A cowboy saddles up his horse, drives cattle from one pasture to another, gets down from his horse, and picks up a paintbrush. But he’s not doing ranch work – he’s standing in front of an easel, painting a scene inspired by his morning ride. And he’s helping preserve and share the culture, work and environment of the American West.
He’s also following a tradition established by the fathers of Western art, a legacy detailed in “The Sons of Charlie Russell: Cowboy Artists of America” at the Briscoe Western Art Museum through Sept. 5. Spotlighting the founding fathers of Western art alongside the work of the members of the Cowboy Artists of America, the exhibition defines a core set of criteria for what traditional Western art is.
An art form as uniquely American as jazz music, Western art has long defined the American West worldwide. The “fathers” of Western art, like Charlie Russell, Frederic Remington, Edward Borein, William R. Leigh and Frank Tenney Johnson, worked to illustrate the lives, landscape and wildlife that defined the West, and ultimately set the standard for traditional Western art.
And the “sons” have safeguarded that standard. The founders and current members of the Cowboy Artists are the core of the exhibition. Showcasing the works of the fathers alongside the works of the sons provides history and historical context to the genre. But the exhibition is not about history. It showcases the roots of the genre to define where Western art stands today. And based on the exhibition, there’s no doubt that the genre is in good hands.
Displaying the strength and vibrancy of the genre through the masterpieces of 40 artists, the exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see contemporary art along with historical works. The exhibition features 70 paintings, sculptures and works on paper dating from 1890 to the present day. Including works typically only seen in private collections, these pieces have never before exhibited together.
Curated by Emily Wilson, the Curator of Art for the Briscoe, “The Sons of Charlie Russell” features works from 17 lenders including the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the Booth Western Art Museum, the Eddie Basha Collection, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the Sid Richardson Museum, as well as private lenders from Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming, making the exhibition the first and only time these works will be viewed together. Nine of the featured pieces are featured in the Briscoe’s permanent collection.
If you don’t know much about Western art, the exhibition’s guide gives you the skills to interpret and evaluate works in the genre. After touring the exhibition, visitors can apply their art evaluation skills and vote on which art best illustrates the four categories explored in the guide: originality and uniqueness, technique and application, composition and subject matter and aesthetic awareness.
The exhibition’s title was inspired by author and Western art scholar Byron Price’s book, “The Sons of Charlie Russell”. The book commemorates 50 years of the Cowboy Artists of America, a membership organization of individual artists committed to authentically preserving and perpetuating the culture of Western life through art. Many of these accomplished, award-winning artists are cowboys themselves, living the cowboy life as they work their own land and cattle. The organization even hosts an annual trail ride so members can share time on the trail and experience other aspects of Western life.
While visitors may not be able to hit the trail themselves, thanks to immersive technology in the exhibition, visitors can literally add themselves to the scene. Virtually step into three works featured in the exhibition: “Rawhide Rhapsody by Charlie Dye (1906-1972), “Texas Cattleman – Oil Man” by George Phippen (1915-1966) and “Pony Tracks and Empty Saddles” by Tom Lovell (1909-1997). You can become a shadow outline in the paintings, striking poses and becoming part of the picture.
The exhibition is a terrific excuse to pop into the Briscoe, nestled right on the banks of the River Walk in San Antonio. From its McNutt Sculpture Garden to the museum’s beautifully restored historic home inside the former San Antonio Public Library building, the Briscoe’s collection spans 14 galleries, with special exhibitions, events and a fantastic museum store. The museum is located on the south end of the River Walk, near the Arneson River Theatre and La Villita, making it a great stop for any River Walk visit. Museum hours, programs, parking and admission details are available here.
Cover photo from Briscoe Western Art Museum
An award-winning writer and communications expert who runs Tale to Tell Communications, Dawn Robinette loves to tell stories about her adopted hometown of San Antonio. You can read more of her work at Alamo City Moms, San Antonio Magazine, San Antonio Woman and Rio Magazine.