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“Passing of the Old West”



The Museum of Northwest Colorado is planning an exhibit which will open in May of 2009 featuring the works of Western artists and cowboy gear from the Old West. Director Dan Davidson hopes the exhibit will capture the essence of the changes and accompanying conflicts that occurred as the Old West gradually gave in to the social order and structure of the new. Allow us to introduce you to just a few of the characters and artists you will meet in this exhibit.


Typifying the Old West in its essence, Buffalo Bill (1846 - 1917) emerged from a turbulent youth to rise to fame as a household name synonymous with all that was ‘Western’. As a young teen he went west as a scout and hunter for the US Army. He fought Indians and killed thousands of buffalo, but these encounters only formed his later opinion as to the value of the Native Americans to our society, and the validity of conservation efforts in the West. He even became a strong proponent for established hunting seasons. A larger than life personage, Buffalo Bill left an impact on the entire persona of the Old West and those who played a part in it. His Wild West shows presented in epic proportions the reality and the imagery of the Old West. The exhibit will include Buffalo Bill’s saddle and saber on loan from a private collector as well as a pair of his beaded gloves from the Museum Collection. The Buffalo Bill Museum in Golden, Colorado has loaned original posters for the display.


Frederic Remington (1861 - 1909), an Easterner by birth, first came West in 1881 to Montana. More a self-styled Western cowboy than one in actuality, Remington was able to establish himself as the first artist in the ‘Cowboy Art Movement’. Beginning as an illustrator, Remington later mastered the art of Western landscape painting and Western sculptures. He entered the arena of the Old West, just as it was going into a decline, but was able to visually document the last of the Indian - Cavalry wars, which he was commissioned to illustrate. He witnessed first hand the violence and conflict that was part of the Old West experience and his stop-action paintings capture the drama of that time. Perhaps one of the best known of our Western artists, Remington probably spent less time in the West than the other artists who followed in his steps. The exhibit will feature a Remington painting, on loan from the Buffalo Bill Museum in Golden, Colorado.


Bob Meldrum, (1866 - 192?) Western lawman and killer, saddle maker and artist, was caught between the Old and the New West, in the worst sense. Hired by the mine owners as a lawman, or ‘licensed killer’, he waged war with the miners in some of Colorado’s biggest mines and later brought a sense of order to the cattle wars in Southern Wyoming and Northwest Colorado. He was hired as a known killer, and that aspect of his personality was meant to instill a sense of fear in the adversary. As times changed and a sense of decorum came to the previously lawless West, Meldrum found that his gunfighter skills were no longer appreciated, and he was convicted of a murder for which he served time in the Wyoming Penitentiary. After his stint in prison the more introspective side of his nature found him in the saddlery business in addition to drawing Western scenes with pen and ink. His illustrations reflect that very wild side of the West which he had lived, and they bring an immediate and local sense of the lawless Old West to this exhibit. A private collector has loaned the museum a single action Colt revolver which was engraved with Meldrum’s name and the date May 1904, when it was given to Meldrum by the mining company in Telluride. The Museum also has a holster and other leather work made by Meldrum, in addition to some of his illustrations, which will be featured in the exhibit.


Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939) paintings transition between the Old West and the New. He is best known for his excellent rendition of the horse, and for his nocturnal scenes. Though he painted scenes reminiscent of the Old West, Johnson's paintings are more reflective and less violent than those of his contemporaries. His subjects included the Indian of the Southwest, Old West scenes and the cowboy. He spent time as a working cowboy on a large ranch in Northwest Colorado, and drew heavily from those experiences when painting his Western scenes.


Gerard Curtis Delano (1890 - 1972) was born in New England, but as a boy found himself entranced with the West, and in particular, the notion of the Old West, which was fast fading when he was born. He moved to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in 1920 where he homesteaded and built himself a log cabin studio with a dirt roof. He later settled in Denver, where he continued with the Western illustration work for which he was so well-known. In the 1940s, he was able to leave illustration work behind, and devote himself entirely to his painting. His favorite subject was the Navajo people and their land, and his works reflected the strong empathy he felt for this peaceful people who had previously suffered so greatly during the Old West’s time of change and conflict. Delano’s work was featured in an exhibit titled “Passing of the Old West” which hung in the local Cosgriff Hotel for many years. That display made such an impression on a young boy, (now the Museum Director) Dan Davidson, that it served as the catalyst for this new exhibit. The University of Wyoming Art Museum, the Colorado Historical Society, the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center and a private collector all have graciously loaned original Delano paintings and illustrations for this current exhibit.


