SAN DIEGO – In the 80 years between the beginning of the Mexican War and the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, the American West was re-created. Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, 1845-1924, organized by the National Portrait Gallery, chronicles those changes through photographs of the men and women who contributed to the transformation of the region’s nature and identity. More than 100 photographs of leaders, statesmen, soldiers, activists, laborers, criminals, and entertainers are presented in this exhibition; many of the names are familiar and include Sitting Bull, Kit Carson, George Custer, Geronimo, Jesse James, Annie Oakley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Brigham Young.

“These portraits provide a unique glimpse into the history of the American West,” said David Kahn, executive director of the San Diego History Center. “The exhibition illustrates how photography influenced the understanding of the West by giving a face to the changing shape of the country.”

Faces of the Frontier presents the portraits in four general themes: land, exploration, discord, and possibilities. It chronicles events such as the completion of the transcontinental railroad, on-going conflicts between Native Americans and non-natives, the emergence of the national parks movement, the admittance of 19 new states west of the Mississippi, and the philosophy of manifest destiny that inspired explorers to connect the West to the already established East.

The vintage photographs of those who represent this historical time are primarily drawn from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery and include images from noted photographers of the period such as Charles Milton Bell, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Edward Sheriff Curtis, and Eadweard Muybridge. Introduced in 1839, photography reshaped the way in which Americans in the East came to understand the West; photography visually presented the new land and different cultures and people who inhabited the West.

While on view at the San Diego History Center, Faces of the Frontier will feature a cell phone tour to enhance the visitor experience. Visitors can call 202-595-0074 or download the tour from the Internet to their personal listening device. The free tour features commentary and historical background from guest speakers such as Sandra Day O’Conner, Eleanor Harvey, chief curator of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and former U.S. Senator, Alan Simpson.

The San Diego History Center is the only West Coast venue for this traveling exhibition. During its 10-weeks at SDHC the exhibition will be augmented by a full array of public programs. Following the dates at the History Center, the exhibition will travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The exhibition includes a fully illustrated catalogue of the same title by Frank H. Goodyear III with an essay by Stanford University historian Richard White. The 192-page book, published by the University of Oklahoma Press, is available in The History Store for $45.