by Ann M. Colford & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ometimes, no matter how compelling the artifacts, a museum exhibition just can't convey all the fascinating details about a subject. No one knows this better than museum professionals like Marsha Rooney, curator of history at the MAC. After three long years developing "The Mapmaker's Eye: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau" and locating items like the explorer's original field journals, Rooney found there was more to say than could fit into a single gallery. So she tracked down seven experts on various aspects of Thompson's world and made plans to bring them all to Spokane this month. The first two speakers -- local author Jack Nisbet and Kalispel elder Francis Cullooyah -- addressed a crowd last weekend at the MAC, but the remaining five will make four separate presentations on the next two Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
"They're all people I ran into while working on the exhibit, and contacts that Jack [Nisbet] made," Rooney says. "I wanted to build on some of those themes and threads that we were not able to develop as much in the exhibit."
One of those threads is artist Paul Kane, who recorded some of the first visual images of the landscape traveled by Thompson, although Kane passed through some 35 years later. Several of Kane's field sketches from his travels with the Hudson's Bay Company are on display at the MAC to illustrate the landscape that Thompson saw and wrote about. Like the American painter George Catlin, whose work he saw in London, Kane sought to capture what he saw as the rapidly disappearing wilderness and tribal culture of the West.
"The understanding in British North America at that time was that a trip across the continent was a trip across the wilderness," says Dr. Ian MacLaren of the University of Alberta, who will talk about Kane on Saturday. "Even after the Oregon Treaty had been signed [establishing the 49th parallel as the international border], the Hudson's Bay Company still was the way to get across the continent."
After one aborted trip on his own, Kane convinced the HBC to let him tag along on a two-year journey (1846-48) from Lake Superior across the Continental Divide and down the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver and back again. In return, the artist created several paintings for HBC governor George Simpson after his return to Toronto. Later, he used his sketches to produce more than 100 paintings in the studio.
"He never had in mind that he'd make his money by sketching," MacLaren says. "There wasn't any market. Patrons had no taste for sketches; they thought sketches seemed preparatory for finished works of art."
While the prejudice toward finished paintings remains a reality in the art market, the sketches have great ethnographic import, says MacLaren. As unedited first impressions of what Kane saw, the sketches share the immediacy of observations in Thompson's field journals.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & uring his years of travel, Thompson filled his journals with observations of the land and people, notes on furs bought and sold, and detailed astronomical readings to determine longitude and latitude. Soon after his retirement from the fur trade in 1812, he produced extensive maps of the area; only later, in 1845, did he draw from the observations in the journals to begin a narrative that he called his Travels.
"Thompson's Travels is his most accessible work," says Dr. William Moreau from the University of Toronto, who is working on a new three-volume edition of Thompson's writings, drawn from the journals, maps, oral sources and the Travels. "It's the work where he's trying to weave together the whole tapestry of his life and how it unfolded against the backdrop of western North America. It's an expansive text, as expansive as the West itself."
Moreau will speak Sunday afternoon about the process of editing historical texts. Once a text is selected, located -- not always an easy task -- and examined, he says, a scholar must choose how to present and explain the text to an audience who will read it across a gulf of time and space.
"I'll talk about the editor as mediator," says Moreau, "and examine some of the decisions that editors make, getting into the mindset of an author. There are all kinds of assumptions that we bring to a text that Thompson wouldn't have had.
"Everyone wants to latch onto Thompson and claim him as his own, but we can't pretend that he's a person of 2006," he continues. "That gets into the last function of the editor, which is explicating the text, deciding what kinds of footnotes will be included, how much to explain."
Next weekend, Dr. Jean Barman and Bruce Watson of Vancouver will talk on Saturday about the intermingling of cultures that came about from the fur trade. On Sunday, Dr. William Lang of Portland State University wraps up the lecture series by placing Thompson in the context of other explorers of the Northwest, including Lewis and Clark and George Vancouver.
The March Lecture Series, held in association with the exhibit, "The Mapmaker's Eye: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau": "The Art of Paul Kane," Dr. Ian MacLaren, University of Alberta, on Saturday, March 11, at 2 pm; "Puzzling History: Editing Thompson's Papers," Dr. William Moreau, University of Toronto, on Sunday, March 12, at 2 pm; "Intermingling Cultures: Fur Trade Families," Dr. Jean Barman, University of British Columbia and Bruce Watson, Vancouver Community College, on Saturday, March 18, at 2 pm; "Comparative Exploration: Lewis & amp; Clark, Vancouver, and Thompson," Dr. William Lang, Portland State University, on Sunday, March 19, at 2 pm.
All events are at the Eric A. Johnston Memorial Auditorium, Northwest Museum of Arts & amp; Culture, 2316 W. First Ave. Tickets: $15; $12, MAC members. Visit www.northwestmuseum.org or call 456-3931.
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