Art to Impress
The magnificent, and still growing, collection of Naoma Mclachlan shines in Cody, Wyoming.
As a young girl, Naoma Mclachlan, who was born in Salt Lake City, visited the University of Utah’s Museum of Fine Art. Fascinated by the works from French paintings to Egyptian artifacts she said “I’d like to learn how all these were made and the history behind them.”
She particularly recalls a portrait of Natacha Ramova who was also born in Salt Lake City as Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy and was married briefly to Rudolph Valentino. She later became a renowned Egyptologist and donated her important collection of Egyptian artifacts to the museum in 1954. The romance and dedication of Ramova’a life had a lasting impact on Naoma’s own life.
She became a certified gemologist and, in 1979, married Harold “Hal” Tate. Hal had been a member of the board of trustees for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and had developed a fondness for Cody, Wyoming. He and Naoma purchased Big Hat Ranch there in 1999. He died in 2003.
The collection of the art of the American west at Big Hat Ranch is extraordinarily focused and has some of the best examples of work by artists who worked in the region.
Donna L. Poulton, who was curator of Utah and Western Art at the University of Utah’s Museum of Fine Arts for eight years, is now curator of the collection and director of the Hal R. and Naoma J. Tate Foundation. She describes Naoma’s criteria for her collection.
“The work should have been painted primarily in Wyoming or surrounding states (Montana, Colorado, Utah, Idaho). The work should be completed around the turn of the century—roughly 1850 to 1930. The work should reflect (A) the flora and wildlife of Wyoming and (B) the cowboy way of life. The work should reflect life in real time.” She adds, “Naoma believes that inanimate objects hold the energy of their maker. Whether it is a woven rug or a piece of porcelain or silver, the more work and detail the artist dedicated to the work, the more energy it contains. This is true of paintings and sculptures as well. She likes to see that a work was well considered, that it contains the power that a lifetime dedicated to craft can bestow.”
I remarked on the unusual collection of
small portraits of animals by Carl Rungius (1869-1959), the renowned wildlife painter.
Donna explains, “Naoma had always wanted an A+ Rungius painting. He is an artist who met much of the criteria for her collecting goals.” Invited to a preview of the Scottsdale Art Auction in 2016, she and Naoma “saw this collection of eight images and were struck by how evocative each portrait was and especially the modernity of Rungius’ loose brush strokes and agile use of color. From what we understand there had only been one previous owner. That owner lived in Banff, Alberta, Canada, where Rungius ultimately settled and had his studio. The family had commissioned Rungius to paint ‘portraits’ of animals indigenous to the area. As portraits, they do seem to each have their own personality—exhibiting such traits as curiosity, stealth, mischievousness, wisdom, pride and so forth. It is such a significant collection that Naoma can’t imagine not living with them every day.”
Hanging next to them is the complementary Mule Deer Buck by William Herbert “Buck” Dunton (1878-1936) who was a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists. “He dreamed of the West and after a 1896 trip to Montana,” Donna relates, “he spent the following 15 years in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico as a cowboy,
hunter and artist. Naoma has two fine easel works and two illustrations by him.”
A spectacular Dunton, Timberline, 1932, had been on long-term loan to the Whitney Museum of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and was about to be sold by the owner at auction. Naoma stepped in to purchase the painting for the museum in memory of her husband with the participation of other donors. She is currently chairwoman of the Buffalo Bill Museum at Buffalo Bill Center of the West and has served on the board of the center.
It is not only the quality of the art in the Tate collection that impresses, but the interesting and thoughtful hanging of it throughout the home.
In the dining room, for instance, two paintings by Frank Tenney Johnson (18741939) and Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) flank the fireplace. Poulton remarks, “Frank Tenney Johnson is an artist who exemplifies all of Naoma’s collecting goals. He spent much of his time on his Rimrock Ranch on the North Fork of the Shoshone River near Wapiti, not far
from Naoma’s ranch. He is an artist who loved the ranching life and knew how to paint it. She owns five finished easel works, two illustrations and one study of a landscape. As she continues to systematically collect his work, she is telling the remarkable story of his career depicted through primary sources—his paintings.”
Above the fireplace in the game room is Prairie Fire by Theodor Franz Zimmermann (1808-1880). Donna relates, “The painting was purchased at auction in July 2016. Just a few days later, a massive wildfire came very close to engulfing the Big Hat Ranch. Given 2½ hours to evacuate, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West sent some 25 employees and moving vans to evacuate 128 paintings and sculptures. Surrounded by fire trucks and helicopters fighting the fire, the ranch was ultimately saved by a changing wind in the middle of the night.”
Naoma also collects work by contemporary artists. Donna explains, “Naoma likes seeing new artists—especially being surprised by their work—it is not that every artist has to be ‘recognizable to be good, it only means that they should have their own distinct approach. She looks for new talent, but she also looks for them to stand the test of time. Living with contemporary art and getting to know the artists, she can see how they progress over the years and she can also see their discouragement.” Naoma says, I believe an artist first has to prove themselves through hard
work, standing the test of time, growing, changing, and having a recognizable style. The dedication to craft has to be inherent in the work. There are so many excellent contemporary artists. It is an honor for me to own their work.”
Purchasing and displaying the art is only part of the life of a collector. Living with it is a constant source of pleasure. Naoma enjoys waking up every morning and seeing the work around her. “I love living with beautiful objects,” she says, “and these paintings tell stories and allow me to be in the presence of the artists who created them. I never tire of looking at them.”
She continues, “There’s more than just what’s on the surface. It’s the human spirit, the important thing about life that we don’t see unless we look.”
