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11 Must-see paintings at Booth Western Art Museum

By Medicine Man Gallery on

 

Installation view of Maynard Dixon 'Red Butte with Mountain Men' flanked by Jim Vogel paintings at Booth Western Art Museum

Installation view of Maynard Dixon 'Red Butte with Mountain Men' flanked by Jim Vogel paintings at Booth Western Art Museum | Photo by Chadd Scott

With the largest exhibition space in the world for Western art, the Booth Western Art Museum 40 miles north of Atlanta in Cartersville, GA has hundreds of artworks on view at any one time. Most of the genre’s legendary figures are represented: Bierstadt, Moran, Remington, Russell, Dixon. The Booth’s permanent collection, however, primarily focuses on contemporary Western Art, post-1965, following the formation of the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe and the Cowboy Artists of America.

I visited the Booth in July of 2023. I’m sure all devotees of Western art would immensely enjoy spending a few hours there. To whet your appetite, here is a look at my favorite paintings on view; I’m sure you’ll have your own.

Harry Jackson, Stampede (1965)

Harry Jackson, Stampede (1965) | Photo by Chadd Scott

Stampede (1965) and Range Burial (1963), Harry Jackson

Anchoring opposite ends of the Booth’s soaring lobby are Harry Jackson’s monumental matched pair. Both measuring 10 feet by 21 feet, the combo tells a story. Painted first, but depicting the aftermath of Stampede is Range Burial.

The composition was partially inspired by Gustave Courbet’s masterpiece The Burial at Ornans (1849-50), one of the most famous paintings in Modern art history. Jackson saw the Courbet, which stretches to the same dimensions as his Western follow-up, on a visit to Paris. The Burial at Ornans can be seen at the Musée d’Orsay there.

Stampede was likewise influenced by one of the most renowned paintings in Modern art: Jackson Pollock’s Mural (1943). Harry Jackson began his career in New York as an Abstract Expressionist and became friends with Pollock. According to gallery text at the Booth, noted critic of the time Clement Greenberg predicted Jackson to be the next Pollock. Jackson went so far as to dedicate Stampede in the lower right corner to Pollock.

Stampede and Range Burial were commissioned for the Whitney Gallery of Western Art at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY. The pair, however, are too large for display there and are now on long term loan to the Booth.

Bronze sculptural versions of both paintings, also by Jackson, are on display alongside the paintings.

Harry Jackson, Range Burial (1963)

Harry Jackson, Range Burial (1963) | Photo by Chadd Scott

 Red Butte with Mountain Men (1935), Maynard Dixon; Maynard Dixon (2011) and Dorothea Lange (2011), Jim Vogel

Due to the enormous size of its exhibition space, the Booth takes the cake when it comes to scale in the presentation of Western art. Another wall-filler is Dixon’s Southwestern rockscape with a barely visible train of horses and riders in the foreground. This painting has a backstory as fascinating as the Jackson pair.

This one and another of similar dimensions and subject matter were originally installed behind one of two bars at the Kit Carson Steak Restaurant in San Francisco. As such, it is believed one of the figures in this painting is Carson. The restaurant has since been demolished and the fraternal twin painting hangs in the lobby at Western Spirit, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West in Arizona.

Bookending the Dixon are a pair of vignettes by contemporary artist Jim Vogel, one picturing Dixon with his brushes against a Southwestern landscape, the other representing his one-time wife and icon of American photography Dorothea Lange. Lange is shown with camera against a backdrop we can assume is Depression-era California. Between her feet, a migrant worker recalling her famed Migrant Mother photograph.

Clark Hulings, November Sunlight, Nambe New Mexico (2009)Clark Hulings, November Sunlight, Nambe New Mexico (2009) | Photo by Chadd Scott

November Sunlight, Nambé New Mexico (2009), Clark Hulings; Village of Pilar, New Mexico (not dated), Walt Gonske

The Jackson and Dixon paintings are about as subtle as a backboard-shattering slam dunk. Everyone visiting the Booth will be astonished by them. Art’s wonder lies in subtlety, as well, and a pair of subtle northern New Mexico landscapes will make anyone who loves that area, as I do, heart’s sing.

The Hulings and Gonske paintings are hung without fanfare in the same gallery.

Gonske expertly captures winter in northern New Mexico and its ability to be simultaneously cold and warm, sun shining on snow. Loose and brushy, representative of his Impressionism-inspired style, Gonske produces his image through a scarcity of marks.

Hulings, on the other hand, lays down tens of thousands of tiny brushstrokes so deftly capturing the light and color of sun passing through cottonwood trees with all of its nuance as to render his painting aching in beauty. The leaves crunch under your feet and rustle overhead.

Allan Houser, Buffalo Hunt (1960)

Allan Houser, Buffalo Hunt (1960) | Photo by Chadd Scott

Buffalo Hunt (1960), Allan Houser (Apache)

Houser is best known as the most acclaimed Native American sculptor ever, but he started his career in painting. This picture with its flat perspective, pastel colors and traditional/stereotypical scene reveals his upbringing in the so-called Dorothy Dunn school, an education Houser would rebel against.

Kevin Red Starr, Ready for the Two Step (2006)

Kevin Red Starr, Ready for the Two Step (2006) | Photo by Chadd Scott

Ready for the Two Step (2006), Kevin Red Star (Absáalooke)

Red Star was a member of the famed “Miracle Generation” of first-in IAIA artists which also included fellow legends T.C. Cannon (Kiowa and Caddo), Earl Biss (Absáalooke), Linda Lomahaftewa (Hopi and Choctaw) and Doug Hyde (Nez Perce, Assiniboine, Chippewa). He’s been helping pace the contemporary Native American art genre ever since.

This painting perfectly represents the vivid, expressive, spiritual, figurative style he is best known for.

Two more paintings at the Booth from Native American artists bear mention, unfortunately, they do not photograph well. They must be seen in person to be appreciated.

The first is Fritz Scholder’s (Luiseño) Indian at Gallup Bus Depot (1969). Booth Western Art Museum Director Seth Hopkins considers it one of Scholder’s top-5 paintings. In it, a Native figure leans against an arcade game featuring a rifle which players shoot at targets hidden from the viewer.

The second is Cannon’s 1970 Pueblo Woman Dancer featuring a stern, three-quarters length figure contrasted starkly against a blinding white background. While not depicted with strict representation, the woman appears life-like, as if she’s a moment away from animation and stepping out of the frame. It’s haunting. Accusatory. Spellbinding.

Take some time with it, and all of your favorites at the Booth Museum of Western Art.

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