The Western Art As­so­ci­ates cel­e­brates 50 years of sup­port to the Phoenix Art Mu­seum with new Western ex­hi­bi­tion.

Western Art Collector - - RCENTLY ACQUIRED - By Michael Claw­son

Phoenix is known for its sun and heat, which makes the rea­son for a re­con­fig­ured wing at the Phoenix Art Mu­seum so much more amus­ing—blame the upgrades to the fire sup­pres­sion sys­tem. While work was be­ing done on the vi­tal sys­tem in the mu­seum’s stor­age vault, it was deemed cheaper and more lo­gis­ti­cally sound to sim­ply move the bulk of stored items to the North Wing for stor­age. Of course, this meant the North Wing, home to some of the col­lec­tion’s great Amer­i­can and Western works, would be closed for months while im­prove­ments were made to the vault.

Now, with work com­plete, the North Wing will be re­turned to mu­seum guests, and with five new ex­hi­bi­tions to boot. One of the five ex­hi­bi­tions will be a cel­e­bra­tion of one of the mu­seum’s key sup­port groups, the Western Art As­so­ci­ates, which was founded in 1968, only two years after the open­ing of the mu­seum. Now mark­ing 50 years of con­tin­u­ous sup­port to the Phoenix art des­ti­na­tion, the mu­seum is pre­sent­ing Western Art As­so­ci­ates: Cel­e­brat­ing 50 Years, an ex­hi­bi­tion that will dis­play all 53 Western works that the group has ac­quired for the mu­seum.

“…[O]ver the past five decades, Western Art As­so­ci­ates as an or­ga­ni­za­tion has done more than help to grow our col­lec­tions,” writes Amada Cruz, the mu­seum’s Sy­bil Har­ring­ton Di­rec­tor and CEO, in the ex­hi­bi­tion cat­a­log. “They have been a beloved and val­ued part of the mu­seum’s ex­tended fam­ily. Their mem­bers have sup­ported the mu­seum not only through their per­sonal largesse, but through their spirit of vol­un­teerism, their love of the arts, and their com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing that each day Phoenix Art Mu­seum opens its doors to all peo­ple, that we are able to be a mu­seum that truly be­longs to our en­tire com­mu­nity.”

The Waa—which came along one year after the Men’s Arts Coun­cil, an­other in­flu­en­tial mu­seum sup­port group that has shown a deep in­ter­est in Western art—has been a resilient force at the mu­seum, even dur­ing tur­bu­lent times for Western art. After the Cow­boy Artists of Amer­ica moved their an­nual show to Ok­la­homa City, after 37 years at the Phoenix Art Mu­seum, the WAA stayed the course and con­tin­ued to bring im­por­tant Western works to the mu­seum.

Ask­ing Betsy Fahlman, ad­junct cu­ra­tor of Amer­i­can art, about the le­gacy of the Western Art As­so­ci­ates, she re­sponded sim­ply: “Their le­gacy is 53 art­works they’ve bought over the past 50 years. It’s a mag­nif­i­cent col­lec­tion, one that in­cludes both con­tem­po­rary artists as well as his­toric artists. What they’ve done is in­cred­i­ble, in­clud­ing works by Wal­ter Ufer and E. Martin Hen­nings, pieces that we would never have been able to ac­quire on our own. This is an im­por­tant body of work.”

Works in the ex­hi­bi­tion in­clude the WAA’S very first ac­qui­si­tion in 1971, May­nard Dixon’s 1931 Watch­ers from the House­tops, a stun­ning pue­blo scene that shows eight fig­ures wear­ing blan­kets. The ar­range­ment of fig­ures has an al­most ab­stract qual­ity to the forms and col­ors, with six prom­i­nent fig­ures dom­i­nat­ing the top and cen­ter of the paint­ing joined by a lone child on the far right and a climb­ing fig­ure on the lower left. One year after the pur­chase of the Dixon, the group ac­quired an 1844 Ge­orge Catlin litho­graph, Catch­ing the Wild Horse, fol­lowed in 1973 with the pur­chase of Ed­ward Pot­thast’s Look­ing Across the Grand Canyon, which fea­tured a scene the artist saw while trav­el­ing with Thomas Moran on the Santa Fe Rail­road in 1910.

Other works in the col­lec­tion in­clude fan­tas­tic ex­am­ples of paint­ings by Robert Lougheed, Her­man Hansen, Don­ald Teague, Gor­don Snidow and a 1977 ac­qui­si­tion of a work by Olaf Wieghorst, who was a reg­u­lar at gal­leries and mu­se­ums in Phoenix and Scotts­dale around that same time. Im­por­tant land­scape pieces in­clude an 1872 paint­ing of Half Dome in Yosemite by James David Smil­lie, an 1866 Mis­sis­sippi river work by Al­fred Thomp­son Bricher, a 1925 Santa Fe scene by Wil­lard Nash, a 1930s New Mex­ico scene by Fre­mont El­lis, and El Morro, a 2007 work by Wil­son Hur­ley. One other land­scape high­light is Philip La­timer Dike’s 1936 oil Cop­per, a re­gion­al­ist land­scape based on a merg­ing of two North­ern Ari­zona min­ing towns.

The col­lec­tion does not by­pass bronze works ei­ther, with fas­ci­nat­ing pieces by Lone Wolf, Fritz White, Joe Beeler, Bill Ne­beker, Her­mon Atkins Macneil, Alexan­der Phimis­ter Proc­tor, Herb Mign­ery, Charles Humphries and John Cole­man, as well as a stone piece by Steve Kestrel. Ad­di­tion­ally, photograph­y also plays a prom­i­nent role with Gus Foster’s 380-de­gree panoramic land­scape and a 1926 work, Hopi Snake Pri­est, by Dorothea Lange, who was also Dixon’s sec­ond wife. The Lange work is es­pe­cially im­por­tant be­cause it pre­dates her most iconic De­pres­sion-era works such as Mi­grant Mother.

