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Horses of the West: Power, Freedom, and Friendship

February 21 - September 13, 2015


The Tucson Museum of Art is presenting the exhibition Horses of the West: Power, Freedom, and Friendship from February 21 through September 13, 2015.

In the American West, horses are symbols of strength, wildness, and companionship. Artistic views of these animals developed over the past century reflect how they have become both necessary for livelihood and celebrated in Western cultures. Whether residing on a working ranch or in the wilderness, horses exemplify power and endurance as well as tenderness and tranquility. Visitors may view multiple artistic perspectives of horses and their significance to the West.


(above: Paul Dyck, Tipi Horses, 1963, oil on Masonite. Gift of Mrs. Frederic O. Hess. 1985.5.1)


Indroductory wall panel text for the exhibition

Horses of the West: Power, Freedom, and Friendship

Powerful Icons

In the American West, horses are symbols of strength, wildness, and companionship. Though horses have held a special place in human world history for over six thousand years, artistic views of these animals over the past century in the American West reflect how they have become necessary for cultural livelihood. Whether residing on a working ranch or in the wilderness, horses exemplify power and endurance as well as tenderness and tranquility.

Percherons, Morgans, American Quarter Horses, Fox Trotters, Paints, and Arabians among other horse breeds have inherent and diverse abilities for working on farms, ranches, or in the backcountry. Horses provide more than services essential for hauling, traveling, and stability, but offer camaraderie to those they assist. Overall, they are considered among the most prevalent symbols of the American West.

It appears that innumerable, but sometimes opposing terms describe the qualities of a horse: controlled or wild, reliable or erratic, friend or foe, fighter or casualty. Horses continuously intrigue artists as evident in their variety of representations. Some look at horses as beautiful, pure, unrestricted, and free animals. Other artists depict horses as domesticated and more restricted at a ranch, rodeo, or race.

Cultures of the West convey horses as powerful icons from myths and creation stories. Their appearance may be found on baskets, clothing or numerous objects in Native American artistic traditions. Horses themselves may be outfitted in decorative objects as well: expert silver smiths and leather crafters make saddles with embellished designs for parades or other events. Plains Indian people ornament clothing in delicate beadwork with horse likenesses and sometimes dress horses for parades with elaborate patterns and designs.

Throughout this gallery, look at multiple artistic perspectives of horses and their significance to the West. Some might be positive, some negative. In portraying horses in art, there are endless possibilities.


