Visionary museums from coast to coast showcase the West’s best artists and artwork.
Emerging from a depressing run of pandemic, war and overall depression, Western art museums across America showed that art can cure just about anything that ails us. And the lineups that the best museums and galleries continue to create showcase that great art isn’t riding off into the sunset.
Here are this year’s top 10:
1. National Museum of Wildlife Art
This museum features works by artists ranging from James Audubon to Andy Warhol. It is appropriately located in an area known for all kinds of wildlife and makes animals the stars with more than 5,000 pieces of art. Always forward-thinking, the museum is featuring “Re-Imagining Conservation: From Many Viewpoints,” which runs through November 12 and is the latest in a long line of outstanding exhibits. The museum partnered with Creature Conserve, a Rhode Island-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit outreach organization, to create this exhibit of artwork from 31 artists from nine countries to imagine the future of conservation.
2. Eiteljorg Museum
Indiana has produced its share of Western figures, good (bootmaker John J. Justin) and bad (the train-robbing Reno brothers). But its biggest claim might be as home to an outstanding collection of Native American and Western art. The permanent exhibition “Attitudes: The West in American Art” never grows old, while “Native Art History is Made Here,” which runs through March 31, 2024, remembers the inaugural 1999 and 2001 Eiteljorg Fellowship honorees, including famed Apache sculptor Allan Houser.
3. Museum of Western Art
After celebrating its 40th anniversary with “40 Years of Western Art,” an exhibition featuring 86 pieces of Western art since 1983, the former Cowboy Artists of America Museum this year looks ahead to the next 40 years and beyond. Speaking of anniversaries, “100 Years of Schreiner Treasures” salutes the local university’s centennial in an exhibit November 4-December 16.
4. Taos Art Museum at Fechin House
Nicolai Fechin, Joseph H. Sharp, Bert G. Phillips, Ernest L. Blumenschein and the Taos Society of Artists remain important to Western art, but this museum goes beyond that history. Case in point: “The Navajo Child’s Blanket, Art of Timeless Beauty,” opens September 20 and runs through May 30, 2024.
5. The Nelson Museum of the West
Seeing works by Will James, Frank Tenney Johnson, Charles M. Russell and Joseph H. Sharp is reason enough to visit this gem. But add the wearable and functional artwork of Plains and Pueblo Indians and transplanted Californian Burt Procter’s works exhibited in his “studio” and you’ll understand why the Nelson consistently draws accolades and crowds.
6. Desert Caballeros Western Museum
A must stop for history and art in a classic cowboy town. Catch “Mexican Folk Art: Artesanía del Pueblo,” which closes October 1 and “West of Center: Highlights from the Wickenburg Art Club,” which ends its exhibition and sale September 24 at the Caballeros’ Cultural Arts Learning Center, 17 North Tegner Street.
7. Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum
How many museums focus on agriculture, archaeology, art, geology, history, paleontology, transportation and more? Celebrating the Texas State Parks system’s centennial, “The Art of Texas State Parks” will be exhibited October 27-February 18 and showcases artistic interpretations of more than 30 state parks.
8. Heard Museum
Hats off to the Heard for the ongoing “In the Service Of: American Indian Veteran Artists and Tributes” and for not ignoring Native art from Canada; “Early Days: Indigenous Art from the McMichael” runs September 1 to December 31.
9. Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
The historical components are educational and fun. But the Garis Gallery of the American West, the rotating Featured Artist and Paul Moore’s larger-than-life On the Chisholm Trail bronze make this museum a visual arts mecca.
10. Tacoma Art Museum
Featured 2022 exhibits focused on Mexican art and how American artists came into their own by shunning influences from Europe and New York. But “Animals: Wild and Captured in Bronze, Winter in the West,” “On Native Land: Landscapes from the Haub Family Collection” and “Native Portraiture: Power and Perception” show that the West remains relevant in Tacoma.