Horses and cowboys are not the only themes of the artwork at the Cowboy Artists of America Museum in Kerrville. Preserving the traditions and the sights of the Old West, the museum encompasses much more than just than cowboys and Indians.
For generations the cowboy way of life has been more than the Westerns of film and television. The truth behind the romantic images was a tough life of hard work and a constant battle with the elements. The members of the Cowboy Artists of America pledge to continue the traditions begun by Charles Russell and Frederic Remington in representing the true West through their art.
The association began on a cold evening in November 1964 around a campfire in a cow camp on a ranch south of the Rio Grande. Charlie Dye, Johnny Hampton, and Joe Beeler were discussing the corruption of Western themes by commercialization of the legends. Each man was a working cowboy and a working artist in his own right.
On June 23, 1965 the group met again along with George Phippen at The Bird's Oak Creek Tavern in Sedonia, Arizona to lay the groundwork for the organization. Their goal was to perpetuate the memory of Russell, Remington, and others and to ensure the authentic representation of life in the West. They also hoped to maintain standards of quality, help guide future artists, and protect the rights of older artists. More action-oriented goals were to have an annual trail ride and exhibit the work of cowboy artists.
Opened on April 24, 1983, the building alone is a work of art. Designed by renowned San Antonio architect O'Neill Ford, the museum features 23 boveda domes reminiscent of the architecture of Old Mexico. On a hill in an upscale neighborhood southeast of town, the building reminds the visitor of a hacienda more than an art museum.
The artwork in the exhibits shows the work of the 52 member artists. This elite club of creative craftsmen includes nearly every medium used by artists. Even saddles are sanctified as artwork. Past exhibits, which rotate about four times a year, have included cowboy cartoonist Ace Reid. A recent exhibit featured photographs of women ranchers. Each exhibit captures the beauty and the ruggedness of the West.
Whether the art is showing the connection of man and horse or the pride of the Native Americans, it seems to also capture the humanity and action of the moment. Sometimes the artist even captures the humor of the situation, like an Indian woman riding a horse to a pow-wow and holding an umbrella or depicting a horse race between a cowboy and an Indian.
The 14,366 square feet of gallery space conveys the feeling of open space like the West. It also allows the museum to exhibit large pieces and a variety of artwork. In a back room called the Emeritus Galley is the recreated studios of cowboy artists Nick Eggenhofer, who passed away in 1985, and James Boren, who was art director of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City until his death in 1990.
The annual trail rides are open only to members, but the group sponsors a Rodeo Art Scholarship Program at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo every year. Students are selected to spend a month at the museum studying cowboy art. The museum also has an extensive library of art books. The gift shop in the museum has a collection of souvenirs and collectibles that carries on the goals of the association and the museum.
Horses, cattle, cowboys, cavalry soldiers, Indians, mountain men, prospectors, and sod busters all contributed to the legacy of the Old West. Without one part the whole would not have been the same. To depict any part of the whole experience erroneously does a great disservice to the legacy and the modern viewer. In a current exhibit of paintings by Kenneth Riley, the artist has a picture of what might have happened when artist George Catlin painted an Indian chief in the 1800s. Riley quotes Catlin as writing: "Art may mourn when these people are swept from their earth and the artist of future ages may look in vain for another race so picturesque in their costumes, their weapons, their color, their manly games, and their chases."
For anyone who has visited the West or dreamed of a lifestyle that has all but disappeared except on the canvases of the artists, the Cowboy Artists of America Museum is full of motion and emotion. The museum is on the outskirts of Kerrville at 1550 Bandera Highway (TX173). The galleries are open Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm and Sunday 1-5pm. They are closed on New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For more information on current and upcoming exhibits, call 210/896-2553.
Coming up this weekend...
Blanco County Fair in Johnson City includes a rodeo and parade, Aug. 14-16. 210/868-7684.
Prazska Pout in Schulenburg features the famous Praha stew and fried chicken along with lots of entertainment at St. Mary's Church, Aug. 15. 409/743-4514.
Accordion Bash at San Antonio's Market Square invites the best accordion players to show their styles, Aug. 15-17. 210/207-8600.
Billy the Kid Antique Auto Swap Meet in Hico at City Park mixes old car parts with family entertainment, Aug. 22-24. 800/361-HICO.
National Championship Barbecue Cookoff in Meridian brings the carnival to town along with hundreds of cooks to see who is the best, Aug. 22-23. 817/435-6113.
Day Trips, Vol.1, a book of the first 100 day trips from this column, updated and expanded, is available for $6.95, plus $3.05 for shipping and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, 1712 E. Riverside, Box 156, Austin, TX 78741.