Oklahoma City, OK
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, June 12-August 2
This story was featured in the June 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
“Prize of the West.” That’s how the name of the National Cowboy Museum’s 42-year-old annual art show translates, taking inspiration from the many venerable French and other European events that bestow awards on the best in their fields. In this case, the title merits such distinction for artists, collectors, scholars, and museum aficionados alike, all of whom consider the Prix de West Invitational a preeminent show of its kind.
Consider the facts. Beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 12, those attending the opening reception and preview not only enjoy more than 300 new paintings and sculptures celebrating various aspects of North America west of the Mississippi, but they also mingle with many of the 101 artists invited this year by a highly selective curatorial and advisory team. “Our rigorous selection process begins for next year on the Sunday after our opening weekend,” says Susan Patterson, the museum’s curator of special exhibits.
Indeed, standards have long been set exceptionally high. “We want the artists to submit their absolute best works,” Patterson adds. Within that lofty scope, visitors can expect an excitingly varied range of subject matter and styles, from the impressionistic landscapes of Len Chmiel to Tim Cox’s realist images of contemporary working cowboys, and from Steve Kestrel’s elegantly stylized animals in stone and bronze to Doug Hyde’s near-mystical sculptures evoking his Native American heritage. The goal set for all the participating artists, Patterson sums up, is “to depict the American West in their own unique voices.”
Speak with any of the artists about their contributions, and you’ll likely sense such singular self-expression. “I’m an impressionistic realist,” says Ralph Oberg, a Montrose, CO, oil painter celebrating his eighth year in Prix de West. He specializes in pure landscapes or animals within landscape settings. “I like to show the animal in its habitat because I enjoy designing the landscape around the animal,” he adds. A prime example of that approach may be viewed in one of the four works Oberg has in this year’s show. HERE COMES TROUBLE features several elk cows emerging from a grove of yellow aspens while a bull elk bellows to warn off an unseen rival.
An equally unerring sense of western place emanates from THE LAKE OF GLASS, a 30-by-40-inch oil of an alpine lake in Rocky Mountain National Park painted by nine-year participant Andrew Peters of Council Bluffs, IA. “I’m a naturalist and an outdoor painter,” explains Peters, who regularly treks into the wilderness to capture remote, pristine scenes in small plein-air studies. He later re-creates them as larger-scale studio works in a painstaking process that, he says, “feels like I’m spending weeks back on that mountain.”
Peters, Oberg, and so many other participants are on hand during the show’s opening weekend, which in addition to the reception also includes seminars, demos by portraitist Scott Burdick and cowboy sculptor Bruce R. Greene, an awards banquet, and, on Saturday evening, June 13, a fixed-price sale by drawing. After that, the paintings and sculptures remain on view at the museum for another seven weeks, until Sunday, August 2. —Norman Kolpas
Featured in the June 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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