This isn’t the Booth Western Art Museum’s first rodeo.
But hosting the 50th anniversary reunion of the Cowboy Artists of America starting Thursday nonetheless ranks as a landmark occasion for the Cartersville institution that opened in 2003, its founders then uncertain about how much interest there would be in a Western art museum this deep in the South.
Having the country’s top Western artists less than an hour up 1-75 from the Perimeter through Sunday also amounts to a bonanza for metro Atlanta fans of this increasingly popular genre.
While the deadline to reserve full-access weekend packages has passed, there are still a number of events of which the public can partake, including three exhibitions by CAA artists, a Friday concert by cowboy poet/musician Red Steagall and Friends, a free book and poster signing by the painters and sculptors Saturday morning and a full-day symposium Saturday.
“It’s the biggest thing the museum has ever done within the Western art world, and it’s a major milestone within the world of contemporary Western art, which is our primary field,” Booth executive director Seth Hopkins said. “So it’s certainly a big deal for the museum and it’s a big deal in the Western art world. Big on both fronts.”
It’s a time of milestones for the Booth, which drew its 500,000th visitor earlier this month, those early doubts about interest in depictions of cowboys and Indians, sagebrush and steer erased long ago.
The 120,000-square-foot museum and the Grand Theatre around back in downtown Cartersville will host more than 300 out-of-town artists, art dealers and Western art aficionados for the long weekend, with at least another 300 expected for some of the public events.
The seed for the Cowboy Artists of America was planted in late 1964 when a trio of Arizona cowboy artists went on a cattle roundup near Magdalena, Mexico, having such a blast that they thought of forming an organization to spur more fellowship and promotion for their art.
The first meeting to discuss this came June 23, 1965, at the Oak Creek Tavern in Sedona, Ariz., where, according to the official history, “the beer was cold and kept coming.”
Then as now, the all-male CAA was a very exclusive fraternity, something akin to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Membership is by invitation only, requiring a member to refer a candidate to the full group for consideration. Even artists achieving national attention typically are turned down their first time or two.
There are only 20 current members, a typically small number. Fewer than 80 have belonged to the organization during its five decades.
Members unite for two annual events: an exhibit/sale, mounted in Oklahoma City in recent years; and a trail ride, usually held at a ranch out West.
Hopkins attributes the group’s decision to venture to the Southeast for the 50th reunion — which will include a golf tournament, sporting clays shooting, bus tours of antebellum homes and Civil War sites and, of course, barbecue — partly to “serendipity” and partly to the group’s recognition of the expanding market for Western art.
The Booth has been “raising the flag and promoting Western art in the Southeast and has a pretty good collector base who are fans of the group and who have regularly gone and purchased work at their annual show,” he said. “And (the CAA) has been looking for an opportunity to get into some new markets and get their brand beyond their core area — Texas, Arizona, the High Plains states.”
The Booth is one of 14 members of the Museums West Consortium of the country’s major Western art museums. But beyond the Cartersville museum, only two others are east of the Mississippi: the Rockwell Museum in Corning, N.Y., and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis.
It helped, Hopkins added, that Booth supporters, realizing how lassoing the reunion could heighten its profile nationally, anted up sponsorship money for the “expensive endeavor.”
The exhibits include:
- “Blazing the Trail: The Cowboy Artists of America,” opening Friday, features 77 pieces by 77 present and former CAA members, including Howard Terpning, John Clymer and Tom Lovell. The works are drawn primarily from the Booth’s permanent collection and the private collections of its members. Through Oct. 26.
- “Framing the Future: Current Members of the CAA,” also opening Friday, includes single works by 20 current and four emeritus members. Through Aug. 30.
- “Cowboy Artists Sketching the West,” already on view, features 9-by-12-inch (or 12-by-9-inch) sketches by the same 24 artists represented in “Framing the Future.” The pieces will go on the block during a Saturday night banquet; reservations are full but proxy bidding is available through the Booth’s website (boothmuseum.org/sketchingthewest).
Bidding estimates for the sketches range from $750 to $6,000 though Hopkins believes that some could eclipse $10,000. The highest estimate is held down by Martin Grelle, a Texan whom Hopkins calls “the rock star among the painters.”
50th Anniversary Reunion of the Cowboy Artists of America
Thursday-Sunday at Booth Western Art Museum. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays (until 8 p.m. Thursdays), 1-5 p.m. Sundays. $10, $8 age 65 and up, $7 students with an ID, free age 12 and under. 501 Museum Drive, Cartersville. 770-387-1300, www.boothmuseum.org.
Public events include:
- 7:30 p.m. Friday: Red Steagall and Friends concert at Grand Theatre. $40.
- 9-10:15 a.m. Saturday: Book and poster signing by CAA artists. Event posters are free; copies of the new book “The Sons of Charlie Russell: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Cowboy Artists of America” available for sale. Grand Theatre. Free.
- 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday: Symposium, lectures/panel discussions on CAA history and future with artists, dealers, collectors, curators and writers. Grand Theatre. $25.