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UMFA Race to Promontory Exhibit

Posted By Salt Lake County ZAP
March 01, 2019

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The Race to Promontory: Get a Wide-Angle View at UMFA


One hundred and fifty years ago at Promontory Summit, Utah, the final spike was driven, the transcontinental railroad was complete, and the nation was transformed.


The Race to Promontory: The Transcontinental Railroad and the American West, a major traveling exhibition now on view at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA), offers an extraordinary account of one of the greatest achievements of the nineteenth century through powerful images that still resonate a century and a half after their making.


It also reunites—for the first time in Utah—the famous Golden (The Last Spike), Nevada Silver, and Arizona spikes that were present at the “Meeting of the Rails” on May 10, 1869. All three spikes will be on view at the UMFA through April and then at the Utah State Capitol May 8–12.


Along with these compelling images and historic artifacts, Utahns can explore some of the historically overlooked narratives around this important history through free educational programs with renowned historians, artists, and community members


The Race to Promontory, organized by Joslyn Art Museum and the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, is a cultural centerpiece of Spike 150, the state’s year-long celebration of the anniversary. It’s on view through May 26.


The exhibition connects Utahns with this shared history in ways that only visual art can. The transcontinental railroad joined East and West, triggering dramatic economic, technological, and cultural changes across the nation. Fittingly, this transformative event was captured by the equally groundbreaking medium of photography. 

Spike150 Rounding Cape Horn


Visitors will experience rare works from photography’s earliest days by practitioners who brought a painter’s eye to this historic moment. The more than 150 photographs and stereographs by Andrew Joseph Russell (1830–1902) and Alfred A. Hart (1816–1908) are drawn exclusively from the Union Pacific Historic Collection at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.


Visitors will also discover thirty-one works by nineteenth-century Utah photographer Charles Savage, whose scenes of local landscapes helped boost tourism and settlement. Savage’s photographs are on loan from J. Willard Marriott Library Special Collections at the University of Utah.


These nineteenth-century photographers focused primarily on the engineering triumphs of the railroad, the vast resources available for an expanding nation, and the region’s pictorial beauty. Interpretive materials and an interactive gallery help visitors think critically about the ways in which these photographers framed the railroad’s construction for their audiences.


Free educational programs will examine many narratives only alluded to in the images on view—including the experiences of Chinese and Irish immigrants who made up the workforce, members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints who worked alongside them, and Native Americans, whose lives were forever changed as the railroad spurred new migration into their ancestral lands.

Join UMFA on Wednesday, March 6 at 7pm for a free lecture, "Promontory Perspectives: A Faculty Conversation":


Promontory Perspectives: A Faculty Conversation Wednesday, March 6 | 7 pm | Katherine W. and Ezekiel R. Dumke Jr. Auditorium | FREE


Perspectives on the transcontinental railroad and its completion at Promontory Point are as dynamic as the moment itself. Join us for an evening of University of Utah faculty presentations that examine the significance of this historical event through diverse critical lenses. Featured presenters include Paisley Rekdal, Utah poet laureate and professor of English; Gregory Smoak, director, American West Center, and associate professor of history; and Matthew Basso, associate professor of gender studies and history. Q&A to follow.


Generous support for the exhibition was provided by Presenting Sponsor George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, Golden Spike sponsor Zions Bank, Programming and Lecture Sponsor The Hal R. and Naoma J. Tate Foundation, and by Union Pacific, the State of Utah, the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, and Spike 150.


The UMFA is grateful to the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks Program (ZAP) for its year-round support of the Museum. ZAP funds help make possible the UMFA’s many free programs and twenty-four annual free general admission days.


Photo credits in order:

Artist unknown (American, 19th century), Nevada Silver Spike, 1869, silver, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, Stanford Family Collections, 1998.117; William T. Garrett Foundry (American, active 19th century), The Last Spike, 1869, gold, alloyed with copper, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, gift of David Hewes, 1998.115; artist unknown (American, 19th century), Arizona Spike, 1869, silver, steel, and gold, Museum of the City of New York, gift of Mrs. Arthur Whitney, 1943, 43.44.4


Alfred A. Hart (American, 1816–1908), Rounding Cape Horn. Road to Iowa Hill from the River, in the distance, ca. 1866, albumen stereograph, courtesy Union Pacific Railroad Museum