FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - It was more than 20 years ago that a group of Western craftsmen - a painter/ sculptor, a photographer, a knife maker, and a saddle maker - discussed the idea of having Western fine art and cowboy gear in one show. It had never been done before, and the rest is Trappings history. The world of Western art was changed and superior Western craftsmen were elevated to the realm of artists.
This is the legacy of the 20th Annual Trappings of the American West, which returns to Flagstaff at the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) ftoday through Jan. 10.
MNA Director Dr. Robert Breunig stated, "The Museum of Northern Arizona is pleased to welcome the Dry Creek Arts Fellowship back. Through its trappings exhibition of fine and functional Western art of the American cowboy, the museum is connecting the public with a significant component of our region, here on the Colorado Plateau."
Presented by the Dry Creek Arts Fellowship (DCAF), Trappings is one of three Arizona events this year to be recognized with an Arts Link to Tourism and the Economy, or ALTE grant. Funding for this prestigious award comes from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. The ALTE grants support projects that promote a community's or region's artistic resources and create cultural tourism.
DCAF Executive Director Linda Stedman states, "Trappings connects visitors to this country's very real history of the rural culture of the West, a culture rooted in the principles of tradition, family, integrity, and hard work."
Exhibit visitors will view and be able to purchase the work of 90 juried artists, from 14 Western states, Hawaii, and Canada, whose art preserves the time-honored traditions of craftsmanship. This year's artistic mediums will include painting, bronze sculpture, photography, saddles, tooled leather, bits and spurs, boots, hats, knives, engraving, hitched horsehair, braided rawhide, and instrument making.
Knife and spur maker Larry Fuegen remarked, "The fascinating thing is that we are all self-taught. There are no schools to learn these trades. They are passed from one generation to the next, and these art forms are really one generation away from being lost."
A Sampling of Artists
Bill Burke, luthier, from Flagstaff -Burke makes one-of-a-kind stringed instruments - mandolins, guitars, and banjos. And for this year's show, he is making a small, simple guitar, common to this region, that might rest in the corner of a bunkhouse, just waiting to be picked up and played.
"One of the disadvantages of being an instrument maker is that you keep selling the best ones to play," he said.
Larry Fuegen, knives/bits and spurs maker, from Prescott - In addition to his legendary work as a knife maker, Fuegen is also a master bit and spur maker.
"Over the years, I've remained true to the original concept of 'handmade.' I do not job out any step of the process. This is never the quickest or easiest route, but when I'm finished, I feel I've accomplished what I set out to do - make something truly unique and handmade," he said.
Jennifer Inge, horsehair braider, Creede, Colo. - Inge's study of anthropology in college informs her work as a horsehair braider in many ways, from understanding the centuries-old Asian, Moroccan, and Spanish art form, to discovering ancient braid patterns. After a cowboy's horsehair hatband caught her eye, she got the idea for her braided horsehair jewelry and says, "braiding is a very soothing and relaxing activity."
Susan Kliewer, bronze sculptor, Sedona-Kliewer was the first woman to work at Buffalo Bronze Works Foundry in Sedona. She says, "My work aims to show the common thread that underlies all human experience, and which, I hope, brings us to a greater understanding between people." Her sculptures capture portraits of Navajo families, intrepid cowgirls, majestic horses, and steely horsemen.
Thomas Lorimer, painter, from Sedona-As with most boys, Thomas grew up playing cowboys and Indians. "This career has allowed me to keep playing," Thomas states with a smile. He feels that it is important to tell a story with his paintings, which are primarily Western landscapes with a figure somewhere, maybe in the background, which, Thomas says, "is what engages people."
Bob McLean, boot maker, from El Paso, Texas-McLean's work has been enhanced through the years by working with Mexican boot makers, who make their needles and thread by hand. He adds, "Boot making demands enormous patience, a meticulous nature, strong and agile hands, an artistic flair, and the ability to transform a customer's idea into a comfortable and functional product."
For more information, call the MNA at (928) 774-5213, visit www.musnaz.org, or contact the Dry Creek Arts Fellowship at (928) 774-8861 or visit www.drycreekarts.com.
About the Museum
Located on Highway 180, three miles north of historic downtown Flagstaff, the Museum of Northern Arizona is open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Admission to the Museum and the Trappings exhibition is free to MNA and DCAF members. General admission if $7 adults, $6 seniors (65+), $5 students, and $4 children.