Top 10 Western Museums of 2010

BEST WESTERN ART MUSEUM


Just when you thought Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Gilcrease Museum couldn’t get any better, the University of Tulsa, which manages this world-class facility, acquired the C.M. Russell Research Collection in September from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

The addition of more than 13,000 objects that cover practically all of cowboy artist Charlie Russell’s life and work makes our choice of Western Art Museum of the Year pretty easy.

We’re talking about original sketches and drawings, Russell’s illustrated letters and envelopes, plenty of letters written by and to the great Montana artist, newspaper clippings, photographs, artifacts, family photo albums, personal effects, even paints, brushes and palettes—all collected by Homer Britzman, Russell’s biographer, with help from Nancy, Charlie’s wife, after Charlie died in 1926.

The museum did not disclose the price of purchase. Yet University President Steadman Upham was quite pleased with the purchase, stating: “Our acquisition will allow Gilcrease to open new avenues of research into the life and works of one of the American West’s defining artists. Having these materials together under one roof will provide unparalleled opportunities for researchers to study the materials in the Russell Research Collection within the context of the masterworks at Gilcrease.”

Several of those items, by the way, are on display through May 2, 2010, in the Gilcrease’s “The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell: A Retrospective of Paintings & Sculpture.”

As if that collection alone wasn’t enough to make up our minds, the Gilcrease, in November, debuted a special exhibit, “Unconquered: Allan Houser and the Legacy of One Apache Family,” which showcased the life, legacy and artwork of one of the world’s most important 20th-century sculptors.


HONORABLE MENTIONS


Whitney Gallery of Western Art (Cody, Wyoming): To celebrate its 50th anniversary, this Buffalo Bill Historical Center museum unveiled a new look, and new interpretation, in June, putting the works of master artists of the American West—George Catlin, W.H.D. Koerner, Alfred Jacob Miller, Frederic Remington, Charlie Russell, N.C. Wyeth to name a few—into a fresh context.


Booth Western Art Museum (Cartersville, Georgia): A great museum for history and art, the Booth debuted “The Black West: Buffalo Soldiers, Black Cowboys & Untold Stories,” which highlighted the works of 16 contemporary black artists of the West who tell visual stories of not only soldiers and cowboys, but also explorers, rodeo stars and women. Co-curator “Cowboy” Mike Searles kicked off the exhibit with an opening night lecture.


Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center (Lawton, Oklahoma): Opened in 2007, this museum preserves the tribe’s culture, history and, especially, its language, but it has also evolved into a comprehensive Comanche art collection. In August, the Oklahoma Museums Association awarded the museum a “Promotional Piece” award for its TV commercial “Celebrating Josephine Wapp.” We figured the exhibit itself, which ran February 10-April 30 of last year and showcased the life and works of this 97-year-old finger weaver, was worth an honor too.


Desert Caballeros Museum (Wickenburg, Arizona): From tours, art classes and lectures, this desert oasis is always worth visiting. Highlighting last year’s special events were “A Victorian Wedding” fashion show and the always popular “Cowgirl Up!” exhibition and sale. Women artists of the West definitely have a fan in this museum.

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