Icons of the West: CAA Sale & Exhibition

Artists and collectors gather for the unveiling of new work at the 44th annual Cowboy Artists of America Sale & Exhibition.

Published online courtesy Western Art Collector, October, 2009

The signature unveiling of the latest artwork by current members of the Cowboy Artists of America returns Friday, October 16. Held at Phoenix Art Museum, this premier event celebrates the CAA's dedication to the rugged beauty of Western representational art.

More than 140 new works of art created in the past year will be revealed for the first time at the sale on October 16 from 6 to 9 p.m. The exhibition opens to the public on Sunday, October 18, and hangs through November 15, 2009. Any works of art not sold opening night may be purchased during the exhibition's duration.Among this year's offerings are bronze and stone sculptures, oil and water soluble paintings, and drawings that portray the West both past and present.

"The excitement of seeing all new work that has never been shown before by each artist is really exciting," says CAA president John Coleman. "This standard is a hallmark of the CAA and exclusive only to our show. Although the show is in October, for many of the CAs this is the beginning of their show year, and this show is the most important and only venue we participate in as a group."

The 23 active members of the prestigious CAA include: Wayne Baize, Harley Brown, Gary Carter, John Coleman, Tim Cox, Don Crowley, Loren Entz, Fred Fellows, Bruce Greene, Martin Grelle, David Halbach, Oreland Joe, T.D. Kelsey, Mehl Lawson, Herb Mignery, John Moyers, Bill Nebeker, Gary Niblett, Jim Norton, Bill Owen, Dave Powell, Clark Kelley Price and R.S. Riddick.

Each artist is allowed to submit up to seven pieces for the CAA show, and Bill Owen's goal each year is to do just that. Among his creations this year is 2009 Cowboy Bailout, a 26 by 36 inch oil on canvas in which he depicts a cowboy being bucked off. Many experienced cowboys have faced this dilemma: They can choose to try to ride it out, taking a chance on getting bucked off anyway, or bail out in an effort to keep from getting hurt, or get lucky and land on their feet. "This goes hand in hand with the economic and political happenings of this year and the choices many have been faced with - ride it out or bail out," says Owen.

"At first I found humor in the term 'bailout' and at some point knew I would do a painting and title it 2009 Cowboy Bailout. Since then I've come to recognize the irony and realize that this is a 'picture that's worth a thousand words.'"

John Coleman plans to unveil four new sculptures and two drawings at this year's event. Among them is a sculpture depicting a Mandan archer engaged in "The Game of Arrows," an event witnessed by George Catlin around 1833. Catlin reported that the most distinguished archers gathered on the prairie, each one having paid an entrance fee such as a shield, robe, or pipe. In turn, they shot their arrows into the air to see who could get the greatest number flying at one time, the winner taking everything that was brought by the other archers for entrance fees as their prize.

"It was written that the winner of this particular gathering achieved eight arrows in flight before the first one struck the ground," recalls Coleman. "In my career, I've done only one other sculpture of an archer. Because this is such a classical icon in terms of its image, I've been waiting for a story that would convey something beyond the ordinary."

Past CAA president Bill Nebeker will present Tombstone Reckoning, a new bronze in which the Arizona sculptor molds his interpretation of Wyatt Earp in 1882 after the murder of his brother Morgan, and Virgil being wounded by members of the "Cowboy faction" after the gunfight in Tombstone. "In the legends of Wyatt, it is said that he was not out for revenge but for a reckoning," says Nebeker.

The artist was inspired to create his idea of Wyatt Earp with guns drawn because of all the stories he heard as a boy in Prescott about the Earp brothers living there, and because of the combination of fact, myth and legend that surrounds him. This piece is the latest in Nebeker's series of "gunfighter" sculptures. The artist wants those who view the bronze to get the sense of justice that he believes Wyatt Earp wanted for the death and injury of his brothers in Tombstone.

Incoming CAA president Fred Fellows willl create one sculpture and two paintings for the show, among them Down From the High Country. This 14-by-18-inch oil painting depicts his friend Jerry Bygren who just shot a 6 point bull elk and is packing out the front quarters and the antlers. "He'll go right back for the rest of the elk," says Fellows. "He is watering the horses crossing the Swan River east of Bigfork, Montana."

New Mexico artistTim Cox, a recent addition to the CAA, returns with his latest depiction of the contemporary Western cowboy in a piece titled Good Horses Make Good Cowboys. "I have a passion for horses, cutting horses in particular," says Cox. "I wanted to show where the roots of the cutting horse grew from ranch work. A horse with 'cow sense' (the ability to work cow on his own) is a prized animal on a ranch."

This ticketed event, which attracts hundreds of collectors from around the world, is a full weekend of activities ranging from special events with the artists to gallery tours. This year's reunion will include artist demonstrations by Martin Grelle and Bruce Greene. The 90-minute presentation, titled Concept to Completion: The Evolution of a Painting, takes place in the morning on Friday, October 16, at The Ritz-Carlton. "We haven't done demonstrations before the Mix n' Mingle for a few years. This was a favorite of the patrons, so we are bringing it back again this year," says Coleman.

The CAA sale and exhibition has a rich and colorful history and continually captures the attention of art fans, young and old. Rather than a typical art auction, sale attendees submit intent-to-purchase slips and the first name drawn has the option to buy the work of art. This method not only proves exciting but offers an equal opportunity for both first-time buyers and seasoned collectors. Works range from a few hundred dollars to six figures, with approximately 90 percent of the pieces purchased opening night.

The sale is the Phoenix Art Museum's major fund-raiser and is organized by the Men's Arts Council, a non-profit volunteer group. A portion of the proceeds benefit the museum and the Western Art Endowment Fund, which acquires Western art for the museum's permanent collection. Last year's gross sales topped the $1.8 million mark.

This event also doubles as a barometer of the health of the Western art market. "The purity of CAA art has always been a constant in the past and it continues to be true today. We have a particular niche that helps to hold our show in focus," says Coleman. "Statistically our show in sales rivals the largest Western art show in the country with the CAA having only about one quarter of the artists showing at these larger shows. We hope that through the diversity of the members' offerings, this kind of focus has helped to define and keep the market strong."