Diverse Exhibits Entice National Cowboy Museum Visitors

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Glenna Goodacre inspects part of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson memorial sculpture in Baltimore, Maryland, by Laura Gardin Fraser.
Cowgirl and Her Star Puppy
East Texas Gold Star Mother

Diverse Exhibits Entice National Cowboy Museum Visitors

BY M. J. VAN DEVENTER

Stunning photographs by the late Ansel Adams…

This unusual trio of exhibitions is on the winter and early spring playbill for visitors touring the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Each exhibit offers a unique viewpoint on some aspect of the nation’s ever-evolving view of the West.

Ansel Adams: Masterworks from Turtle Bay

Ansel Adams was well known for his illuminating photographs of the American West with most of them presented in sharply contrasting black and white tones. Museum visitors will see Adams’ intense love of the landscape in these historic photographs.

Adams was born in 1902 in San Francisco and had an unconventional childhood. He was shy and introverted. He was home-schooled by his parents and an aunt, loved walking in sand dunes, on beaches and by Lobos Creek near his home. He excelled in piano lessons but disliked arbitrary rules.

His world view was broadened at age 13 when his father bought him a year’s pass to the Panama Pacific International Exposition. A year later, in 1916, two turning points changed his life. He vacationed in Yosemite National Park with his parents, who gave him a Kodak No. 1 Box Brownie camera. Yosemite and the camera gave Adams a new lens to view the world.

In 1927, at age 25, Adams photographed the sheer face of Half Dome in Yosemite, a pivotal nature portrait that changed his career.

According to the Museum, “Adams spent countless hours finding views of various landscapes – magnificent, quiet, meaningful – and then more hours waiting for the light to be right, then time in his darkroom processing and printing. He used his masterpieces to share places in this country, mostly in the West, which many people would never have seen.”

This exhibit features 47 works from the collection of the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California. Two thirds of these images served as a representation of his life’s work titled “The Museum Set.” Adams thought these works represented his most famous and best-loved photographs.

Adams chose these images, rather late in his career, to portray his elegant details of nature, architectural studies, portraits and breathtaking landscapes.

He achieved great distinction in his career and was called “the elder statesman of photography, the photographer laureate and champion of the American West.” In 1968, he was awarded the Interior Department’s Conservation Service Award, which praised his work as a photographer, artist, interpreter and conservationist.

In 1980, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor for “his efforts to preserve this country’s wild and scenic areas, both on film and on earth. Drawn to the beauty of nature’s monuments, he is regarded by environmentalists as a national institution.”

Adams died April 22, 1984 and his exquisite portraits are still considered of immense value. The exhibit opens Feb. 28 and is on view through May 10.

Madonnas of the Prairie

In this exhibit, more than 100 works of art focus on women of the late 19th century through today as seen through the talents of numerous artists. From victims to passive observers, from frontier damsels in distress to those migrant women who shepherded their family on westward journeys, women have captured the imagination of artists for centuries.

The exhibit was organized by the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas. It opens Feb. 28 and is on view through May 10. Visiting Curator Michael Grauer said, “American artists often depicted these frontier women as victims, passive observers, or merely passengers in the settlement of the American West.

“Frontier damsels in distress frequently graced Western dime novels. Other artists chose to portray these women in the guise of a Madonna figure based on renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite paintings of the Virgin Mary. Biblical descriptions of Israelites wandering in the wilderness offered a template for the holiness of the migrant family.”

Other artists painted Western women as beautiful objects to be admired, with no true role except to stand by the corral gate, watching their men ride away. Wild West shows changed that view with portraits of women trick riders and shootists, Grauer notes.

The 20th century inspired women in much more active roles. They plowed fields, picked cotton, herded cattle and rode bucking horses. In the early 1900s, American companies ~ Coca-Cola, Kodak, Kellogg’s ~ used women’s images to market their products. With the advent of television westerns, Western pin-up girls captured artists’ attention.

This colorful tribute to the “Madonnas” of the West opens February 13 and runs through May 10. Several educational programs are scheduled in connection with the exhibit.

Women’s Sculptures Pay Tribute to War

Laura Gardin Fraser and Glenna Goodacre were born worlds and wars apart but both shared a passion for sculpture that now pays tribute to the veterans of war.

The exhibit, “Conflict Cast in Bronze,” opened January 17 and runs through July 12. The exhibition is drawn from materials housed in the Museum’s Dickinson Research Center and loans from Goodacre, a Santa Fe sculptor whose work is on view at the Museum and at the JRB Art Gallery in Oklahoma City.

Fraser’s life size sculpture of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson was dedicated in 1948 in Baltimore, Md. It portrays the final parting of Lee and Jackson.

A Baltimore banker, J. Henry Ferguson, bankrolled the sculpture with a $100,000 gift to Baltimore’s Municipal Art Society. The Confederate Generals were his childhood heroes and he wanted children to have a reminder of them.

Goodacre’s poignant Vietnam Women’s Memorial was the result of a decade-long struggle between several Vietnam women veterans and government agencies to honor the 11,500 women who served in the Vietnam Conflict.

Her sculpture was dedicated Nov. 11, 1993 in the nation’s capitol. The late J. Carter Brown, then chairman of the Washington, D.C. Commission on Fine Arts, said, “Rather than drawing on a single moment in time, her sculpture provides a metaphor for war as experienced by those whose heroic contributions have been so often ignored. The bronze brings to life the urgency and pathos of the field, as well as the searing introspection that continues long, long after.”

Goodacre commented: “That my hands can shape the clay which might touch the hearts and heal the wounds of those who served fills me with humility and deep satisfaction.” The 20th anniversary of the sculpture’s dedication in 2013 drew thousands of people of all ages to view the memorial and honor the women it represents.

Goodacre’s life-size sculpture of President Ronald Reagan is on view at the National Cowboy Museum. A solo exhibition of her work was featured at the JRB Art Gallery in The Paseo in 2011 and several sculptures remain in the Gallery’s collection.

For additional information about the Museum, upcoming exhibitions and educational programs, call (405) 478-2250.

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