By Bonnie Gangelhoff
Three western artists from Arizona huddled around a campfire in Sonora, Mexico, one night in 1964, and sometime between the first sip of coffee and the last dying ember, the idea for the Cowboy Artists of America was born. Charlie Dye, Joe Beeler, and John Hampton were not only friends but also artists who shared a passion for the West. Six months after they hatched the idea around the campfire, the trio met again, along with artist George Phippen, at the Oak Creek Tavern in Sedona, AZ. Over a few beers the foursome put together a list of the best western artists working at the time—talented men who were also actively engaged in the life they depicted in their artworks.
A few days later in Dye’s Sedona studio, they met to choose a name, among other orders of business. They christened their fledgling group the Cowboy Artists of America. The group held its first show in 1966 at what is now known as the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK. Sales were reported as “modest” that first year.
This month the group’s 45th annual Cowboy Artists of America Sale & Exhibition officially kicks off on Friday, October 15, with a preview and reception at the Phoenix Art Museum. More than 130 works by 23 respected western artists—such as Tim Cox, Martin Grelle, Harley Brown, John Coleman, Bruce Greene, and Loren Entz—are on view, including pieces by the two newest members, painter Tom Browning and sculptor Paul Moore. On Saturday, October 16, the fixed-price sale takes place at the museum from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., followed by an awards banquet. Both first-time buyers and seasoned collectors have equal opportunity to purchase the artworks by submitting intent-to-purchase slips.
Over the past four decades, sales at the show have grown exponentially from “modest” to totals that topped $1.3 million in 2009. These days, avid collectors of western art can expect to find paintings, sculptures, and drawings priced from a few hundred dollars up to a few hundred thousand. Most of the pieces bear the prestigious “CA” designation after the artists’ signatures.
The group’s mission remains the same today as it was back in the days of its founding: to perpetuate the memory and culture of the Old West; to insure authentic presentations of life in the West; to hold an annual exhibition; to provide mutual assistance in protecting artists’ rights; and to conduct a trail ride and camp out once a year.
Admittedly, there are not many artists’ organizations with a mission to hold an annual trail ride and camp out for its members. But it is precisely this event that binds the group and creates such close ties among the artists, according to former CA president and Arizonan Bill Owen. “I believe it’s why this group has been together for so long. We get to know each other on the trail ride and a real camaraderie is formed. The trail ride is the most important ingredient in the group,” says Owen, who has been a member since 1973. Current president Fred Fellows agrees. The bond is so strong, he explains, that when “someone has a problem, it’s everyone’s problem.”
The trail ride lasts about four days. Each year the artists meet at a different working ranch, which may be in Montana, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, California, or even Hawaii. Fellows, who is based in Arizona, says there is an added benefit to the trail ride. “The artists get to see how cowboys work cattle in different parts of the country,” he explains, adding a favorite quote by CA painter and sculptor Joe Beeler, who died in 2006: “Every artist wants to be a cowboy, and every cowboy wants to be an artist.”
For Texan Bruce Greene, the organization and its annual show set a standard of excellence because of the members’ outstanding reputations. “You feel a need to hold up your end of the deal. You have to raise the bar for yourself in order to be responsible to the membership. That is a great benefit because it holds us accountable to be the best we can be as artists,” Greene says. “I love for collectors to see my work [at the show], but even more I want my peers to see it and to hear what they think about it.” The exhibition opens to the public on October 17 and runs through November 21. For more information: 602.307.2007 or www.caashow.org.
Scottsdale Round Up
Gallery shows featuring CA artists
Each October when the Cowboy Artists of America hold their annual show and sale at the Phoenix Art Museum, galleries in nearby Scottsdale host open houses and receptions where collectors can see additional new works and meet the artists in person.
Legacy Gallery holds its 22nd annual Open House October 14-17, showcasing recent works by CA artists John Coleman, Oreland Joe, R.S. Riddick, Mehl Lawson, and T.D. Kelsey. A reception takes place on Saturday, October 16, from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information: 480.945.1113 or www.legacygallery.com.
Trailside Galleries has a large roster of CA members as well, including Wayne Baize, Harley Brown, Tim Cox, Don Crowley, Fred Fellows, Bruce Greene, Martin Grelle, Herb Mignery, Bill Nebeker, Gary Niblett, Jim Norton, David Powell, and Clark Kelley Price. The gallery presents new works by these artists October 11-23 during its Fall Open House, with a reception on Saturday, October 16, from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information: 480.945.7751 or www.trailsidegalleries.com.
Featured in October 2010