Last year, when I recapped 2019 and trends in Western collecting, I focused on the sales of many splendid, comprehensive holdings gathered by discriminating collectors that became available for new owners. Although the tendency continued in 2020, one part of the equation changed due to new rules imposed by COVID-19. Despite hurdles created by the pandemic, dealers and sellers alike found ways to continue through online means and other innovations. Although some of the excitement of live auctions was lost, extraordinary and varied archival materials, art and artifacts brought vicarious thrills to bidders and observers.
A case in point, the year began with the ever-sensational Old West Events Mesa show and auction, the latter portion kicking off on January 25. The centerpieces of the offerings were items from the impressive Cordy Rich American Firearms treasure trove, the top item being a pristine Henry repeating rifle which sold for $70,800 (includes buyer’s premiums, as do all prices mentioned, unless otherwise noted).
Less than a month later, on February 20, 2020, Cowan’s, a Hindman Company, held the first part of a planned two-part sale. Billed as “The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana,” this meticulously curated assembly brought a combined $612,691, which represented 182 percent of pre-sale estimates. Overall, the strongest category of the day was photography, which achieved eight of the 10 highest prices of the auction. One of the highlights, a 10th Cavalry detachment with Indian scouts boudoir card during the Apache campaign in Arizona, sold for $20,000.
In late spring, the Scottsdale Art Auction of June 13, 2020, featured masterpieces by Albert Bierstadt, John Clymer, Maynard Dixon, William Leigh, Alfred Jacob Miller, Thomas Moran, Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. Key pieces went for over a half-million dollars.
After a lull, September experienced renewed activity. On September 18, Cowan’s proceeded with its American Indian Art auction where a beaded tobacco pouch numbered among the front-runners. That same day and the next, the Jackson Hole Art Auction went off as planned. Both events produced strong sales. Indeed, the Jackson Hole Art Auction achieved over $5.2 million in sales, with over 90 percent of lots sold and 18 new world auction records established. Among these was Howard Terpning’s chilling It’s Been a Long Day, for $321,300.
Then on September 10-21, the prestigious annual C.M. Russell Museum auction (rescheduled from March) netted $4,201,150. Appropriately, the star of the show, Charles Russell’s oil, Indian on Horseback, was obtained for the hammer price of $550,0000.
Finally, the September 14-19 Rendezvous Royale at the Buffalo Bill Center capped this extraordinary revitalization, and in many ways characterized the challenges faced in 2020. Says Amy Sullivan, director of development at the center: “In our case, it really is true that ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’” When the coronavirus closed our doors in the spring, we doubled down on our efforts to reach out to donors and quickly pivoted to new online formats for our silent auction and car raffle. As a result, we sold everything [for the first time in a few years] and generated as much income as we did the year before when we had double the visitation and an event to highlight the items. We sold one painting for $10,000 in less than an hour online and we sold a one-of-a-kind dress for $3,900.”
While the future is uncertain, one thing seems clear. The lure of the West remains strong in these unsettled times.
John Langellier’s newest book project in progress is Buffalo Soldiers: The Men and Their Missions.
