A cowboy saddles up his horse, drives cattle from one pasture to another, gets down from his horse, and picks up a paintbrush. He is not doing typical ranch work as he stands in front of an easel, painting a scene inspired by the trail. He is authentically preserving and perpetuating Western life’s culture through fine art. Dedicated cowboy artists are the foundation and the future of Western art, showcased at the Briscoe Western Art Museum May 27 – September 5 with the premiere of The Sons of Charlie Russell: Cowboy Artists of America. (Briscoe Western Art Museum, 2022)
An art form as uniquely American as jazz music, Western art has long defined the American West worldwide. Illustrating the lives, landscape, and wildlife that define the West fueled storied artists like Charles M. Russell, Frederic Remington, Edward Borein, W.R. Leigh, and Frank Tenney Johnson. Together, they then defined the look and style of traditional Western art and inspired the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA).
Spotlighting those founding fathers of Western art alongside the CAA artists who have safeguarded the traditional style of the genre, The Sons of Charlie Russell traces the roots and successive artwork of the Cowboy Artists of America and defines a core set of criteria for what constitutes traditional Western art. Encompassing 70 paintings, sculptures and works on paper dating from 1890 to the present day, the exhibition includes works typically only seen in private collections and never before exhibited together. Displaying the strength and vibrancy of the genre through the masterpieces of 40 artists, The Sons of Charlie Russell offers a rare opportunity to see contemporary art along with historical works.
Curated by Emily Wilson, the Curator of Art for the Briscoe, The Sons of Charlie Russell features works from 17 lenders including the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the Booth Western Art Museum, the Eddie Basha Collection, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the Sid Richardson Museum, as well as private lenders from Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming, making the exhibition the first and only time these works will be viewed together. Nine of the featured pieces are sourced from the Briscoe’s permanent collection.
Shadows of the West: Interactive Elements Add to the Experience
While visitors may not be able to rope and ride alongside the cowboys and ranch hands often depicted in Western art, thanks to immersive technology in the exhibition, The Sons of Charlie Russell allows visitors to literally add themselves to the scene. Visitors can virtually step into three works featured in the exhibition: “Rawhide Rhapsody by Charlie Dye (1906-1972),” “Texas Cattleman – Oil Man” by George Phippen (1915-1966), and “Pony Tracks and Empty Saddles” by Tom Lovell (1909-1997). Visitors will be able to see themselves as shadow outlines in the paintings, striking poses as they add themselves to the scene and find responsiveness to a few actions – such as strumming a guitar.
To help visitors learn more about Western art, the exhibition’s guide gives visitors the skills to interpret and evaluate works in the genre. After touring the exhibition, visitors can apply their art evaluation skills and vote on which art best illustrates the four categories explored in the guide: originality and uniqueness, technique and application, composition and subject matter, and aesthetic awareness. Different paintings will be featured throughout the exhibition’s run, allowing visitors to evaluate new paintings each month.
Cowboy Artists of America: Riding Together
Author and Western art scholar Byron Price’s book inspired the exhibition’s title, “The Sons of Charlie Russell.” The book commemorates 50 years of the Cowboy Artists of America, a membership organization of individual artists committed to authentically preserving and perpetuating the culture of Western life through art. Members of the CAA work to ensure authentic representations of the life of the West past and present. Many of these accomplished, award-winning artists are cowboys themselves, living the cowboy life as they work their own land and cattle.
The Sons of Charlie Russell Opening Celebration
To mark the exhibition’s opening, the Briscoe is hosting a series of events May 26-28, followed by monthly gallery talks and art demonstrations featuring current CAA members, including the museum’s annual National Day of the Cowboy celebration on July 23.
Opening weekend events include:
- The Sons of Charlie Russell: Cowboy Artists of America Exhibition Preview Party
Thursday, May 26, 6p.m. to 8p.m.
Help the Briscoe kick off the summer showcasing the foundation and future of Western art alongside members of the Cowboy Artists of America and Michael Duchemin, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Briscoe. The event includes complimentary beer, wine, specialty cocktails and light bites. Free for Briscoe members and $45 for non-members. In addition to enjoying the exhibition, guests may tour the museum from 5:30p.m. to 7p.m. Tickets are available online.
