The West is the best. The Western region of the United States has long been a place of myths: pioneers settling towns and gunslingers settling scores. It’s a place of wide open spaces and weird landscapes. It’s a place where questions of law and morality are in constant flux and always subject to debate: Prostitution? Gambling? Murder? Maybe.
One theory is that our region, Northern Nevada, is the most Western place. Geographically, you can’t travel any farther west without running into California, which is its own region, geographically and spiritually. (If the West is purgatory, California is paradise; if the West is a great meal, then California is the trip to the bathroom afterwards.) If you imagine the map of the United States, Northern Nevada is halfway between the North and the South. Everything north of here, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, is the Northwest. Everything to the South, Las Vegas and Arizona, is the Southwest. We’re between the Southwest and the Northwest, thus simply the West.
Silverland Gallery in Virginia City—a town so weird, wild and Western, it’s almost a parody—is an art gallery for Western artists dedicated to exploring and celebrating the West. The opening reception for California artist Victoria Graham’s Lode, the gallery’s second exhibition of its 2009 season, is also the book release party for the first edition of the Silverland Almanac, an impressive collection of writings about the West.
Lode is an immersive, multimedia installation, a 3-D map that symbolically depicts changes in the Nevada landscape caused by mining and geological shifts. Graham lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work focuses on maps, map-making and the thought processes that go into map-making—maps are, after all, a tool that people use to define their surroundings.
The almanac features images of work previously exhibited in the gallery, much of it by local artists, like Ron Rash and Jen Graham. It also features essays and travelogues by other local artists, like Anthony Alston, and writers, like Caleb Cage. The almanac was edited by Silverland Gallery’s director, Leah Ruby. In her introduction, Ruby describes the almanac as “a western art review and travel companion.” Much of the almanac is an open-ended discourse about the West, some of it scholarly, some of it goofy, some of it both.
Local artist Nick Larsen’s visitor’s guide to Sparks is a highlight. “To be sure, Sparks is not a sexy place,” it begins—but what follows is a loving ode to Reno’s “unattractive step-sister,” and is a genuinely informative guide to Sparks’ best attractions, shopping and eateries.
San Francisco art historian Jennifer Bethke’s essay Art: West grounds the almanac with historical, artistic perspectives on the West—it touches on visionary Western artists from Mark Twain to the Earthworks artist Robert Smithson.
The Silverland Almanac and the Lode exhibit focus on one of the greatest things about the West: that it will never be fully explored. That’s why it’s so appealing to artists and wanderers—there are always new places to discover, new attractions to see, or to create, and new regions to map.