Editor's note: The Desert Caballeros Western Museum provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article and essay. The "The West's Best" gallery guide was rekeyed and reprinted with permission of Desert Caballeros Western Museum on May 20, 2002. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Desert Caballeros Western Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:
The West's Best at Desert Caballeros Western Museum
Once again, Desert Caballeros Western Museum enlivens summertime viewing for art lovers by showcasing additional items from its comprehensive collection of some of the most outstanding Western art in the Southwest. Slated to run through Monday, September 2, 2002, The West's Best will include paintings, drawings, etchings, lithographs and sculpture that focus on the seemingly eternal fascination with the diverse peoples and haunting landscapes of the American West.
This expanded exhibit of the museum's permanent collection enhances and complements what is already on display in the Aiken W. Fisher Gallery (see more on the Fishers below), which ranges from early 19th century Native Americans immortalized by George Catlin to the contemporary western imagery of Billy Schenk and Gary Ernest Smith, exploring the timeless themes that continue to inspire artists in the American West. (left: R. Farrington Elwell, Cast on a Wild One, Desert Caballeros Western Museum Permanent Collection)
Art of the 19th Century Explorers is well represented: Continuing in the artist-as-explorer tradition of Catlin, who fearlessly pursued his subject matter, German-born Albert Bierstadt joined a government survey party in 1859 and was one of the first professional artists to capture the Rocky Mountains on canvas. Another member of the Rocky Mountain School who figures prominently in the Museum's permanent collection is Thomas Moran. This stalwart gentleman accompanied the U.S. geological exploration of Yellowstone; his work so impressed Congress, the area was turned into a national park.
Likewise, classic Cowboy Art: Having missed the Civil War, Frederic Remington left Yale and embarked on a love affair with the West that occupied much of his life. Like his friend Theodore Roosevelt, the artist envisioned cowboys and soldiers as archetypes of manly values. That other icon of Cowboy Realism, Charles Russell, was an authentic Westerner descended from frontier traders. Storytelling was the goal of his artistry as reflected by the Museum's collection of lively Russell paintings and sculptures.
From the Taos School to the Cowboy Artists of America: The permanent collection also has works by the Taos Society, the circa 1925 group that shared Gauguin's fascination with other cultures. J.H. Sharp, nicknamed the society's "ethnographer," dedicated himself to capturing Native American portraits and scenes of daily life on canvas.
While social realism, as opposed to nostalgia, became popular after WWII, certain artists continued to celebrate Western themes. Among them is Lon Megargee, Arizona's first cowboy artist, and the subject of a recent book published by Desert Caballeros Western Museum.
The Museum is especially pleased to have works by 11 Cowboy Artists of America including Joe Beeler, one of the CAA founders. His life-size bronze sculpture, "Thanks for the Rain," is the first work of art visitors see!
In honor of Jane Fisher, a major benefactor of the Museum, Michael Ettema, Executive Director at Desert Caballeros Western Museum, wrote the following:
Visitors to the Museum will benefit from receiving a gallery guide to help them interpret the art on exhibit.
Following is the text from "The West's Best" Gallery Guide, written by Dr. Peter MacMillan Booth in May 2002, © Desert Caballeros Western Museum:
There is no other style of artwork that is more American than Western Art. Many historians agree that the American character and culture was built by the experience of peopling a vast continent. Likewise, the artistic presentation of that story captures many of American aspirations and dreams. While the West influenced what artists presented, these artists in turn influenced the nation's vision of the West, Westerners, and the United States.
DEFINING WESTERN ART
Western artists use a variety of styles to focus on a wide
range of topics. What links this group, though, is that they were all picturing
a vision of the American West. In doing so, they strongly influenced the
nation's image of the West and its people. Most Western Art focuses on several
icons that have become the nation's standard vision of the West -- cowboys,
Indians, scenery, wildlife, wide-open spaces, horses, and the frontier.
These Images collectively embodied those virtues, values, and aspirations
that many felt the United States was built upon. The image of the frontier
represented a place of purity, freedom, and unbounded opportunity.
Humans were limited only by their own ability to be self-reliant, strong,
and brave. Of course this was rarely reality, but the nation's increasingly-urban
society experiencing industrialization and modernization thirsted for this
message. Beholders determine art's message. The beholders in this case,
the American public and the world beyond, received an inspiration of hope
from Western Art and the Western myth it helped create. They saw a message
that the wilderness experience of the frontier could reinvigorate humanity.
Since much of the West is still seen as a place abounding in natural and
unspoiled beauty, the region continues be a place where many feel society
can he broken down to its basic elements and then reborn in a more pure
For the most part, Western Art tells a story. The tales are usually built on some creative interpretation of people, places or historical events. This method of narrative art is the most common form in America today. It is easily enjoyed and understood by the majority of Americans. Most Western artists are realists, meaning that it is easy to read a story into most paintings or sculptures, even if it is not the story the artist meant to tell. A few works are impressionistic, meaning that their work may not render every minute detail clearly but the message is still recognizable. Either way, the works carry a great amount of information about how Americans felt about this "frontier" land and its people.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF WESTERN ART
The goal of Desert Caballeros Western Museum (DCWM) is to collect representative pieces from every major period of Western art development. This has created a chronological parade of Western Art that makes the DCWM collection rather unique. Starting just left of the entrance of the gallery, you can move from the oldest examples of Scientific Adventure Art up through examples of the Art of the New West in the changing gallery. Understanding the development of Western Art will help explain the value of each of the works you will be viewing.
Listed below is an introduction to each of the main periods. After each is a list of a few key artists and/or styles from that time period.
For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. [rev. 5/9/12]
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