- “The Sons of Charlie Russell: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Cowboy Artists of America” Book Signing with Byron Price
Thursday, May 26, 5:15p.m. to 5:45p.m.
Friday, May 27, 10a.m. to 10:45a.m.
Byron Price will be signing copies of his book “The Sons of Charlie Russell,” the inspiration behind the Briscoe’s exhibition. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Cowboy Artists of America, Price details the organization’s founding to perpetuate the history, romance, and significance of the American West. The stories of these cowboy artists come alive with essays, photographs and beautiful images of their work. Available for purchase in the Museum Store and online.
- An Enduring Desire: Tradition and the Cowboy Artists of America
Lunch and Curator’s Tour
Friday, May 27, 11a.m. to 2p.m.
Join Emily Wilson, the Briscoe’s Curator of Art and the curator of The Sons of Charlie Russell for an in-depth look at the exhibition, detailing how traditional Western art represents an enduring desire for continuity, stability, and a fixed identity of what it means to be an American. Wilson will focus on the ties between CAA artists and historical artists of the American West, examining the artistic choices made by members navigating between cohesion and individuality and tradition and innovation in pursuing the work of creating traditional Western art. The lunch begins at 11a.m., followed by the tour at 1p.m. Tickets are $50 for Briscoe members, $60 for non-members and are available online.
- Boots, Chaps, and Cowboy Crafts: Family Art Activities
Saturday, May 28, 10a.m. to 1p.m.
Explore America’s cowboy culture and heritage with hands-on activities available for visitors to celebrate the opening of The Sons of Charlie Russell. Crafts include Make Your Own Spurs, Make Your Own Paper Bag Cowhand and Hands-on-chaps, cowboy hat, and lasso. Included in general museum admission.
- Cowboy Creations: Demonstration and Talk with C. Michael Dudash
Saturday, May 28, 10a.m. to 4:30p.m.
A member of Cowboy Artists of America since 2016, C. Michael Dudash trained in the fine arts before working in classic illustration and gaining a prestigious and national reputation. In 2002, he left his illustration work behind and became a full-time painter in the fine art world. Hundreds of collectors and corporations have his paintings in their permanent collections, as well as The Booth Museum, the James Western Art Museum and the Briscoe. Included in museum general admission.
10a.m. to 1p.m. Live Painting Demonstration: Narrative Western Painting
Dudash will demonstrate and discuss the various approaches and painting techniques he uses to create his narrative western paintings. He will teach how to create a successful painting through dynamic design by prioritizing the position of the subjects and elements, effectively posing figures and animals, how to use color and value, making proper landscape choices, and adding “atmosphere and dust” to give a work of art an emotional lift.
2:30p.m. to 4:30p.m. Talk by C. Michael Dudash, “Illustrations’ Influence on Western Art”
Dudash will share illustration examples from the late 1800s to the year 2000 that have influenced Western Art’s biggest names and trends throughout the last 150 years. Understanding this subject will enhance one’s appreciation and enjoyment of the contemporary Western art being created today.
The Sons of Charlie Russell: Cowboy Artists of America is supported in part by Jan McCaleb Elliott, the Eddie Basha Collection, Mr. and Mrs. Marrs McLean Bowman, The Elizabeth Huth Coates Charitable Foundation of 1992, the Klesse Foundation, Jessica Elliott Middleton, Debbie and John T. Montford, Western Art Collector.
Preserving and presenting the art, history and culture of the American West through engaging exhibitions, educational programs and public events reflective of the region’s rich traditions and shared heritage, the Briscoe Western Art Museum is located on the San Antonio River Walk at 210 W. Market Street in the beautifully restored 1930s former San Antonio Public Library building. Named in honor of the late Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe Jr. and his wife, Janey Slaughter Briscoe, the museum includes the three-story Jack Guenther Pavilion, used for event rentals and programs, and the outdoor McNutt Sculpture Garden.