Top 10 Western Museums of 2011

Art Museum of the Year

1. Booth Western Art Museum (Cartersville, Georgia)

Picking the best Western art museum for 2010 was a lot like trying to decide which is a better painting, Charles M. Russell’s When the Land Belonged to God or Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ranchos Church Taos. Two styles, two visions, two masterpieces by two artistic legends.

In the end, we decided to give a slight—very slight—edge to the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.

From the world premiere of “Kenneth M. Freeman: Artist at Work” to showcasing more than 100 photographs by Ansel Adams—the largest exhibition in the museum’s history—the Booth has continued to live up to its mission statement to “educate, entertain, and inspire guests through the exploration of Western art, popular culture, and American heritage in a welcoming environment.”

Riders in the Sky headlined the annual Southeastern Cowboy Festival & Symposium, school-age artists got a chance to Cowboy Up and the 120,000-square-foot museum added works by William Acheff, Craig Bergsgaard, John Coleman, Patty Eckman and Glenna Goodacre—and many more—to an already phenomenal collection.

2. Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art (Indianapolis, Indiana)

One of the premier destinations in the Midwest got even better for families when the R.B. Annis Western Family Experience opened in June 2010. Visitors learned about a Tsimshiam carver, a Navajo weaver and black pioneers in Nebraska, and they journeyed to Deadwood’s Wing Tsue Emporium. Throw in an outstanding collection for gun-lovers (“Pistols: Dazzling Firearms”), lectures, workshops and the terrific annual Indian Market and Festival, and you know why one of the great art museums just keeps getting better.

3. New Mexico Museum of Art (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Talk about functional art. In a city known for art, this museum showed us that art isn’t limited to Luis A. Jiménez Jr. and Henriette Wyeth. “Sole Mates: Cowboy Boot and Art” celebrated fancy footwear, from past masters to contemporary leather artisans. Third-generation bootmaker Deana McGuffin of Albuquerque talked about her vision and craft, and when the exhibit opened May 15, 2010, visitors were invited to show off their own fancy footwear.

4. Phippen Museum (Prescott, Arizona)

Since opening in 1984 in one of the West’s greatest Western towns, the Phippen has lived up to its intent to preserve and show great art of the West. “Working the West” began an all-too-brief run in November 2010 that paid homage to the working cowboy. The museum also continued its tradition of hosting “art conversations,” a September barbecue and the annual Memorial Day art show and sale.

5. Heard Museum (Phoenix, Arizona)

Founded in 1929 by Phoenix pioneers, this downtown institution—with community museums in North Scottsdale and Surprise—boasts an outstanding collection of Indian art and a superb annual art market. The jewel of the exhibitions is “Home: Native People in the Southwest,” but what struck us last year was the dazzling collection of one of the best Navajo jewelers. “Jesse Monongye: Opal Bears and Lapis Skies” opened December 4 and ran through June 26.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

A.R. Mitchell Memorial Museum of Western Art (Trinidad, Colorado): Great collection of art and artifacts housed in a historic 1906 building.

Desert Caballeros Western Museum (Wickenburg, Arizona): Cool events, and the “Cowgirl Up! Show & Sale” always rocks.

Pearce Museum at Navarro College (Corsicana, Texas): Western art and Civil War art! With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War beginning in 2011, be sure to check out this museum.

Stark Museum of Art (Orange, Texas): Outstanding collection of art, including works by Gustave Baumann, Maynard Dixon, Frederic Remington, Charles Russell and N.C. Wyeth.

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