Object labels from the exhibition

Henry Zeigler
American (U.S.)
Pete Knight Winning Championship, c. 1948
drypoint etching
Gift of Mrs. Frances Emmons. 1975.11
Zeigler specialized in depicting ranch life in paintings and etchings, particularly of the horse and rider engaged in action. Scenes of rodeo and racing enhance the anatomical features of horses, and the artist chose to focus on this dynamic theme. He created an etching featuring Pete Knight, a world renowned rodeo champion in the 1930s.
Dan Bates
American (U.S.), b. 1951
Pistol Charge, 1981
bronze, 4/10
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Dan Bates. 1981.14.1
Inspired by an incident he witnessed at an Apache War re-enactment at Ft. Huachaca, Bates depicts the swift movement of two charging horsemen; one rearing and the other falling to the ground. Known for equestrian sculpture and an accomplished equestrian himself, he sought for the accuracy of the horses in this work.
Fritz Scholder
Luiseño, American (U.S.), 1937-2005
Galloping Indian After Remington, 1976
lithograph, 30/50, State I
Gift of Arnold and Elaine Horwitch. 1980.26.2
Scholder brought attention to Native American cultures of the twentieth century by addressing prevalent stereotypes, symbols, and myths. One of these ideas was of a Native American on a horse. Artistically trained, he occasionally incorporated recognizable elements by other artists into his work.
Frederic Remington (1861-1909), one of the most prominent artists that focused on art of the American West, conveyed Native Americans in his paintings but prided on his representations of horses. In fact, he wanted his epitaph (gravestone inscription) to read, "He knew the horse." Scholder took the symbol of the Native American on horseback and one of Remington's images and integrated modern elements of color and form.
Olaf Wieghorst
American (U.S.), b. Denmark, 1899-1988
The Night Riders, 1961
oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John K. Goodman. 1981.37.1
Hal Empie
American (U.S.), 1909-2002
Cool, Clear Water, 1981
oil on board
Gift of Ruth Ann and Peter Groves; Gift of Hal and Louise Empie. 1981.35.2
The cowboy and horse are not always depicted by artists in action-oriented scenes. The quiet, restful moments can be just as powerful, as seen in Empie's painting. This Arizona pharmacist, historian, and artist used the large tree as the central part of the scene. However, the small portion of bright yellow paint from the coat on the saddle brings attention to the horse.
Ray Strang
American (U.S.), 1893-1954
Colt Studies
pencil and ink on paper
Gift of Mr. Herbert D. Schutz. 1981.43.1
Strang, an accomplished illustrator, drew studies to continuously learn and remain familiar with themes of the West. Horses, for instance, have unique body structures which an artist must be keenly aware if he or she wants to depict them realistically. He roughly sketched these forms to be used for future reference.
William Robinson Leigh
American (U.S.), 1866-1955
The Rampage, 1953
oil on canvas
Bequest of Ileen B. and Samuel J. Campbell. 1982.1.14
Grant Speed
American (U.S.), b. 1935
Quick Tied by the Texas Ranger, 1975
Bequest of Ileen B. and Samuel J. Campbell. 1982.1.16
Olaf Wieghorst
American (U.S.), b. Denmark, 1899-1988
Cowboy Resting, 1965
bronze, 4/20
Bequest of Ileen B. and Samuel J. Campbell. 1982.1.29
Wieghorst reaffirms the relationship of man and horse. He shows domination and independence, control and freedom in his rendition of a resting horse and cowboy. This work indicates the endless appeal of a much-loved subject.
Olaf Wieghorst
American (U.S.), b. Denmark, 1899-1988
Night Hawk, 1971
oil on canvas
Gift of Robert Q. Sutherland. 1982.20.1
Wieghorst featured a night hawk rider, one who protects the cattle herd at night, constantly watching for potential predators. The rider in this nocturne, or night scene, presides over his evening environment. The artist used mostly shades of green and blue to depict the effect of darkness and moonlight.
Paul Dyck
American (U.S.), 1917-2006
Tipi Horses, 1963
oil on Masonite
Gift of Mrs. Frederic O. Hess. 1985.5.1
Devoted to the lives, history, and imagery of Native Americans, Dyck lived among several tribes and gained first-hand knowledge of these cultures throughout the twentieth century. He applied his knowledge of fourteenth century painting techniques and used egg tempera and oil glazes for desired effect. Dyck found inspiration by looking at depictions of horses in hide paintings or ledger drawings of Native American peoples.
Edward Borein
American (U.S.), 1872-1945
Running Wild Horses
drypoint etching
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John M. Mitchell. 1985.6.4
Looking at ancient times through today, imagery of man on horseback is interpreted as powerful and manly. From depictions of Alexander the Great to the iconic, rugged cowboy of the past century, these figures utilize those features. Though not regarded as king or leader, Borein's lines of the horse as well as the posture of the rider perpetuate the commanding nature of this subject.
