Masters of the American West | Westward Ho!

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Collectors of western art know to mark the first weekend in February on their calendars. That’s when the annual Masters of the American West Fine Art Exhibition and Sale unfolds at the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles. Now in its 13th year, the exhibit ranks as one of the best places to view new works by some of the nation’s leading painters and sculptors.

Anyone who has attended the stellar presentation knows that they can expect to see an exciting range of subject matter—from historic portrayals of the Old West to landscapes, still lifes, and figurative works. Seventy-five artists from across the country present pieces in this year’s exhibition, which opens the weekend of February 6-7.

The Autry National Center (originally the Museum of Western Heritage) was established in 1988 by Gene Autry [1907-1998], who gained fame as “America’s Favorite Singing Cowboy.” From the 1930s through the ’60s, Autry starred in nearly 100 western films, made more than 600 records, and was a well-known personality on his own radio and television shows. Though his background was show business, he ultimately came to be considered a significant contributor to the image of the American West. Autry co-founded the museum with his wife, Jackie, and Monte and Joanne Hale to “exhibit and interpret the heritage of the West and show how it influenced America and the world.”

In many ways, John Geraghty, one of the founders of the exhibition, has carried on Autry’s legacy. When Geraghty helped establish Masters of the American West in 1998, he, too, was a man on a mission. “I wanted to convey to visitors what wonderful art this is,” he explains. “And that it’s American. This art is about us and our history.” Since its inception more than a decade ago, the show has seen sales jump from $250,000 to $4 million. In the early days, about 3,000 visitors attended; in 2009 some 10,000 people viewed the artwork.

Geraghty, who now serves as special advisor to the show, says he is pleased that the exhibit attracts premier artists such as Howard Terpning, George Carlson, Mian Situ, and Clyde Aspevig. All of the artists juried into the show bring their very best works, he adds enthusiastically. Styles vary from realism to impressionism and more abstract renderings. “I’ve always wanted to allow artists the freedom to not be tied to just depicting cowboys, Indians, horses, and cattle,” Geraghty explains. “I wanted to give them the chance to reach beyond that and tell the story of the development of the West.”

For artists, an invitation to the show is viewed as a major career builder. “It’s an enormous honor to be hanging on the wall with such incredible artists and in such a prestigious show,” says Scott Tallman Powers, who is exhibiting for the first time this year. “This is what artists work hard for—to show with artists they have admired for years.”

Landscape painter Carole Cooke agrees. “Being in the show with such great artists really pushes me to do the best I can. I like the challenge of continually trying to create better paintings,” says Cooke, who is participating for the sixth year. “The exhibition is a real celebration of everyone’s hard work.” For Cooke, one of the many benefits of being in the show is that she gets the opportunity to meet with collectors, gallery owners, and museum directors who otherwise may not have seen her paintings. It may take time to be juried into the exhibition, but it’s well worth the wait.

An array of activities and events are held in conjunction with the show. On Saturday, February 6, noted Arizona landscape painter Curt Walters gives a lecture titled “Place and Moment” at 10:30 a.m. at the museum. The annual Chuck Wagon Luncheon with an awards presentation follows at noon. At 5:30 p.m., a cocktail reception as well as the exhibition and sale take place. The show is then on view at the museum through Sunday, March 7. For more information: 323.667.2000 or

Featured in February 2010