Desert Caballeros Western Museum

photos by John Hazeltine

Wickenburg, AZ



In Celebration: A Century of Arizona Women Artists

February 3, 2001 ­ April 29, 2001


Intrinsically tied to the land and people of Arizona these women persevered under less than optimum conditions to create lasting works of art.

Entitled In Celebration: A Century of Arizona Women Artists this original new exhibition focuses on artists of the female gender who give new meaning to the word "pioneer". Many helped work the land and tame the wilderness. Others lived on reservations and ran cattle ranches. Somehow these women also found the time to capture Arizona's amazing beauty with paintbrushes, chisels, and camera lenses. Some of their art has been exhibited at Chicago's World Columbia Exposition and even at the Paris salons. Strangely enough, the works of these artists have never been brought together for a blockbuster show. Until now, that is... (left: Barbara Gurwitz, Summer Sunrise, Tumacocori, 50 x 40 inches, oil)

Slated to run from February 3, 2001 to April 29, 2001, In Celebration: A Century of Arizona Women is pioneering in every sense of the word. Unveiling works that have been historically ignored or undocumented, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum puts an end to that neglect. Encompassing 100 years, the exhibit focuses on more than 50 painters, sculptors, and photographers who fall into categories ranging from the artists of the Old West to the artists of today.

It should be noted that while women were generally accorded more equality and/or independence in the Old West, men didn't deem fulfilling one's artistic yearnings on a par with being a wife, mother, and homemaker. Female artists faced the same discrimination and neglect that has made it difficult for women to become recognized in a highly competitive, male-dominated field even today.(left: Susan Kliewer, Kinaalda: Coming of Age. bronze, 27 x 11 inches. ed. of 50, photography by Peter L. Bloomer)

Did the pioneer women take it sitting down? Heck, no! Combining the true grit and tenacity that helped win the West, these early artists often thumbed their nose at tradition and did their own thing. Some were highly trained at Eastern or Mid-West schools of art and, despite physical and financial hardships, strove to capture the unique beauty of the land and its people. For instance, Kate T. Cory (1861-1958) came to Arizona as a 44-year-old commercial artist educated at New York City's famous Cooper Union. During the seven years she lived with the Hopi on First Mesa's Orabi, Cory produced exceptional black-and-while photographs -- which she developed in rain water -- as well as oil paintings that recorded Indian life in a remarkably accurate fashion.

While many of these "artistic pioneers" sought a less restrictive lifestyle, others came to Arizona because of illness. Jessie Benton Evans (1866-1954) left Chicago, and like Barry Goldwater's mother, came to the desert to improve her health. Making her home on part of the grounds that eventually became Scottsdale's Phoenician Hotel, Evans made frequent trips to Europe and exhibited her works at the Paris Salon. Her granddaughter, also named Jessie Benton Evans, has inherited Benton's artistic genes and is a well-established painter in her own right. (left: Jessie Benton Evans, San Francisco Peaks, acrylic, 72 x 96 inches)

Ada Rigden (1886-1962) is another shining example of an older-generation artist "passing the torch" to their offspring. Rigden moved to Arizona when she was 19, took a job as a schoolteacher, and eventually married a rancher. Today, her granddaughter runs that same family ranch and maintains her grandmother and mother's (who were both well-respected painters) artistic connection to the land. A highly accomplished sculptor, Rigden's bronze ranch animals are exhibited in collections throughout the world; the late John Wayne being an avid fan.

A strong landscape school, as celebrated by pioneer artist Jessie Benton Evans, is still very much "alive and well" in Arizona, including Lynn Taber and Cynthia Bennett. Artists such as Barbara Gurwitz treat landscapes in a wildly abstract manner. On the other hand, Ann Coe uses the subject to convey powerful environmental messages.

rev. 2/23/09


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Copyright 2008 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.