Oscar E. Berninghaus
American (U.S.), 1874-1960
Team of Horses
pencil on paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John M. Mitchell. 1985.6.5
Best known as a member of the Taos Society of Artists, Berninghaus looked at the Southwest with a keen eye for elements of detail, shape, and color. This image of a pair of horses evidences the artist's focus on the horse on the left and its gear. It can be a challenge for artists to render horses because of their unique body forms, but another degree of difficulty is added with the placement of the harnesses, bridles, and bits.
The transportation of people and goods occurred for centuries via horses pulling carriages, wagons, and carts. In the West, wagon trains and Conestoga wagons moved across the plains and mountains for trade and settlement. Berninghaus traveled via train, and significantly, Overland trails so he was exposed to horse travel.
George Carlson
American (U.S.), b. 1940
Baron, 1990
Gift of Bob and Erin Vaughn in memory of Eleanor Gustavson. 1991.243
A sculptor and painter, Carlson devotes much of his time to equine, or horse, sculpture. Attracted to draft horses particularly, the artist once said, "I like their volume and weight and mass." The subject of a solitary horse can stand as a powerful symbol. Its head, positioned upright and facing forward, conveys the artist's intent to concentrate on the overall form of the figure. The thicker legs, neck, and body of this Clydesdale horse, along with the expressive texture that Carlson applied, all contribute to the overall feel of this bronze.
Suzanne Baker
American (U.S.), b. 1939
John and Mr. B., 1992
acrylic on canvas
Virginia Johnson Fund. 1993.31
With a keen fascination for horses as a young child, Baker incorporates them in most of her western themed paintings. In her teenage years to young 20s, she worked as a packer and guide as well as studied animal sciences in college. Her family has since then lived on a ranch, adding to her personal knowledge of these animals.
Richard Thorpe McLean
American (U.S.), b. 1934
Banana Beau, 1980
serigraph, 211/250
Gift of Sarah Schuster. 1995.233
Though considering himself a still-life painter, McLean's most popular theme are realistic horses and their riders. Basing many of his images from horse magazines, whether of racehorses and jockeys, horses on a farm, or military horses, the artist's work has hyper- realistic, photographic qualities.
Richard Thorpe McLean
American (U.S.), b. 1934
Lucky Penny, 1980
serigraph, AP
Gift of Sarah Schuster. 1995.234
Richard Thorpe McLean
American (U.S.), b. 1934
Jack Magilus, 1980
serigraph, 221/250
Gift of Sarah Schuster. 1995.235
John Fawcett
American (U.S.), b. 1952
Hits and Misses, 2000
Gift of John and Elizabeth Fawcett. 2000.59.1
At a young age, Fawcett's passion for horses was apparent. He kept horses near his Cedar Rapids, Iowa home, and did some informal artwork as a student. However, in college he studied and eventually held a 20-year veterinary career treating equine and small animals. After this he returned to art full-time. The artist stated his attraction to the fluidity and softness of watercolor as a medium, noticeably seen in Hits and Misses.
Paul Brach
American (U.S.), 1924-2007
Last Light, 1984
oil on canvas
Acquired with funds provided by Ben Heller. 2001.40.1
Brach, though born in Brooklyn, NY, wanted to either become and artist or ride horses. In fact, for several summers he worked on a ranch in Arizona during his teenage years. In the art world he is mostly remembered for his contributions to modern and contemporary art, but in the 1970s and 1980s he also produced Western landscapes featuring horses. On the top and bottom border of Last Light the artist painted simplified patterns which echo those found in textiles of the Southwest region. The horses galloping freely are very simplified and small within the large canvas.
Richard Misrach
American (U.S.), b. 1949
Dead Animals #327, 1987
color photograph, 1/10
Gift of Cita Scott and Harry George. 2007.23.1
A print from the "Desert Cantos" series, a body of work which Misrach devoted himself for 30 years, this image of a dead horse buried in the desert strikes an emotional chord. The practice of mass burial pits in the West, most prevalently as a result of atomic tests, Misrach comments on the contamination of the natural environment.
Jaune Quick-to-See Smith
Flathead Salish, American (U.S,) b. 1940
Untitled (from the "Kalispell Series")
Gift of Eleanor Caldwell. 2008.19.1
Horses are an integral part of Smith's work and culture. She integrates connections between Native American histories and tribal stories with today's world. The horse depicted in this pastel is simplified and basic, but she uses the horse as an image among other noticeable icons with their own meanings: celestial bodies, spiritual figures, bold shapes, and patterns.
