The best museums for Western art East of the Mississippi River
By Medicine Man Gallery on
Where is the best place to find Western art east of the Mississippi River? I’m glad you asked.
I love all kinds of art from the Northern Renaissance to graffiti, but it is Western art that first hooked me. The romance of the West. The landscapes. The wildlife.
I remain a devote today, but scratching my itch for Western art proves difficult when living in Florida as I do. If you are similarly enamored with Western art while living “back East,” here are my recommendations for the best places to find it.
Installation view of Maynard Dixon 'Red Butte with Mountain Men' flanked by Jim Vogel paintings at Booth Western Art Museum| Photo by Chadd Scott
Booth Western Art Museum (Cartersville, GA)
Forty miles north of downtown Atlanta on Interstate 75, the Booth Western Art Museum boasts the largest exhibition space in the world for Western art. The museum was opened in 2003 by an anonymous family which had been collecting Western art for many years from its hometown of Cartersville.
The Booth’s fascinating history was shared in depth by Executive Director Seth Hopkins on one of my favorite episodes of the “Art Dealer Diaries” podcast.
Eiteljorg Museum rear exterior, showing The Sails | Photo Courtesy Zach Malmgren
Eiteljorg Museum (Indianapolis)
Smack dab in the heart of downtown Indianapolis and formally known as the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, this museum shines brightest during two signature annual events: the Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival each June and the “Quest for the West” Art Show and Sale each September.
The Indian Market and Festival brings more than 100 Native American artists from all over the country to the museum’s grounds selling their work and communing with collectors and the public. It is the premiere Indian market in the East. Also included are musical performances, dancing and storytelling.
Likewise, “Quest for the West” Art Show and Sale is the finest of its kind on its side of America.
The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art (St. Petersburg, FL)
The best thing I can say about the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art – and it’s high praise – is that this is where I was introduced to my favorite artist of all time, Earl Biss (Absáalooke). The James’ has two spectacular Biss masterpieces on permanent display including his roughly 5-by-7-foot Magic Thunder in the Northern Sky which simulates immersion in the Aurora Borealis along with a band of Native Americans. It's cosmic, spiritual, kaleidoscopic.
The Museum was opened in 2018 and houses the collection of former longtime Raymond James CEO and Chairman of the Board Tom James. The financial services company is based in St. Pete. James and his wife acquired the works over decades of visiting galleries “out West” on ski trips.
Their collection primarily features contemporary works, and included are major paintings by Tony Abeyta (Diné), Ed Mell, Dan Namingha (Hopi-Tewa), John Nieto, Paul Pletka, Bill Schenck and Fritz Scholder (Luiseño). The James’ “jewelry box” display gallery of Southwestern jewelry is jaw-dropping.
Adding to the James’ charm is its location in lively downtown St. Petersburg less than a half mile from the Museum of Fine Arts, St, Petersburg, The Dalí Museum and the Chihuly Collection. If you’re looking for an arty weekend getaway in the East the likes of which you might find out West in Scottsdale, Jackson Hole or Palm Springs, my recommendation is St. Pete.
Metropolitan Museum of Art New York | Photo by Chadd Scott
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
Yeah, The Met has Western art.
Among its Rembrandts and Vermeers and Monets and de Koonings, you’ll find some Remington’s. Western art is hardly a highlight or focus of The Met, but, as with everything else from paintings and sculpture to arms and armor, what the museum does have is first rate.
Take particular care to find Jules Tavernier’s Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California (1878).
A new interest in Native American art by The Met has brought more Indigenous artwork from the West on display than ever before.
Shelburne Museum (Shelburne, VT)
The Shelburne Museum launched a major Native American art initiative in 2023 following the receipt of a significant gift of Pueblo pottery and Plains Indian material culture. The effort has been previously detailed by “Essential West.”
Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, D.C.)
If you love Thomas Moran’s Wyoming and Western landscapes, you owe yourself a trip to SAAM.
Rockwell Museum (Corning, NY)
The Rockwell Museum’s exceptional collection of Hudson River School paintings and early American modernist prints won’t surprise anyone. Museum visitors in this part of the world–central New York state–expect that kind of thing. The institution’s rich holdings of Native American art from the Southwest are another matter.
Corning, NY is 2,000 miles east of Zuni Pueblo. Countless Indigenous homelands are found on the land in between. How did this stuff get here?
It got here from the collection of Bob and Hertha Rockwell, the museum’s founders.
Bob Rockwell grew up on a ranch in Colorado, enchanted by the Western landscape and cultures. He collected Western and Indigenous art from the area and displayed it in the department store the couple owned in Corning. Shoppers at the Rockwell Department Store enjoyed paintings from C.M. Russell, sculptures by Fredric Remington, and Native southwestern pottery, baskets and beadwork while they browsed for slacks and dresses–the Rockwell’s displayed their collection in the store!
That’s when most of the collection was donated to function as the core objects for a new museum. “The best of the West in the East” is what the Rockwell Museum liked to say before widening its focus in recent years to share a broader range of stories across the American experience through American art.