"The West's Best"

by Peter MacMillan Booth






In 1965, a small group of cowboy artists gathered in a Sedona bar and created the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA). That organization's commitment to perpetuating the memory and culture of the Old West through a narrative realistic style sparked a renaissance in Western Art that continues to this day. As envisioned by its four founding artists -- Joe Beeler, John Hampton, Charley Dye and George Phippen -- the CAA promoted the storytelling style of the late Frcderic Remington and Charles Russell. They saw this as the best way to authentically represent life in the West as it was and is. Other similar groups, such as the National Association Western Artists, soon followed. With encouragement from these organizations, in addition to museums like the Cowboy Hall of Fume and the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, the narrative realistic style of Western Art experienced a revival. True to the Western storytelling tradition, nostalgia was a key motivation in this work as the artists wished to maintain the Western heritage with its values and symbolism. They especially focused on the life of the cowboy, a topic that embodied the heart of the West for these artists. Others emphasized the legacy of rural life in the modern West. The art of the West continues not only because of the frontier Western heritage, but because Cowboy and rural culture survives today. The West changed, but it did not disappear. Many of the values that made the Western image popular are still part of the modern West.


Key Artists

Founders of Cowboy Artists of America

In November 1964, Three Western artists were helping work cattle in Sonora, Mexico. Over a campfire, the three, Joe Beeler (.1931-living), John Hampton (1918-2000), and Charley Dye (1906-1973), discussed ways to preserve and promote art that interpreted a Western lifestyle. Out of this was born the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA). The group officially organized the next year at the Bird's Oak Creek Tavern in Sedona. George Phippen (1915-1966) joined the other three as the founding artists. The stated goals they. hammered out that night, over Coors beer, were "to perpetuate the memory and culture of the Old West as typified by the late Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, and others; to insure authentic representation of the life of the West as it was and is; to maintain standards of quality in contemporary Western drawing and sculpture." The CAA objective speaks well about the overall purpose of those wanting to preserve the tradition of Western Art. Of the four founders, only Joe Beeler is still with us today. He is also the creator of the Thanks for the Rain statue that is in our park and serves as the Museum's logo.

Since its founding, the CAA has had a host of talented artists, all still painting in a realistic style that focuses oil how the Western tradition of the past, present, and future. The DCWM collection holds examples from Melvin Warran, Gordon Snidow (of CAA Frank Polk), James Boren, Fred Fellows, James Reynolds, George Moyers, and Howard Terpening. Others, such as Ben Stahl and Robert Pummill, who are not members have also helped propel the Western Art tradition to its present state of success and popularity.


Photorealism Art

A separate genre within Western Art that has become very popular has been Photorealism. DCWM has two examples of this, the Navajo Charmer by Brenda Schmidt and George Molnar's Best Friends. Molnar and Schmidt both come from the same family of artists that utilize this very realistic technique.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

return to page 1 of "The West's Best"; Gallery Guide by Peter MacMillan Booth

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. [rev. 5/9/12]

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