerald and Dorit Paul Gallery, Eiteljorg Museum


H. David Wright
Colonel Crockett’s Last Serenade – The Alamo, March 1, 1836, 2019
Oil on panel
48 x 60 inches
Co-recipent of the Artists’ Choice award at the 2019 Quest for the West® Art Show and Sale
Winner of the Henry Farny Award for Best Painting at the 2019 Quest for the West®
Winner of the Patrons Choice Award at the 2019 Quest for the West®
On view in the exhibition Quest for the West® through Oct. 6.




Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the October 2019 issue of Storyteller Magazine.