Cowboy Crossings Show Portrays Best of the American West

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Bean Saddle Guns and Roses
Schwarz Briefcase
Painting by Bruce Greene

Cowboy Crossings Show Portrays Best of the American West

BY M. J. VAN DEVENTER

Where can you see fine art and cowboy gear in one setting that takes you on a virtual tour of the American West?

Of course it’s the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in northeast Oklahoma City. Opening October 9-11 is an exhibition that blends fine art with exquisite cowboy gear, all created by the best western artists and craftsmen in the country. The show continues through Jan. 4.

“Cowboy Crossings” features paintings and sculptures by award-winning artists, all of whom are members of the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America, which was founded in 1965 during a revival of interest in all things western, including the opening of the National Cowboy Museum.

The CAA was founded by a group of stalwart cowboy artists – Joe Beeler, Charlie Dye, John Hampton and George Phippen – names that are legendary in cowboy artist circles. Their first shows were held at the Cowboy Museum from 1966 until 1972. Then they exhibited in Kerrville, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona for almost half a century. About six years ago, following extensive negotiations, the National Cowboy Museum became their permanent venue.

Many of the participating CAA artists also show their fine art at the museum’s annual Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition, an annual mid-June event.

Throughout the CAA’s 49-year history, it has worked to maintain standards of quality in contemporary western art, while helping guide collectors in their purchases of western art. The CAA also sponsors an annual trail ride and camp-out in locales conducive to the inspiration of western art. CAA President Martin Grelle calls that event “the glue that holds us together. We are blessed year after year to be hosted by different ranches across the West. This year, for the sixth time, we were on the beautiful Diamond Tail Ranch in northern Colorado.”

These artists portray their love and respect for the Western landscape. Oil paintings and watercolors provide a diverse view of the western landscape and the animals that inhabit it. Bronze sculptures portray historic figures from the past or present story-telling scenes reflecting ranch life. Bruce R. Green’s painting, “Life, Seen from a Saddle,” is a stellar example of the style of art featured.

As CAA members look ahead to their 50th annual show in 2015, they are proud of their accomplishments that insure the authentic artistic representation of the life of the West as it was, and as it is now. One of their original goals was to perpetuate the memory and culture of the Old West as typified by such artistic icons as Charlie Russell and Frederic Remington.

“I believe the founding members would be pleased to see what they started is still going strong,” Grelle said. “We move toward our 50th anniversary year with excitement and enthusiasm for what we can yet accomplish as an organization and as individual artists.”

The artisans who will present silver and leather saddles and spurs, lassos and bits are members of the Traditional Cowboy Artists Association (TCAA), who have been showing their couture cowboy gear at the Museum for the past 15 years.

Obviously, the items featured in the show are not those used as the work horses of the Western range. These are collectors’ items valued for their beauty, intricate detail and superb craftsmanship. Wilson Capron’s “Bit Detail” is one example of the elegance to be seen in ranching items that artists have transformed into memorable works of fine art.

“I’m very proud of the works my fellow members have created for this year’s exhibit,” said TCAA President Ernie Marsh. “These showcase what can be achieved when the constraints and common market expectations are set aside, enabling a craftsman to masterfully combine function and art to a point where they are one and the same.

“Those familiar with TCAA have come to expect one-of-a-kind artwork. As I hand the reins to Nate Wald, the incoming president, I’m confident the TCAA will continue to provide an excellent representation of our western heritage, fine craftsmanship and the lifestyles we continue to cherish,” Marsh said.

Four years ago, the National Cowboy Museum “merged” the art of these two national groups into one block-buster autumn show. Each organization maintains its autonomy throughout the year but combines their talents for this special exhibition.

Schedule of events

There’s a new rush of excitement about this year’s Cowboy Crossings show. A variety of events will introduce patrons to the renaissance taking place in Oklahoma City. Open Range Day will be Oct. 9 and includes a visit to the new Wilshire Gun or Coffee Creek Golf clubs. That evening, an elegant dinner at the Petroleum Club offers a grand panoramic evening view of the city. This event is for bid-book holders who are planning to purchase art.

Oct. 10 features a motor coach tour of the city with a VIP tour of the National Memorial and Museum, hosted by Lance Benham, the Cowboy Museum’s Board Chairman. Lunch in Bricktown will be followed by a stop at the Oklahoma Centennial Land Run Monument, a two-decade project by CAA artist and Oklahoma resident Paul Moore.

On Friday evening, guests will preview the 150 pieces of art on exhibit and mingle with the CAA and TCAA artists in a prelude to Saturday evening’s action-packed bid sale of stellar cowboy art.

New this year will be a celebration dinner and concert, with activities extending to the Museum’s Western States Plaza. Oklahoma’s own Head Country Bar-B-Q will cater dinner under the stars, weather permitting. The Lower 40 and Wade Bowen, a popular Texas musician. will provide music. Red Steagall, an honoree of the Museum’s Hall of Great Westerners, will keep the evening lively with his western banter as emcee.
Museum officials suggest western chic and business attire for the gala evening.

Also taking place during the week, preceding the opening of the “Cowboy Crossings,” will be a TCAA-sponsored workshop for saddle makers from across North America. Award-winning Canadian saddle maker Chuck Stormes will address the proper selection of saddle trees and problems of saddle tree fit, a subject dear to the hearts of cowboys who like to ride tall and feel comfortable in their saddles.

For reservations and bid books, call the Museum at 405-478-2250, ext. 219.

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