Best Western Museum
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West – Scottsdale, AZ
The beautiful design of this building and its outside sculpture gallery offer just a taste of what you will experience inside this museum filled with paintings, sculptures, cowboy gear and ranch paraphernalia, including the Abe Hays Spirit of the West Collection. Major exhibits in 2020 were “William P. Healey’s Native American Gauntlet Collection,” “Morton and Donna Fleischer’s American Military Saddles Collection” and “By Beauty Obsessed: Gilbert Waldman Collects the West.” Three exhibits that are ongoing in 2021 are “Maynard Dixon’s American West,” “The Abe Hays Family Maynard Dixon Collection” and “Paul Calle’s Life of Exploration: From the Mountains to the Moon.” On October 19, 2021, the “Light and Legacy: The Art of Edward Curtis” will open to the public. ScottsdaleMuseumWest.org
Readers’ Choice: Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, GA
Best Western Art Collection
The Brinton – Big Horn, WY
The Forrest E. Mars Jr. Building, which opened in 2015, features Western art by Karl Bodmer, Thomas Moran, Charles
M. Russell, Frederic Remington and John Mix Stanley. Also in the collection is a war shirt that belonged to Two Leggings—a piece that was selected in 2016 as one of the top ten historic artifacts in Wyoming. Don’t miss viewing the art on display in the Brinton Ranch House and at the internationally acclaimed American Indian Gallery. TheBrintonMuseum.org
Readers’ Choice: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK
Best American Indian ART COLLECTION
Eddie Basha Collection Museum – Chandler, AZ
For the second consecutive year, True West has chosen the Eddie Basha Collection Museum as home of the Best American Indian Collection. The American Indian and contemporary Western American art is housed in the Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery. With over 3,500 pieces of Western art, much of it by Native artists, the Eddie Basha Collection has gained a reputation as one of the finest American Indian art exhibitions in the country. EddieBashaCollection.com
Readers’ Choice: TIE: Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning, MO/National Museum of the American Indian, New York, NY
Best Western Art Collector
Myron R. Deibel – Wickenburg, AZ
One of Arizona’s great patrons of Western art, Myron R. Deibel is a dedicated supporter of his community’s and the state’s art museums, including the Phippen in Prescott and the Western Spirit in Scottsdale. He and his wife, Betsy, have one of the finest collections of Western art, historic chuck wagons and Conestogas, freight wagons and stagecoaches in the Grand Canyon state. Betsy is also a renowned art patron and serves on the board of Wickenburg’s Desert Caballeros Western Museum.
Readers’ Choice: Bill Koch, Aspen, CO
Best Western History Collector
Johnny Morris, Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum – Ridgeway, MO
For the third year in a row, Johnny Morris ranks as True West’s best Western history collector. His amazing success in Bass Pro Shops has never taken him far from his home in the Ozarks, where his Top of the Rock resort and the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum, housing his Western art collection, artifacts and arrowheads, remain extremely popular tourist attractions. Morris also owns and operates the 350,000-square-foot Johnny Morris’s Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri. BigCedar.com
Readers’ Choice: Richard Fike (Museum of the Mountain West, Montrose, CO)
Best Pioneer History Collection
California Trail Interpretive Center – Elko, NV
Ever wondered what it was like to cross the nation in a Conestoga wagon? Or to walk across the continent to find your bonanza of gold in California? The California Trail Interpretive Center near Elko will answer all your questions with its outstanding exhibits, historical materials collection and regular, re-enactor-led history events. CaliforniaTrailCenter.org
Readers’ Choice: Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX
Best Old West Collectibles Auction
Heritage Auctions – Dallas, TX
Heritage Auctions in Dallas is an internationally recognized leader in selling Western art, movie posters and collectibles. Major Western artists’ originals auctioned in 2020 included pieces by William Robinson Leigh, Howard A. Terpning, Frederic Remington, Charlie Dye, Joseph Henry Sharp, Lon Megargee and Ed Mell. HA.com
Readers’ Choice: Brian Lebel’s Old West Auction, NM & AZ
Best Western Collectibles Gallery
Cowboy Legacy Gallery – Scottsdale, AZ
For the second year in a row, Bill Welch’s Cowboy Legacy Gallery is True West’s choice for Best Western Collectibles Gallery. Internationally renowned, Welch has earned his reputation among collectors for offering the best Western art, antiques, artifacts and cowboy collectibles, including saddles, bits, spurs and chaps. LegacyGallery.com
Readers’ Choice: Cisco’s Gallery, Coeur d’Alene, ID
Best Old West Art Auction
Scottsdale Art Auction – Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale Art Auction, which has been a leader in Western art auctions since 2005, had one of its most successful auctions