Ross Stefan
American (U.S.), 1934-1999
Sixteen Miles to Shonto, 1969
oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. William A. Small, Jr. 2008. 20.1
Frank O. King
American (U.S.), 1883 - 1969
Untitled (Stagecoach)
pen and ink
Gift from the Bernard and Jeanette Schmidt Estate, 2012. 2013.5.10
The mythic "Wild West" often includes images like this, where a stagecoach rides across the desert and men shoot their guns into the air. A cartoonist, King approached the West in a fun and humorous manner. Best known for his contribution to the comic strip Gasoline Alley in the mid-twentieth century, he had interests in other topics, including the West.
Lon Megargee
American (U.S.), 1883-1960
Wild Horse Race
woodblock print
Gift from the Bernard and Jeanette Schmidt Estate, 2012. 2013.5.11
Megargee evokes the spirit of a wild horse race with the sweeping, curved lines and stark color contrast. He utilized the concept of using positive and negative space in this woodblock print. In a sense, using negative space creates a visual effect that tricks the eye to see an image. Here, there are horses and cowboys full of action and excitement.
Howard Post
American (U.S.), b. 1948
Three Crossing, 2013
oil on canvas
Gift of James and Louise Glasser. 2014.1.1
Post, a resident of Arizona, paints the ranches, cowboys, and pastoral scenes in which he has been familiar all his life. He limits his palette to about six colors and bases his compositions off of photographs, personal experience, and imagination. Three Crossing is a serene scene, blending the artist's knowledge of horses with open spaces; two of his favorite subjects.
Frederick Hambly
American (U.S.), b. 1937
El Fuente, 1988
In Memory of Frank Tornabene. 2014.3.2
The partnership between the horse and rider is an essential component to the success of the cowboy's livelihood. El Fuente, the fountain, which is found on the bottom right, plays a major element to the story but is a small part of the composition. The cowboy's care for his horse by feeding it water from his hat shows the enduring friendship between them.
Maynard Dixon
American (U.S.), 1875-1946
The News, 1918
Private Collection.
Nez Perce (Nimíipu)
Floral Beaded Gloves, c. 1910-1920
leather, glass beads, metal beads, fabric, cotton thread
On loan from The Arizona State Museum, The University of Arizona. Catalog # E-6340
Plains Region (possibly Cheyenne)
Beaded Pictorial Vest, c. 1920
leather, glass beads, cotton thread, sinew
On loan from The Arizona State Museum, The University of Arizona. Catalog # E-2214
In the Northern Plains region of the West, beadwork became a means of decoration and expression in the Reservation period of the last half of the nineteenth century. These traditions continue today. Parade and ceremonial clothing are decorated by colorful beadwork, a labor- intensive process. Each tribe has their own distinctive patterns, colors, and designs. Horses, historically important animals for transportation, warfare, and status in the Northern Plains, are highly ornamented for parades.
Left to right:
Pima/Papago Basket, pre-1920s
wicker, devil's claw, cattails
Private Collection.
Pima Olla Basket, pre-1920s (top)
wicker, devil's claw, cattails
Private Collection.
Papago Basket, 1920-1930s
bear grass, bleached yucca, devil's claw
Private Collection.
Pima Basket, 1920s
wicker, devil's claw, cattails
Private Collection.
The Tohono O'odham (Papago) and Akimel O'odham (Pima) people have a long-standing tradition of basket making. Using materials found in their area at a given time, such as yucca, devil's claw, and wicker, the basket weavers integrated unique colors and shapes. Though seemingly similar, the main differences between the two peoples' basket styles are in their weaving techniques. The Tohono O'odham (Papago) use a four-square knot in the center of the weaving, and Akimel O'odham (Pima) baskets often have a herringbone rim made of devil's claw. The devil's claw is noticeable as the dark color in baskets.
N. Porter Saddle and Harness Company
Phoenix, Arizona
Toots Mansfield Saddle, c. 1950s
leather, German silver
On loan from Jim and Willa Karp, Oracle, AZ.
Established in Phoenix, Arizona in 1895, the N. Porter Saddle and Harness Company created some of the finest tooled and sewn saddles. This Toots Mansfield saddle, named in honor of the seven-time world champion roper and rodeo star of the 1930s and 1940s, is crafted with tooled leather in floral designs with a decorated trim of German silver. German silver is made of copper, nickel, and zinc alloys and has a similar appearance to silver.


To view the checklist from the exhibition please click here.

To view additional images of objects in the exhibition please click here.


Resource Library editor's notes

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