Western art you can use
If you think of the reins, whips and saddles used by cowboys down on the ranch as only utilitarian objects, worn with hard work and care, think again. These every-day items, too, are a form of art, and the cowboys who make them are true artists.This weekend, Claggett/Rey Gallery in Vail will present the unusual and thoroughly enjoyable "Cowboy Trappings" exhibit. Whether it’s the simple beauty of finely crafted, carefully detailed leather or the more ornate, often museum-quality "Buckaroo" style of western gear, this is a fascinating exhibit not to be missed."It’s going to be really fun," says Laura Wolf of Claggett/Rey Gallery.Cowboy art is generally defined as paintings, drawings and sculptures depicting the Old West in the style of Charles Russell and Bill James. However, the term used to also encompass the tools of the trade: the saddles and braided rawhide used day to day on ranches and farms. Yet as cowboys became increasingly relegated toremote areas of the U.S. and to Hollywood, the term narrowed to the more surreal aspects. But recently, a revival and a new appreciation of the artistic nature of these functional pieces has emerged.The Claggett/Rey "Cowboy Trappings" exhibit will feature 14 artists, some of the best western craftsman around, as well as several of the excellent western artists the gallery regularly represents."We don’t normally represent people who do cowboy trappings," explains Wolf. However, the gallery is well known for its stellar offering of fine western artwork by many of the artists who belong to the Cowboy Artists of America organization, the traditional cowboy artists organization. A parallel organization, representing the work of cowboy artists who specialize in cowboy trappings recently formed as well. "We’re representing some of its founding members in this show. These are true cowboys who produce thesaddles and bridles and bits."The show was the brainchild of the accomplished writer and western historian Don Hedgpeth and noted Claggett/Rey western artist Joe Beeler. The duo put the show together as a way to showcase anextraordinary art form few people know much about, but many are sure to appreciate. Similar shows have been held in other art galleries around the country, and collectors are now found around the globe.The "Cowboy Trappings" exhibit at Claggett/Rey Gallery will feature tooled saddles and finely braided whips, as well as bits, bridles and belt buckles engraved in silver. Wolf explains the exhibit will showcase the two distinct styles of cowboy trappings: The cowboystyle, which is less ornate, and the Buckaroo style, which is flashier "like the Nevada cowboys, or California cowboys."Many of these cowboy artisans work alone, in one-man studios in, or near, cow country. Born in Billings, Mont., Don Butler left college for a life on the range and as a horse trainer. He opened first one, then a second leather goods store in Wyoming before beginning to show his own work. He has helped tack production and equine equipment companies design products, and his work has been shown in numerous galleries, graced the cover of magazines and been featured in newspapers.Jeff Minor says it was growing up on remote ranches that inspired his work, much of which was used to improve the efficiency and eye appeal of equipment used on his ranch and neighboring ranches in the early days. He too has displayed his rawhide work in several prestigious western art shows and, although he prefers to make the traditional cowboy gear, two of his stagecoach whips are displayed in the Wells Fargo History Museum in California."Rawhiding is like any other craft or art," explains Minor. "You only get out of it what you put into it. Whether a functional tool for the working cowboy or a collector’s piece, quality craftsmanship and the best materials available are a must."Arne Esp grew up on the Crow Indian Reservation in southern Montana and competed for 15 years on the rodeo circuit. Along the way, he developed an appreciation for "cowboy silver." In his mid-20s, he tried his own hand at the craft and eventually beganmaking silver bits professionally. His silver belt buckles are now given as prizes at rodeos including the rodeo at the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail and his silver work is highly sought after.Artist Mark Dahl believes silver-mounted bits and spurs should appeal to as many senses as possible.Smooth to the touch and pleasing to the eye, his bits, saddle silver, spurs, buckles and jewelry are collected by cowboys around the world, distinguished by his exquisite engraving.The exhibit will also feature a handful of Claggett/Rey’s most popular artists. Among them, celebrated artist, Joe Beeler’s work will be on display. Also, to be exhibited is the work of Jim Rey. Rey, the father of gallery owner Bill Rey, is a noted western painter who lives on a small farm in Nebraska with wife Sharon."I was born in the west, and have lived in the West for my entire life," says Rey. "My earliest memories (and incidentally, my earliest drawings) were of horses and cattle."The Claggett/Rey Gallery "Cowboy Trappings" exhibit will run Friday and Saturday. On Friday, Aug. 2, from 4-6 p.m., Claggett/Rey will offer a private showing.On Saturday, Aug. 3, from 4-6 p.m., the exhibit will be open to the public. For more information, contact the Claggett/Rey Gallery at (970) 476-9350.