on June 13, 2020, when it gaveled over $10,600,000 in sales and 93 percent of all lots sold. Paintings and sculptures by Frederic Remington, Maynard Dixon, W. R. Leigh and Charles M. Russell led the field of American masters, with 13 paintings by Dixon that brought $1,425,545. The world-renowned Scottsdale Art Auction is currently accepting consignments and will hold its next auction on April 10, 2021. ScottsdaleArtAuction.com
Readers’ Choice: Heritage Auctions, Dallas, TX
Best Old West Firearms Auction
Rock Island Auctions – Rock Island, IL
Rock Island Auction Company is world renowned as the top auction house for antique and collector firearms. Rock Island prides itself on its integrity and the quality and rarity of the antique firearms, collectors’ firearms, rare guns, modern guns and other firearms-related items auctioned since 2003. Annual events include Premier Firearms Auction, Sporting & Collector Firearms and nine regularly scheduled online firearms auctions. RockIslandAuction.com
Readers’ Choice: Morphy’s, Denver, PA
Best Treasure-Hunting Device
Garrett Metal Detectors – Garland, TX
Founded in 1964, the family-owned company remains a leader in the metal detector marketplace. The company’s philosophy is to make the best metal detectors, sell them at a fair and reasonable price, and place customer service and satisfaction at the top of their priorities. For the everyday consumer, their Sport Division offers amateur and professional detectorists one of the most highly regarded product lines manufactured today. Garrett.com
Readers’ Choice: Electroscopes by Thomas, Jersey Shore, PA
Best Western Painter
“Maynard Dixon’s American West” exhibition, the most comprehensive retrospective ever showcasing his life and artistic career, debuted at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West on October 14, 2019, and has been extended to August 3, 2021. True West’s editors believe that you might make a case that there are better painters, but in the end, Maynard Dixon is the West’s greatest artist. He made the transition from early 20th-century illustration to modern, contemporary Western art with integrity and authenticity.
Readers’ Choice: C.M. Russell
Best Western Painter (Living)
Z. S. Liang
Born, raised and educated in China into a family of artists, Z.S. Liang earned advanced degrees in art in the United States. He was inspired to pursue his passion for Western American art while studying and painting the Wampanoag Indian culture in Massachusetts in the late 1980s. His painting, Mountain Man, was featured on the December 2020 cover of True West (his first, but hopefully not his last cover).The award-winning artist is represented by Trailside Galleries in Jackson, Wyoming, and Scottsdale, Arizona. LiangStudio.com
Readers’ Choice: TIE: Sherry Blanchard Stuart, Scottsdale, AZ/James Bama, WY
Best Western Art Gallery
Legacy Gallery – Scottsdale, AZ
Over 100 nationally known artists are represented by Legacy Gallery, which has been in business since 1988. Legacy Gallery offers the finest in representational and impressionistic art. The popular gallery’s ownership is highly regarded for the diversity of art and artists—and variety of subject matter and mediums including Western, wildlife, figurative, landscape and still-life—they represent for their customers. LegacyGallery.com
Readers’ Choice: Manitou Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
Best Western Bronze Foundry
Bronzesmith Fine Art Foundry and Gallery, Prescott Valley, AZ
Founded by Ed Reilly in Prescott Valley in 1991, Bronzesmith is an internationally recognized foundry of limited-edition bronze castings. The full-service art foundry works with artists (including True West’s Bob Boze Bell) from creation to completion. Visitors can enjoy a tour of the gallery and view the artwork by over 40 artists on display. Reserve a place on a guided tour, which includes the viewing of a bronze-casting in the foundry. Bronzesmith.com
Readers’ Choice: Art Castings of Colorado, Loveland, CO
Best Western Bronze Artist
A member of the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA) since 1978, Bill Nebeker was inspired to pursue a career as a Western artist when he attended an art show by Bill Phippen, a founding member of the CAA. The Prescott, Arizona, native has won numerous awards for his artwork, and his sculptures are sought after by collectors, museums and municipalities that adorn their parks and memorials with his bronzes. His Lest We Forget: Yavapai County Fallen Officers Memorial will be his next bronze to be dedicated as public art. It will be placed in his hometown on the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza. BillNebeker.com
Readers’ Choice: Jack Walker
Best Classic Western Bronze Artist
Charles M. Russell
Many consider Charles M. Russell and Frederic S. Remington the greatest Western artists. While they had many contemporary peers in Western art, few had the ability to work as successfully in as many different mediums, including bronze sculpture. Russell’s bronze sculptures remain some of his greatest legacies and are prominently displayed at America’s finest art museums, including the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana. CMRussell.org
Readers’ Choice: Frederic Remington