“With his sec­ond wife, noted doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­pher Dorothea Lange, [Dixon] made trips to Ari­zona in 1922 and 1923 to ex­plore the Hopi and Navajo reser­va­tions. Although this was fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for Dixon, for Lange, a stu­dio por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher based in San Fran­cisco, it was the first time she had worked out­side the stu­dio, an ex­pe­ri­ence that proved

in­valu­able to her when she was hired by the Farm Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion dur­ing the De­pres­sion,” Fahlman notes in the cat­a­log. “In 1983, Western Art As­so­ci­ates pur­chased a pho­to­graph by Lange, Hopi Snake Pri­est (1926), which was shot dur­ing her early trav­els with Dixon. Also in 1983, Western Art As­so­ci­ates pro­vided funds for the pur­chase of a sec­ond Dixon, Hopi Men, a study for one of a pair of mu­rals com­mis­sioned in 1925 for the im­pres­sive lobby of the Barker Broth­ers fur­ni­ture store in Los An­ge­les. The fi­nal mu­rals were each 20 feet in height. Although not a pur­chase by Western Art As­so­ci­ates, in 1980, a col­lec­tor do­nated the mu­ral Hopi Men to Phoenix Art Mu­seum (its pen­dant, Hopi Women, has been lost).” Some of the most pro­foundly mov­ing pieces in the WAA col­lec­tion are Taos So­ci­ety of Artists works, in­clud­ing Wal­ter Ufer’s 1923 oil paint­ing The Gar­den Mak­ers and E. Martin Hen­nings’ Taos In­dian Chanters with Drum from the late 1930s. The Hen­nings ac­qui­si­tion from 1987 is es­pe­cially note­wor­thy be­cause the price soared to­ward half a mil­lion dol­lars

in price, the most paid for a work by the WAA. “It was far more than they had ever paid be­fore, which was maybe $100,000. But when they saw this work, they just knew they had to have it. It turned up at the last minute com­ing from a ranch and a dealer had it and was mak­ing of­fers. When they heard the price, they were just aghast, but they pur­sued it with a lot of in­ter­est,” the cu­ra­tor says. “They ended up ex­chang­ing some re­dun­dant works to bring the price down, but even then it was a sub­stan­tial sum. They couldn’t af­ford it un­less they worked to­gether, and that’s what they did. And they raised the level of the col­lec­tion by do­ing so.”

In ad­di­tion to works by Fred Fel­lows, Beeler, Cole­man, Ne­beker and oth­ers, the col­lec­tion fea­tures a sur­pris­ing amount of work by Ari­zona artists. Tuc­son artists are es­pe­cially well rep­re­sented: Howard Terp­n­ing has two pieces in the col­lec­tion, 1981’s char­coal work The War­rior and 1998’s oil Of­fer­ings to the Lit­tle Peo­ple; Howard Post’s San Tan Val­ley was ac­quired in 2010, the year it was painted; and Ken­neth Ri­ley’s Bod­mer Paint­ing Pie­gan Chief was ac­quired in 1986, also the year it was painted.

To cel­e­brate the WAA’S 50th year, the group pulled out all the stops when it ac­quired Emil Bist­tram’s oil on can­vas Ran­chos de Taos Church. The work, painted around 1937, fea­tures one of the most painted churches in the United States, if not the world, bathed in lus­cious blue moon­light. “Bist­tram was part of the Tran­scen­den­tal Paint­ing Group. They worked in an ab­stract man­ner and this is a won­der­ful ex­am­ple of the group and the artist,” says Fahlman. “We have quite a few Bist­tram’s in the larger mu­seum col­lec­tion, as well as some other works by his fel­low Tran­scen­den­tal­ists like Ray­mond Jon­son. So this Bist­tram will re­ally add great con­text to our col­lec­tions. It filled a nice gap be­cause it’s a paint­ing a mu­seum can use in so many dif­fer­ent ways.”

Western Art As­so­ci­ates: Cel­e­brat­ing 50 Years will con­tinue through Spring 2019. The four ex­hi­bi­tions that will ac­com­pany it, all with spring clos­ing dates, are Philip C. Cur­tis and the Land­scapes of Ari­zona, Sub­lime Land­scapes, Amer­i­can Scenes/amer­i­cas Seen and Early Amer­i­can Modernism: The Decade of the Ar­mory Show.

Emil Bist­tram (1895-1976), Ran­chos de Taos Church, ca. 1937, oil on can­vas, 28¼ x 453⁄16". Mu­seum pur­chase with funds pro­vided by Western Art As­so­ci­ates and Men’s Arts Coun­cil in honor of the 50th an­niver­sary of Western Art As­so­ci­ates.

Howard Terp­n­ing, Of­fer­ings to the Lit­tle Peo­ple, 1998, oil on can­vas, 621⁄8 x 40¼".Gift of Western Art As­so­ci­ates and Men’s Arts Coun­cil Western Amer­i­can En­dow­ment Fund.

Wal­ter Ufer (1876-1936), The Gar­den Mak­ers, 1923, oil on can­vas, 29¾ x 25¼ x ¾”. Mu­seum pur­chase with funds pro­vided by the Don­ald Ware Wad­dell Foun­da­tion and Western Art As­so­ci­ates.

Philip La­timer Dike (1906-1990), Cop­per, 1936, oil on can­vas, 383⁄16 x 46¼”. Mu­seum pur­chase with funds pro­vided by Western Art As­so­ci­ates.

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