Each Month We Ask Leading Museum Curators About What’s Going On In Their World.
What event (gallery show, museum exhibit, etc.) in the next few months are you looking forward to, and why?
We are curating an exhibition on the 50th anniversary of the film True Grit in which we will compare the 1969 version with the Coen Brothers 2010 version. We are calling the exhibition Two Grits: A Peek Behind the Eyepatch. We will compare character development, cinematography, locations and costumes, so as to see how each interpretation is unique. We will also compare each film with the original story. We are fortunate to be working directly with the John Wayne family and will borrow some artifacts and objects from them, including
John Wayne’s original script from the 1969 production, and another eyepatch—one of Rooster Cogburn’s eyepatches is already in the John Wayne Collection shown in our Western Performers Gallery.
We are also working on an exhibition on the origins and foundations of cowboy craft using our permanent collection and a few borrowed objects to talk about horse cultures around the world: Caballeros y Vaqueros will open here at the National Cowboy Museum this fall.
What are you reading?
I am reading A Machine-gunner in France: The Memoirs of Ward Schrantz, 35th Division, 19171919; Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914; Wide-open Town: Kansas City in the Pendergast
Era; and Richard D. White’s Will Rogers: A Political Life. I usually have several books going at the same time, often in different parts of my house. I am a bit obsessed with World War I these days.
Interesting exhibit, gallery opening or work of art you’ve seen recently.
I saw the exhibition Fortuny: Friends and Followers at the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It was a fascinating look at Spanish painter Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874) and the impact of Spanish painting in the 19th century on art worldwide. Fortuny was a virtuoso with watercolor and his paintings are amazing. I also recently saw Making Modern America at the Philbrook Museum of Art. Using mostly its own collection, Philbrook curators combined material-culture objects with fine and decorative art objects to show the transformation of the United States through modern design, and the contemporaneous cultural and economic growing pains and struggles going on in America simultaneously.
What are you researching at the moment?
I always have multiple projects going, so not in any particular order: Women artists of West Texas and the Dallas Regionalist Florence Mcclung for a forthcoming publication on women artists of Texas. The sculptors James Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser and their public commissions across the United States and in particular James’ commissions for the Missouri State Capitol (Missouri’s Bicentennial is in 2021) and Laura’s equestrian sculpture of General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I. Kansas City, my hometown, as a cowtown (it cornered the Western cattle market by 1900) and its role as a cultural beacon because of its agricultural interests as the home of the Wheat Board and the Board of Trade. Cowboys and firearms. Westerners of the Great War. And finally, Charles M. Russell’s watercolors and bronzes (I am on the Russell catalogue raisonne committee). I recently discovered an important Russell drawing germane to his great watercolor, York, in the Montana Historical Society’s collection. I also am working on a paper about different versions of Russell’s bronzes.
What is your dream exhibit to curate? Or see someone else curate?
My dream projects include regionalism west of the Mississippi; i.e. what does American scene painting look like in Nevada or Montana? Also, the influence of Western artists’ friendships on their work, i.e the Taos Society of Artists, Charlie Russell and Philip Goodwin, Remington and TR. I’d also love to curate an exhibition, with a team of authorities and scholars, similar to what the Library of Congress did in the 1980s with
The American Cowboy, showing “cowboy ground zero.” Finally, I am fascinated by spirituality across cultures, and I want to do an exhibition called something like Rounded Up in Glory: Spirituality and Faith in the American West.
Let ‘er buck!
Michael R. Grauer Mccasland Chair of Cowboy Culture/curator of Cowboy Collections and Western Art National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Oklahoma City, OK, (405) 478-2250 www.nationalcowboymuseum.org