Cowboy Artists of America
The 33rd Annual Cowboy Artists of America Exhibition
You might call it a love affair that has lasted 33 years; a love affair with a place and its people: Depicted as both glamorous and gritty, the American West has been the passion of the Cowboy Artists of America, (CAA) since the unique organization was formed in 1965 to preserve the image of the West.
As with any affair of the heart, images put to canvas or cast in bronze reflect a very personal viewpoint and are the results of pursuing the affair for an extended period of time. But the subjects of these artists' affection are fading further and further away from the Western landscape.
Public lands where working cowboys rounded up grstzing cattle are now marked by new home developments and subdivisions. After seeing their fathers work 14 to !6-hour days on the ranch, youngsters chose computers over cows. Faced with these obstacles, the number of working cowboys dwindles every year.
Members of the Cowboy Artists of America believe it is their purpose to document the West that was, and the West that still is, fleeting as it may be. Each of the 27 artists all share in the quest to capture an authentic and realistic portrayal of the West, even though they focus on different subjects and styles. Many Cowboy Artists are known to do months, even years, of research for a piece before they create it. For those who choose to capture the West in its current state, times are changing and finding the images we have grown to associate with it are quickly vanishing.
CAA member Ray Swanson said he.has seen\ his subject matter disappearing or changing greatly. He also notes that an artist's interpretation of the West also changes with time because he gets, further from having lived it.
"The wonderful and colorful moments to paint are still
out there if you want to go find them. But every year it is more challenging
to find the images of the old West," said Swanson. "Now instead
of wagons on the Navajo reservations, you may see automobiles."
Unchanging is the beauty, purity and strength of Swanson's favorite subjects, Native Americans of the great Southwest, who remain a constant in his paintings that are coveted by collectors.
Artists who focus on capturing the current-day cowboy also are experiencing a rough ride. One national myth is that the American West is still filled with hard-riding cowboys pushing herds of cattle across the plains. The reality is, that type of scene rarely exists anymore.
CAA member Bill Owen is a real-life cowboy, a top buckaroo who could hold his own riding with any outfit. Owen says the cowboy, the national symbol as we know it, is an endangered species. He sees his work as an effort to record history and preserve the cowboy legacy for future generations. Proud to call himself a cowboy like his father and uncle, Owen says higher lease prices for land, a shortage of labor, and lower cattle prices all are contributing to the demise of the cowboy. So are the poverty-level wages of often less than $800 a month. "I want to do justice to cowbols and make them proud," said Owen. "Cowboys are patriotic, love the flag and are the roots of our country. I intend to embody that life and spirit on canvas, before it is gone."
Artist Don Crowley's paintings of one family of sisters from a Northern Arizona Paiute Indian tribe has spanned more than 22 years. He has seen many changes on the reservation over the years and has collected numerous Native American artifacts to paint in his realistic historical scenes, ensuring the authenticity of his works: Crowley also reads countless books and takes photographs of historically important areas to be sure they are portrayed accurately.
CAA President Mehl Lawson's sculptures depict the devoted relationship between today's working cowboy and his horse. His bronze masterpieces capture priceless moments for those of us who will never ride the range nor depend on a horse for more than light-hearted recreation. "We are dedicated to promoting the West while preserving its authenticity and image for the future," Lawson said of the CAA, an organization he,has been a member of for more than 16 years. "While each artist may have his own interpretation of a scene, you can bet it will be historically accurate down to the most minute detail."
The 33rd Annual Cowboy Artists of America Exhibition opens to the public at noon on Saturday, Oct. 24 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 22, 1998. The CAA Sale is the most prestigious western art sale in the country with some paintings selling at six figure prices and sales of nearly $1.7 million last year.
Each person has a place that is special. Others may see that place differently. The place can be changed and even taken away, but if that place is loved enough, there is a part of it that will stay forever. That is how the members of the Cowboy Artists of America feel about the American West, making their masterpieces of art all the more valuable.
Read more about the Cowboy Artists of America in Resource Library Magazine.
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