Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Western Art on the Square

The Phippen Memorial Day art show is a Big Deal in Prescott. Its focus: Western Art, a genre very, very popular in the Southwest. Held every year since its 1974 debut at the public library, this show now fills the Courthouse Square each year. No room for refreshment stands or cutsey poo collectibles. A serious venue.

Two of the major themes of art at the Phippen: cowboys, Indians. However, I would never expect that painting of a gunman above to take a prize. Too much of a Hollywood cliche. The mission of the Phippen Art Museum, the show's sponsor, is to preserve and exhibit museum quality Western art and educate the public about the unique heritage, history, legends and influence of art of the American West.

The themes above -- a cattle round-up, a mountain man -- are more to the point of the show. I was interested to note that compared to other shows on the Square, there was less art depicting the Native American in a cloyingly romantic fashion.

There were works by Indian artists on display; this booth held a prize-winner.

However, the bronze above truly represents the meat of the Phippen: a working cowboy beset by too many head of cattle. A bit more history from the museum's web site:

George Phippen, first President of the Cowboy Artists of America, died in 1966, leaving behind a group of artists interested in creating a facility that specifically represented artists in the American West. In 1974, the George Phippen Memorial Foundation was formed to create a centralized venue that would fully support Western Art. The resulting museum finally opened its doors in 1984.

Animals are another favorite subject of Western Art. Here buffaloes. But also eagles ... mountain lions ... bobcats ... bears... and, of course, horses. Not much in the way of javelinas or ravens, two of my favorites.

One trend spotted this year -- though always a major venue for bronzes, the show saw sculptures getting larger and LARGER. A good example: the epic size elk and moose above. Suitable for the grounds of those huge McMansions being built north of town, I guess.

And while many booths featured landscapes -- mountains, forests, streams, deserts -- I overheard one artist say that only one such painting gets an award each year. Reason: landscapes are not quite on-theme.

More than one artist added action to her display by painting a quicky...

... an unexpected strolling Victorian couple added color to the scene ...

...while the lone busker played a mean banjo and sang western songs.

Did I mention that the originals on display were pricey? That's why an important part of many artists' offerings included a good supply of less expensive prints ready for the wall. No, I didn't buy this year. Don't have the wall space. Too many books.


Avus said...

What a great experience - would have loved to be there to wander, look and soak up the atmosphere.

quilteddogs said...

I would say that the majority of the art in my house is cowboy...and dogs. My mom and I go to the Cowboy Artists show at the Phoenix Art Museum and wait in line to have our book signed by all the artists and to view their wonderful work. For some reason, the Phippen show does not send me like the Cowboy Artists show does. My favorites are Ray Swanson (recently deceased) and Gordon Snidow.

Catalyst said...

What the hell and I doing in the American West? I like French Impressionism!

Granny J said...

Avus --yes, I think you would have enjoyed the scene. I always do!

Ms. Quilt-- I have a couple of pieces of what might be considered Western art, tho they are of Indian ceremonies. More what you might call anthropological art, bought by my late husband. Plus a wonderful big linoleum block print based upon a publicity picture from The Left Handed Gun.

Mr. Cat-A, you need to move to the South of France or perhaps the South Seas.

k said...

I had no idea Prescott was such an interesting place until I started hanging around here.

It's really wonderful. You have a population that appreciates beauty and isn't afraid to say so.

Some kitsch too? Sure. Goes hand-in-hand, most places. I don't mind. I can look the other way if I like.

It's way worth it for the overall effect.

Granny J said...

Hey, K -- I say hurrah! for kitsch. It makes wonderful pictures and interesting, light-hearted posts. Real Art is almost too serious for my approach...

k said...

Ha! Yes.

Or takes itSELF too seriously, perhaps.

And every time it does?

It leaves me a bit...dubious, as to its merits.

By contrast, there's often something remarkably unpretentious about kitsch that makes it at least as respectable, in its way. It is what it is.

Honest kitsch can sit right beside dishonest *fine art* any day of the week, for me.

Granny J said...

What amuses me about kitsch vs. fine art is that people who wouldn't dream of allowing the least bit of homey kitsch in the house will fill their gardens with it. And I'm a lot more likely to take pix of the garden than of someone's privacy castle.

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