Paintings in the living room are―top to bottom, left to right―the Thirsty Trapper, 1850, oil on canvas, by Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874); Miller’s oil on canvas, Wind River Mountains—indians Chasing Deer, 1853; Fly Fishing, oil on canvas, by William H.D. Koerner (1878-1938); Bear at Mountain Lake, 1906, oil on canvas, by Phillip R. Goodwin (1881-1935); Koerner’s Sheriff and Citizens of the Law, 1932, oil on canvas; his Five Hundred Reward, 1915, oil on canvas. In the entry, left to right, are The Great White Throne, ca. 1920, oil on board, by John Fery (1859-1934); Michael B. Coleman’s Untitled (Great White Throne), ca. 2003; Great White Throne, Zion Canyon, Utah, 1933, 1933, by Maynard Dixon (1875-1946). In the foreground is a Russian bronze of a Russian bear. On the coffee table is Herb Mignery’s bronze, On Common Ground, 2013. Beneath the two Millers is a personalized bronze platter, 2013, by Michael B. Coleman. On the window sill is Stalking Panther, 1894, bronze, by Alexander Phimister Proctor (1860-1850). Beneath it is The Seeker, 1978, bronze, by Harry Andrew Jackson (1924-2002). In the corner is The Gift, 2013, bronze, by Vic Payne. Behind the two leather chairs is Indien a l’affut (Creeping Indian), by Edouard Drouot (1849-1945). In the corner of the entry is Hear My Plea, ca. 2012, bronze, by Peter M. Fillerup. On the entry table is Coleman’s September, 1997, bronze. In the corner of the living room is Jackson’s bronze, John Wayne (First Unfinished Model for the Monument), 1981.
The paintings around the dining room fireplace are—top to bottom, left to right—night Time in Wyoming, ca. 1930, by Frank Tenney Johnson (18741939); Indian Horse Race, by Albert Bierstadt (18301902); Jackson Lake, ca. 1920, by John Fery (1859-1934);Johnson’s While Trail-weary Cattle are Sleeping, ca. 1935; and Bierstadt’s Indian Burial, Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska, ca. 1859. To the left of the arch is Winter Camp of the Sioux,ca. 1930, by William Herbert “Buck” Dunton (1878-1936). To the right are, top to bottom, Indian Encampment, ca. 1900, by Joseph Henry Sharp (18591953), and his Cheyenne Teepee. Above the arch is Ted J. Feeley’s Mountain Stage,2009. The large bronze on the left is Au Loup!, 1888, by Louis Auguste Hiolin (1846-1910). The Elk Antler Candelabra,2017, is by Jenny Booth.
In the bar are, top to bottom, Interrupted, 1915, oil on board, by E.S. Paxton (18521919), and Prairie Bison, oil on laid canvas, by John “Jack” Dare Howland (1843-1914).
Dolan Geiman’s Poet of the Plains, 2015, painting, paper collage hangs outside the collector’s study. To the right of the cabinet, top to bottom, are Colter’s Country, ca. 2007, oil on canvas, by Michael Ome Untiedt and Buckeye Blake’s Sage Brush Centaurs, 1998, gouache on paper. In the hall is Clyde Aspevig’s North Fork (North Fork of the Shoshone, WY), ca. 1999, oil on canvas.
Through the doorway in the dining room is Au Loup!, 1888, bronze, by Louis Auguste Hiolin (1846-1910). The large painting in the entry is Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, ca. 2003, oil on canvas, by Michael B. Coleman. To the right are, top to bottom, Old Faithful, Yellowstone, oil on paperboard, by Thomas Hill (1829-1908), and Castle Geyser and Well, Yellowstone (1887), oil on canvas, by Grafton Tyler Brown (1841-1918). On the far right is Solitary Horseman, ca. 1930, oil on canvas, by Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939). Through the doorway in the living room is Johnson’s Branding a Maverick, 1913, oil on canvas.
The porcelain rooster is by the Royal Porcelain Factory, Berlin (KPM). Behind it is Mule Deer Buck, ca. 1930-1935, oil on canvas, by William Herbert “Buck” Dunton (1878-1936). The suite of animal heads are oil on board, ca. 1945, by Carl Rungius (1869-1959). They are, left to right on the top, Elk, Big Horn Sheep, Caribou and Mountain Goat. Bottom row is Bull Moose, Mule Deer, Dall Sheep and Grizzly Bear.
Between the doorways in the master bedroom is Boy with Birds (Boy Holding a Bird), ca. 1846, oil on canvas, by John Mix Stanley (1814-1872). To the left of the window is Protecting the Derricks, oil on canvas, by George Giguere (20th century). To the right of the window is The Short Cut, ca. 1916, oil on canvas, by Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939).
Outside the bar in the dining room is Grinnell Glacier (Glacier National Park), oil on canvas, by John Fery (1859-1934). Beneath it is Untitled (Dear with Fawn), 19th century, bronze, by L. Rochard (19th century). In the bar is SocialHour, ca. 2007, oil on canvas, by Kyle Sims. The large bronze on the wall of the bar is a posthumous relief, (1918-2015) by Charles Cary Rumsey (1879-1922). The bronze beneath the Kyle is Bill Cody—hard and Fast All the Way, ca. 2010, by Peter M. Fillerup.
Naoma Tate stands in front of The Enchanted Hill, 1924, oil on canvas, by Dean Cornwell (1892-1960). A bronze sculpture of a cherub sits on the mantle. A circa 1900 Navajo Third Phase Chief’s Blanket is on the floor.