The executive director of the Booth Western Art Museum prepares to host the 50th anniversary reunion of the Cowboy Artists of America
This story was featured in the March 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cowboy Artists of America, the venerable artist-member organization dedicated to preserving and perpetuating authentic western life in fine art. As part of the golden anniversary, the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, GA, will host the official CAA Reunion from June 25 to 28, 50 years to the week after the group’s founding. (The CAA’s 50th annual sale and exhibition takes place in October at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.) The four-day reunion features three exhibitions by current, emeritus, and former CAA members; a chance to golf, shoot, or tour historic sites with the artists; a symposium on the history and future of the organization; and a celebratory banquet, among other activities.
How was the Booth chosen to host this important event? The CAA wanted to mount a retrospective exhibition, do a new book, and have some type of celebratory event. We had a spot on our schedule, a wealth of CAA artwork in our collection [some of which is shown on these pages], and a motivated group of museum members who were excited to help sponsor the event. So it was a good fit.
In the 15 years that you’ve been with the Booth, have you seen increased interest in cowboy and western art among collectors in the South? I have. It’s definitely one of the factors in the CAA wanting to do this event here; they see it as a growing market.
How would you describe the state of representational western art in 1965, when the CAA organized, and what was the result? At the time, there were a pretty small number of artists who were making a living creating western art. Today there are probably thousands, if you look at all the gallery rosters, advertisements, and magazines. I don’t think there’s any question, no other group deserves more credit for that than the CAA. In 1965, abstract expressionism had taken over the art world in the previous couple of decades, pop art was really getting going at that time, and as traditional as the CAA’s art seems to us now, it was pretty radical in the day to buck those trends.
What was it about cowboy art that caused it to catch on so widely? I think it appealed to people who were looking for a return to traditional values in drawing, subject matter they could relate to, and art that had a story with it. So many of the artists who wound up being key figures in the CAA were illustrators, and much of their artwork is narrative, historical, and tells a story, something people can identify with and that they like having in their homes or offices to enjoy.
The same reasons it’s so popular today.… Even more so today. With people being more transient, it’s easier now to visit the West or have second or third homes in the West and embrace the western lifestyle. Also, I think the majority of major collectors of western art are pretty entrepreneurial folks. Many of them are in high-risk, capital-intensive businesses, and I think they identify with the cowboy, the mountain man, or they have some romance for the life of the Indian.
How many of the CAA members do you expect to attend the reunion? We fully expect that 18 or 19 of the 20 current members will be here and probably half of the emeritus members. Fred Fellows will be here. He’s exhibited in more CAA shows than anybody in the organization. Of the emeritus guys, I’m pretty sure Harley Brown, T.D. Kelsey, and Mehl Lawson will also be here.
What’s your sense of the future of western and cowboy art? I think it’s going to continue to be popular. Traditional western art is always going to be the mainstream, but I see more contemporary art and photography becoming bigger segments within western art. For the Cowboy Artists, their founding mantra is to continue the work of Remington and Russell, so I think that will always be their core. And that’s necessary in a lot of ways, to remind us of where we came from and what is traditional, and to have that as a point of comparison for whatever else comes along. —Interview by Gussie Fauntleroy
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