07 Nov Auction Block: Unbridled Interest
Collectors at autumn auctions and exhibits showed a strong appreciation for the iconography of the American West. Prices for paintings, sculptures, furniture, jewelry, and art tied to equine pursuits were generally solid, with the occasional outbreak of bidding fever driving the amounts of certain artworks far beyond expectations.
The celebratory atmosphere that has attended many Western art auctions showed no signs of lessening. Several organizers and sponsors pointed to a renewed sense of community and art appreciation as the underpinnings of a steady market.
Traditional Cowboy Arts Exhibit & Sale
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
September 30 – January 2, 2023
Nearly half a million dollars were tallied for 39 original works by the saddlemakers, bit- and spur-makers, silversmiths, and rawhide braiders that make up the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association (TCAA). The live sale concluded on October 1 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, but works remain on view through January 2.
A decanter by Scott Hardy led the sale at $38,500. The work was a departure for Hardy, who described the 400-hour venture as an attempt to encapsulate his vision of the region. “I wanted to create a statement piece that celebrates the West, featuring strength, beauty, and, most of all, elegance,” he says.
Wilson Capron’s Santa Barbara Spade went for $31,000 to capture the second-highest slot. Against a backdrop of scrollwork and silver inlay, a story unfolds in the figure of a roadrunner in various poses and expressions. Capron said the creature represents his own journey as a bit- and spur-maker with the TCAA.
A work by saddlemaker Cary Schwarz sold for $30,850 to become the third highest-selling item. The Idaho artisan, who marked his 40th year as a saddlemaker in 2022, shows his playful side in the three-quarter saddle, carved with cowboys on bucking horses. The commotion stems from a serpent carved on the saddle’s back skirts. The piece’s multi-colored pebbled background was inspired by the stones of Lake McDonald at Glacier National Park in Montana, according to Schwarz.
Beau Compton’s concho belt was purchased for $28,000 to take the fourth-top slot. “Each concho consists of a heavy sterling-silver base and overlaid scrollwork. The ornate yellow and rose gold flowers were formed and sculpted to add contrast, elegance, and sophistication,” Compton says of the women’s belt.
A collector purchased a bridle set by Jay Adcock for $21,500 to finish out the top five bestsellers. The reins were made with a complex, transitioning braiding technique, and the bridle was decorated with 178 rawhide buttons.
Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
September 19 – 24, 2022
Total: $1.3 million+
Buyers who attended the Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale in Cody, Wyoming, did not disguise their interest during the event’s live auction. The event saw 109 pieces cross the block, bringing a total of more than $1 million for the first time in nearly 10 years. Between the live auction and quick draw, the annual event benefiting the Cody Chamber of Commerce and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West tallied more than $1.3 million.
Mark McKenna’s Embrace led the live auction. The large, square painting shows the affection between two horses, each in profile and with a similar beatific expression. The 40-by-40-inch oil sold for $40,000.
The next top-selling items included A Cowboy’s Gold by Steve Devenyns, which brought $22,500. The charming winter tableau shows a horse and rider, with an innocent-eyed calf slung across the saddle. Another painting depicting cowboys hard at work, Laurie Lee’s Long Day in the Saddle also brought $22,500.
Dustin Van Wechel’s Making Dinner Plans achieved $22,000. And Great Horned Owl by Paul Rhymer, a bronze-on-wood sculpture, saw a winning bid of $20,000.
The Spirit of the Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale Award, aimed at works that embody the “spirit” of the American West, went to Thomas Kegler for By the Light, Psalms 75:15-17. The nocturne depicts Castle Rock near Cody under the moon’s glow and reflected in the water below.
The Two-Dimensional Award was given to Tucker Smith for Wyoming Buffalo. Smith’s picture of a pair of bison is notable for its execution of landscape and animals. The bull stands alongside a cow, with its head turned toward the viewer as though challenging their presence in an otherwise intimate scene as king of the sage.
Judges chose Wisdom in the Wind by Campbell Dosch as the three-dimensional artwork of exceptional execution and craftsmanship. The bust of a Native American chief with a war bonnet evokes both the dignity and the weariness of a leader whose successes and defeats are carved in the lines of his face. It is the sort of sculpture that demands a second look and merits many more.
