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Boone Blog # 10 David Wright — Frontier Artist

David Wright's painting — Gateway to the West — which greets travelers in the Visitor's Center at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

David Wright, a native of Kentucky who now resides in Gallatin, Tennessee, is nationally known for creating art that brings the American frontier to life. He combines an historian’s attention to historical accuracy, coupled with exceptional artistic sensibilities, and the results are stunning.

            Wright remembers drawing with his mother when he was only three or four. By the time he was a senior in high school, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the world of art. After studying in Europe, he returned to the States and found work as a graphic designer and illustrator. In 1976, as the country celebrated its bicentennial, there was a heightened interest in art that depicted the nation’s history; Wright did a painting of a mountain man and sold it through Gray Stone Press, which still markets his work today. The painting was such a success that Wright made the decision to focus his work on historical topics.


            “Historical artists march to a different drummer,” Wright says. “The challenge is so much greater than doing landscapes, which is what I often painted early in my career. People don’t look at a landscape and say: ‘That doesn’t look like a gingko tree to me.’ But if you include something wrong in a historical painting, you’ll have people writing you letters telling you exactly where you screwed up. When it comes to history, even things that seem set in stone can change as new information emerges; I’m continuously learning.”

David Wright's painting — The Station Camp Dogs — is filled with wonderful historically accurate details.


            Over his sixty-year career, Wright has worked in a wide variety of mediums, but the majority of his work since the year 2000 has been done in oils. In addition to the American frontier period (which includes the western frontier) Wright specializes in several other subjects, including American Indians and the Civil War. His research involves consulting original writings, as well as any available images of the time period he’s intending to paint. He also frequents historical reenactments where he photographs reenactors who are as attentive to historical accuracy as he is. The authenticity and attention to detail found in Wright’s work has long been enhanced by his participation in living history encampments. “While I’ll never know exactly what the frontiersmen faced, I’ve spent weeks at a time out in the Rockies trying to get the feeling right.” (One of Wright’s good friends is reenactor Ted Franklin Belue. See Boone Blog post # 8)

David Wright's painting — No Stronger Bond — is a portrait of Wright's friend, Ted Belue.


When students come to his studio, Wright tells them: “If you’re an artist, you get to leave something behind. Think of all the millions of people who’ve lived and died and never left anything behind.” What David Wright will leave behind is a body of work that will be meaningful for future generations of historians, museum curators, art lovers, and the random novelist like myself who cares about portraying the past as authentically as possible.


To learn more about Wright’s work:

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