William T. Jones (1857 - 1930) was born in Texas and at age 16 headed to South America on a sailing ship which wrecked off the coast below Mexico. He worked his way back to Texas, and spent the next twenty years working mainly in cattle and freighting throughout the West. In the early 1890s, he was involved in a water dispute in Wyoming, and committed a bloody murder for which he spent 13 years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary. During that time Jones braided items in horsehair, though only two known of those remain: two quirts. One is in the Museum Collection, and will be featured in the exhibit. Jones lived out the remaining years of his life in Western Moffat County, one of the last bastions for survivors of the ‘Old West’. He continued to hold a reputation for being hot-headed and spoke often of his early years when he purportedly spent time with both Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok. He died of a heart attack in the midst of a violent quarrel on the remote K Ranch in Northwest Colorado in 1930.


Phillips & Gutierrez Bit & Spur Makers (1916 - 1919) William H. Phillips and Raphael Gutierrez were in partnership for only three years, a time in which they produced some remarkable work. Only two dozen of their bits and spurs are known to exist, and are highly collectible. A private collector has loaned the Museum a set of P & G spurs which were won during the Cheyenne Frontier Days in a bronc riding contest. These spurs, along with other cowboy gear from the Museum Collection will be featured in the exhibit.


AR Mitchell (1889 - 1977) was born on his father's homestead west of Trinidad, Colorado. In 1907 he hired on as a ranch hand in New Mexico and was soon sketching scenes of the cowboy life in addition to providing political cartoons for newspapers. Mitchell studied art in New York before starting a career as an illustrator. In the 1920s and 30s he created over 160 cover paintings for the Western pulp magazines. He spent his summers painting Colorado and Southwestern landscapes. His themes were inclusive in Western theme, ranging from the lusty magazine cowboy to peaceful mountain landscapes. He left behind a substantial body of work in both the illustration field and in his landscape paintings. The AR Mitchell Museum and the Colorado Historical Society are loan Mitchell paintings for the exhibit.


Paul Gregg (1976 - 1949) was born of pioneer parents in Kansas and he lived the life of a pioneer child, experiencing first hand the exciting and challenging life of those involved in the Western expansion. His earliest memories were later translated onto canvas as he commemorated the struggles that developed the West, especially in Colorado. In 1902, while vacationing in Denver, he was persuaded by H. H. Tammen and Frederick Bonfils to join the “Denver Post” as a staff artist. For forty years, Gregg produced a painting each week for the Sunday Denver Post magazine section. His works captured the essence of the history of the West, Old and New, and his poet friend, Gene Lindberg, later described Gregg as a ‘storyteller in oils’. The Denver Public Library and the Colorado Historical Society are generously loaning Paul Gregg works for this exhibit.


Alexander Phimister Proctor was born in 1860 and was one of the greatest sculptors of heroic and equestrian statues in America. He grew up in Denver and started sketching as soon as he could hold a pencil in his hand. Proctor spent much time hunting in the mountains, and drawing scenes and animals from life. He made numerous trips during the 1880s into the Flat Tops area southeast of Craig, where he would often place wildlife carcasses in lifelike poses so he could draw them. Proctor told of killing a panther and spending several days doing sketches and color studies of the animal. It is most likely that those sketches served him for modeling the bronze of the cougar on exhibit at the Museum. Today Proctor’s works are recognized internationally.


In addition to the artwork and cowboy gear mentioned here, the exhibit will highlight numerous pieces from the Museum’s Cowboy & Gunfighter Collection. Boots, hats, spurs and other artifacts from this amazing collection will be interspersed with the artwork. The Collection is the result of a life-long pursuit by Bill Mackin, of the finest in Western gear. His collection has resulted in the finest display of working cowboy gear on public display. This synopsis only briefly touches on the depth of this exhibit and the stories that will be told of the changes seen by those who lived in the Old West and the ‘New’. The exhibit will open Sunday, May 24th, 2009 and will run through December 2009. For more information, contact the Museum of Northwest Colorado at 970.824.6360.