Tahoe A Visual History

Nevada Art Museum 468 pages, large format

“This significant publication represents the first comprehensive survey of fine art and architecture related to Lake Tahoe, Donner Pass, and the surrounding area commonly referred to as the Sierra Nevada or Tahoe region….

“Art about a place helps define its cultural identity.  Without knowledge or shared understanding of a region’s art and history, it is impossible to celebrate or critically examine its contributions to the broader culture.  This publication records the art history of Lake Tahoe, Donner Pass, and the surrounding Sierra region for the first time.”

Those quotes come form the Foreword and the Preface of Tahoe A Visual History, the catalog for a show at the Nevada Art Museum in Reno until January.  That’s exactly what this book does and does well.  This is a magnificent book.  It’s full of art reproductions, historical photographs and other historical ephemera.   The format of the book, as well as the contents, lend to the magnificence.  The book is almost two inches thick (460 pages), is 11” by 13”, and has high quality thick pages.  Some of the art
reproductions or photographs span two full pages.

The title belies the fact that although there is a lot of Lake Tahoe, there is also a surprising amount of Donner Summit and Donner Lake, and quite a bit about Native American basketry.

You probably won’t sit down with this coffee table suitable book to read straight through.  The first thing you will do is page through it getting an idea of what to go back to and in which order to enjoy the visual feasts.  After going back a few times, paging through, you’ll be ready for parts of the text that are of interest.

The first three chapters are: At the Edge of the Lake, Traditional Washoe Basketry: Art in Natural Fibers, and History and Art in Washoe Fancy Basket Weaving.   The basketry photographs are beautiful and there’s a good story about an accomplished basket maker. 

Mapping a Lake in the Sky is exactly about that as is A Brief History of Staging in the Sierras. 

The chapter titled Lake Tahoe’s Golde3n Age: Paintings of the Tahoe Region, 1860-1920 is the strongest chapter.  It is a large collection of paintings including some of Donner Summit or Donner Lake that have been in the Heirloom.  There may be more in the text about artists than you want to know but if so, you can go back to savoring pictures.  Tahoe and Donner Summit are so beautiful and so many artists came to capture the beauty in the late 19th century, they must have tripped all over each other.

Then comes photography in the area, commercial and artistic print making of the area, architecture of the area, and contemporary art.