Featured Event |The Best of the Best 

Bartlesville, OK
Woolaroc Museum, October 2-December 31

Ken Carlson, Rams of the Wrangells (2001), oil, 45 x 35. Collection of Ed Wright.

Ken Carlson, Rams of the Wrangells (2001), oil, 45 x 35. Collection of Ed Wright.

This story was featured in the October 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story

Seldom does a setting so perfectly align with the art being presented as is the case for an event called The Best of the Best. This retrospective exhibit and sale devoted to contemporary wildlife art is presented at the Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve, whose 3,700-acre grounds are home to buffalo, elk, and longhorn cattle.

The Best of the Best, which opens with a weekend of events October 2-4, features the work of seven artists, all of whom are deserving of the show’s title. Ken Carlson, James Morgan, Tucker Smith, and the late Bob Kuhn are the featured painters. Ken Bunn, Walter Matia, and Tim Shinabarger are the featured sculptors. All six living artists attend the weekend events.

This is the second national show for Woolaroc, which was established in 1925 as the ranch retreat of Frank Phillips—founder of Phillips Petroleum—and today is home to a 50,000-square-foot museum with a deep collection of western art and artifacts, most from the personal stores of the oilman himself. Woolaroc CEO Bob Fraser tips his hat to the late John Geraghty, a longtime Autry National Center trustee and special advisor to the Masters of the American West show, as the mastermind behind The Best of the Best. “He’s been a huge part of what we’ve been able to accomplish out here at Woolaroc,” Fraser says.

Just as Geraghty envisioned it, the show includes previous works from each artist, as well as a selection of new works for sale. The format creates a rare opportunity to appreciate the evolution of the careers of these highly regarded artists.

Bob Kuhn (1920–2007), Baying the Stock Killer (2006), acrylic, 24 x 38. Autry National Center, Los Angeles; 2006.36.1.

Bob Kuhn (1920–2007), Baying the Stock Killer (2006), acrylic, 24 x 38. Autry National Center, Los Angeles; 2006.36.1.

Tim Shinabarger culled pieces from his personal collection and several private collectors for his 10-piece retrospective. The sculptures span the past decade and are “standout pieces that challenged me and raised the bar on the ladder, so to speak,” he says. The Montana sculptor has 12 pieces for sale, two of which were made this year. One of his newest pieces, a striding grizzly bear, is a subject he first sculpted 20 years ago. “I’m showing how differently I would approach it now,” he says. “Now my approach is much more artful. I’m changing up the calligraphy. It’s about the play of light, planes, and values—much more like a painter would approach a painting. It’s not just about the positive and negative spaces of sculpture.”

Ken Carlson also presents varied subjects, with five new works featuring mallard ducks, a grizzly bear, swans, buffalo, and elk. The 15 pieces included in his retrospective span 20 years. “I haven’t really changed an awful lot. I found a way I like to work, and I try to be consistent,” he says.

The weekend opens with an artists’ and patrons’ dinner on Friday, October 2. On Saturday, October 3, the public is invited to a buffet lunch. Tucker Smith presents a lecture at 10 a.m., and Walter Matia leads a panel discussion at 2 p.m. The retrospective exhibit and the sale, conducted by silent bid, open that evening. The works remain on display at Woolaroc through December 31. —Ashley M. Biggers

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Featured in the October 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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