National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Saturday I spent the day at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It holds the world’s most extensive collection of rodeo photographs and memorabilia, barbed wire and saddlery as well as a collection of Western landscapes and sculptures. It was founded in 1955 and is preserving the culture of the cowboy and the history of the western United States through display of paintings, photographs, sculpture and memorabilia. It also presents native American historic artifacts and art and recognizes the impact of movies, television, books and magazines on how the world thinks about Western culture.

The End of the Trail by James Earle Fraser, first small scale version 1894. Fraser made this 18 foot plaster mold for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco and won the Gold Medal for sculpture. Fraser had hoped to have it bronzed but with WWI going on that was impossible. When the Exposition ended the plaster mold was broken and discarded. In 1920 the citizens of Tulare County, California salvaged the pieces and resembled them in Mooney Grove Park near Visalia, California. It remained there deteriorating for 48 years. In 1968 the National Cowboy Hall of Fame acquired it and had it renovated. They had it cast in bronze in Italy and that bronze cast was given to Visalia, California in 1971. In 1994 the original plaster cast was moved to the central lobby of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
As I walked from the lobby into the museum galleries I passed a series of photographs hanging in the hallway (see a few below). I heard several people talking about them, reminiscing about some memory the photos generated for them. That’s what art should do – open up a conversation and help to tell the story.
North and South, watercolor and pencil and paper by Joe DeYong, 1920
Shows a South American gaucho greeting a North American cowboy

A temporary exhibition was showcasing saddles and other tack used in Central and South America (see examples below).

Below are a few of the displays showing television and movies that influenced people’s opinions of what the west was like.

Before movies and television, books and magazines shaped public opinions of the West.

Below: Barbed Wire – The Museum had 1,300 “different kinds of barbed wire available for study…” “The examples are organized according to Roberts T. Clinton’s classification system based on physical characteristics.” The Museum advertises it has the largest collection of barbed wire in any one place in the world – below.

Branding iron symbols – below

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum has one of the largest collections of rodeo memorabilia in the world.

BEST OF THE BEST — PRIX de WEST –Since 1973 the National Academy of Western Art has been holding an annual competition to recognize the best Western Artists. Historically, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum has purchased each year’s winning submittal and then sold the rest of the submittals from that year at auction to the public to raise funds for the museum. These winners are exhibited in a special gallery. I have included my favorites below.

Below are the Windows to the West Triptychs which hand in the Special Events Center of the Museum. On the day I was there a college was having a graduation of its Physician Assistants in the Center. The Triptychs were commissioned from Wilson Hurley, a Tulsa, Oklahoma artist in 1991. It took him five years to complete the five paintings.

Western Artists and Art