2015—What True Grit {might have} Looked Like

True Grit

January 26 – April 25, 2015
A traveling exhibition from the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University and the Kansas Historical Society


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In conjunction with our 2015 Big Read selection of Charles Portis’ classic novel, “True Grit,” we’re showcasing the iconic cowboy photographs of 19th-century photographer, F.W. “Frank” Steele.

Although “True Grit” takes place in Arkansas during 1863, Steele’s images should give you an excellent idea of what life may have looked like to characters Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn.

The Big Read provides citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities. This program from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is designed to restore reading to the center of American culture.

About Frank Steele

true grit article thumb of install

Installation views

In 1890 F. M. “Frank” Steele arrived in Dodge City, Kansas. Outfitted with a buggy of photographic equipment, he headed out into the open ranges of southwest Kansas, southeast Colorado, northeast New Mexico, and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma to photograph cowboys at work. Many of Steele’s iconic cowboy images can be found in books and articles about the cowboy and the West, but more often than not without attribution.

By the turn of the twentieth century Steele had begun to broaden the scope of his subject matter. He also, in addition to his field photography, at one time or another had studios in over a dozen towns in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.

Steele considered himself an artist, and indeed his photographs are remarkable for their composition and aesthetic quality, but today his work is undoubtedly more important for its documentary value. Over the course of his career, whether intentional or not, Steele documented nearly every facet of life in the southwestern plains. Steele’s photographs, for instance, clearly depict the transition from open-range ranching to crop agriculture.

As of early 2009 the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University, in cooperation with the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka, has located and digitized some 400 of the thousands and thousands of photographs that Steele took during his forty-five-year career, and we hope to be able to add to this total as new information arises. If you know of some Steele photographs, please contact the Center for Great Plains Studies at cgps@emporia.edu or 620-341-5574.”

SOURCE: Emporia State University


I've been the Sabatini Gallery's associate curator since 2004 and social media coordinator since 2008. My passion is helping people “get“ art, and by that I mean creating an environment both in-house and online which fosters a greater understanding, confidence, and sense of enjoyment from the art experience. Art should be easy to access and available to everyone. I take helping people very seriously.