Hollywood & The American West – Behind the Scenes

The entrance to the exhibit features an image of Paul Newman reading the script for  The Left Handed Gun  (1958) in front of his dressing room on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California. Photo courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises

The entrance to the exhibit features an image of Paul Newman reading the script for The Left Handed Gun (1958) in front of his dressing room on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California. Photo courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises

Starting February 3rd visitors of all ages will have the chance to view a photography collection that captures the essence of old Hollywood Westerns. “Hollywood and the American West” at Oklahoma City’s National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum showcases the work of John R. Hamilton, magazine photojournalist and legendary film photographer.

In 2014 John Wayne Enterprises had the unique opportunity to acquire a portion of the John R. Hamilton Collection that features John Wayne. When the John Hamilton Estate offered the opportunity to acquire the entire collection around a year later John Wayne Enterprises jumped at the chance to curate an exhibition that captures never-before-seen images of icons of Hollywood’s golden age.

Taking the collection from raw negatives to exhibition quality fine art prints however was nothing short of a labor of love.

Original slides featuring John Wayne on the set of  The Searchers  (1956) are viewed using a lightbox. Photo courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises

Original slides featuring John Wayne on the set of The Searchers (1956) are viewed using a lightbox. Photo courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises

After reviewing thousands of original images Executive Director of the John R. Hamilton Archive, Amy Shepherd, and Laurie Kratochvil, Curator of the Hollywood and the American West, worked with The Icon LA to clean, digitize, and correct for color balance, saturation, tone. The images included in the exhibit leveraged current technologies in fine art development to bring Hamilton’s photographs from over 60 years to their full potential.

John R. Hamilton images of varying sizes are pinned up and reviewed for any imperfections at Icon LA. Photo courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises

John R. Hamilton images of varying sizes are pinned up and reviewed for any imperfections at Icon LA. Photo courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises

After reviewing hundreds of images, 68 images were finally selected for inclusion in the exhibit. These final photographs capture Hamilton’s unique ability to showcase the energy and history of exceptional moments in film. Important to the exhibit is also the ability of the images to tell a story. Shepherd and Kratochvil developed a layout and order to the photographs that leads viewers through a history of Westerns on film.

With the final photographs enlarged, cleaned and framed the collection was ready to begin its journey from Newport Beach, California to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Working closely with a fine art shipping company each image was carefully wrapped and framed for its journey east.

Custom boxes were built to ensure the framed images made the trip unharmed. Photo courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises

Custom boxes were built to ensure the framed images made the trip unharmed. Photo courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises

Upon arrival in Oklahoma each image was carefully measured and assigned its precise location on the wall. Taking the layout from a small mock-up to a full-scale exhibition requires precise measuring and a keen eye for visual perspective.

The beginning stages of the museum installation process. Photo courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises

The beginning stages of the museum installation process. Photo courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises

Finally, the finishing touches were added including labeling each image with its title and short description.

The process of taking the images from a general collection to full exhibition development and installation was lengthy and collaborative. The final product however is one that is truly a testament to Hamilton’s love affair with the Western.

To learn more about the curating process for Hollywood and the American West, return here to johnwayne.com/journal on Feb 13, 2017 for an interview with Laurie Kratochvil, Curator.