The Museum at the Bighorns will host an exhibit by a former longtime resident and WWI veteran
George Ostrom was a veteran and longtime resident of Sheridan County. He's credited by some as the person behind one of Wyoming's most iconic images. A temporary exhibit at the Museum at the Bighorns in Sheridan is set to showcase several of his sketches drawn during his time in the U.S. Army in Europe during WWI. Wyoming Public Radio's Hugh Cook spoke with Collections Manager Jessica Salzman about the upcoming exhibit's temporary home.
Jessica Salzman: This is going to be an in-house exhibit, so it's not going to become a traveling exhibit. We are getting objects on loan from the Wyoming Veterans [Memorial] Museum, which we're incredibly grateful for, but it's not going to be turned into something that travels.
Hugh Cook: What does this exhibit include in addition to just the sketches and the artifacts?
JS: It's going to be in the same space that we currently have "Healthcare on the Reservation." So there are going to be the sketches on the walls with some informative labels underneath them, as well as panels, a case with the objects, and people also have the opportunity to read a panel about the basics of WWI in case they're unfamiliar with it. It's not going to be the banners, it's going to be affixed to the wall.
HC: George Ostrom, the name at least, may not necessarily ring a bell immediately with a lot of people but obviously, his artwork does. Talk a little bit about some of his more popular works and a symbol that is visible to most Wyomingites on a daily basis.
JS: What George Ostrom was really known for was depicting, in his smaller scale work, ranch life. He depicted wolves in a very favorable light. He also had a commercial art career that was something he was pretty well known for in Sheridan, and it could be something as big as billboards to as small as the cover for a local hoedown. He was very well versed.
HC: Sheridan was Ostrom's home for most of his life, correct?
JS: He was born in 1888 [in Iowa] and he moved to the Sheridan County area in 1913. So he was 25 when he moved here, and then he was here for the rest of his life.
HC: Of the other stuff that he was involved with in Sheridan, were there any other notable organizations or events or initiatives that he was spearheading or involved with, or are those kind of some of the major ones that he was known for?
JS: He was active in the veteran community and one of the veteran's organizations. He and his bugle were pretty well known at veteran's events, and he played it at a lot of veterans' funerals throughout his life.
HC: In addition to his sketches, Ostrom was obviously a fairly accomplished artist. What are some of the sketches that are included, as well as some of the artifacts that are included with this exhibit?
JS: We are bringing in eight of his WWI-era sketches that are housed at the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum in Casper. There are about 20 in total. We decided to focus on ones that depict battles that he was a part of, so we're getting ones that show the Battle of Chateau-Thierry and the Battle of the Marne, the Argonne offensive, that depict battles that he saw firsthand. And so it's what he saw, and I find that to be really impressive. Everything that he drew was what he saw, but I think the battle scenes are really very moving. In addition to those eight sketches, we are bringing in George Ostrom's bugle. He was a bugler for his company when he was [at] the Mexican border because he'd always been musical. We have a picture of him and his marching band uniform when he was in high school. That's going to be part of the exhibit as well. And then the last object is going to be a WWI-era helmet from a Wyoming soldier that has the regimental logo that Ostrom designed for the regiment painted on the helmet.
HC: And that logo became something that many Wyomingites recognize today.
JS: Now, there's a little bit of a bone of contention about that. A lot of Wyomingites believed that the bucking horse for the state is Steamboat, others believe it's not. George Ostrom always maintained, and a lot of other people believed as well, that his design during WWI, even though it's slightly different in shape, was what really inspired the bucking horse to be the symbol of Wyoming. So, he would sign little sketches with 'George Ostrom, the originator of the bucking bronco' and stuff like that. So he was really proud of it. Dr. Lester Hunt, he was Wyoming's Secretary of State, he commissioned a bucking horse and rider from an artist named Allen True. Hunt copyrighted the image, and the design was slightly different than Ostrom's, but quite a few Wyoming veterans recognize that as a symbol that they had used during the war. So they thought that Ostrom deserved to get the credit for designing it and eventually Hunt turned the copyright over to the people of Wyoming. And I think Ostrom was recognized for having had a part in that becoming the symbol.
HC: His sketches, are they primarily black and white or are some in color? Or is it kind of a mixture?
JS: They're all ink on paper in black and white. He originally drew them in pencil and then later on he inked them.
HC: If I understand correctly, after his death, his family donated the sketches to the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum, correct?
JS: That is my understanding.
HC: How were you able to get this exhibit?
JS: I know the director and curator down at the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum and at one point they were mentioning that they had these sketches from George Ostrom during his WWI days, and that just kind of set off an idea of we really wanted to bring these to the community to see. And they were all for loaning them to us because it is a really Sheridan focused story and we all do want to be able to share the history and the stories of Wyoming veterans.