Jackson Hole Art Auction
Center for the Arts
September 16 – 17, 2022
Total: $6.2 million
A painting by William Gollings led the Jackson Hole Art Auction in mid-September, as the destination town in Wyoming marked its celebrated Fall Arts Festival. Summer Camp brought $570,000, above estimates of $200,000 to $300,000. The oil evokes peace within a Native American community. The people, animals, trees, and teepees that compose Gollings’ skillful vision are bathed in summer’s golden light. Like Frederic Remington, the Western art giant whom Gollings admired, the Idaho-born artist was an expert at depicting horses — horses working, resting, and in this camp-scene painting, with the unbridled and unconcerned freedom they had to roam at will.
Summer Camp was one of two pictures by Gollings in the auction’s top five bestsellers. The other work captured the auction’s fourth slot. In Untitled (Cowboy on Horseback), Gollings seems as though he has distilled naturalism, yet an observer directly engages with the subject, a cowboy. The painting spiraled above expectations of $30,000 to $50,000 to achieve $216,000.
Howard Terpning paintings also filled two of the auction’s top five slots, with Awaiting the Signal going for $480,000 against estimates of $500,000 to $700,000. The painting was the second highest selling artwork, while The Cavalry Scarf rose to $204,000, considerably higher than the anticipated $80,000 to $120,000, to gain fifth place.
Register Rock, Idaho by Remington rounded out the top lots by slipping into the third slot at $276,000, amid estimates that ranged from $200,000 to $300,000.
Western Visions Art Show + Sale
The National Museum of Wildlife Art
September 10 – October 2
If a painter had a canvas that stretched from this world to the next, that artist might well produce the outsized oil that became the best-selling item during the National Museum of Wildlife Art’s 2022 show and sale. The auction that brings artists, collectors, art admirers, and international tourists — among others — to the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, saw Tom Gilleon’s Fort Mountain bring $240,000, entering the high end of estimates that ranged from $200,000 to $250,000.
The mountainscape elegantly achieves those elements that transform a well-executed work into a masterful one. Gilleon is skilled in his understanding of values, and the placement of a golden strip in grasslands at the base of flat-topped formations both fixes the eye and underscores the painting’s horizontal composition. Antelope in the foreground and buffalo in the distance juxtapose a bleached skull on higher ground and a bald eagle arcing overhead. The symbolism is inescapable but not overplayed, which is a courteous gesture on Gilleon’s part.
Bonnie Marris is fast becoming one of the best-known portrait painters of wildlife. Just when you have been filled with admiration for her expressive lions and bears and believe she has achieved her pinnacle, Marris presents a painting such as the one that won the People’s Choice Award. Other than medieval Italian altarpieces and frescoes, it’s possible that few artists have expressed the power of love among creatures that Marris has with Devotion, a painting of two gray wolves.
Robert Duncan’s Just in Passing also excited bidders during the live auction. The painting depicts a wintry scene in which a bull moose and red fox encounter each other across icy water. The square oil on linen went for $36,000 to take the event’s fifth spot among top-selling items and arc above pre-sale estimates of $16,000 to $24,000.
In addition to Marris, awards went to artists Larry Barth, whose single-edition sculpture Luna Moth gained the Museum’s Purchase Award; and Walter Matia, who won the Red Smith Award with his bronze Winter World.
Quest for the West Art Show & Sale
The Eiteljorg Museum
September 9 – 10, 2022
Total: $1 million+
Fifty of the nation’s top Western artists brought some of their finest new works to the 17th annual Quest for the West Art Show & Sale hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana.
The luck-of-the-draw sale and awards dinner was in the museum’s newly minted Allen Whitehill Clowes Sculpture Court, and it was presided over for the last time by Eiteljorg Museum President and CEO John Vanausdall, who is to retire next year.
The art show was accompanied by a miniature art sale, and combined with transactions during the event’s extended exhibit, Quest for the West brought more than $1 million, suggesting both an enthusiastic crowd and the popularity of Western art.
The Harrison Eiteljorg Purchase Award went to Colorado artist Nathan Solano for his painting Portrait of a Cowboy.
Silence of Winter, a painting by Dave Santillanes, also of Colorado, swept two award categories, the Henry Farny Award for Best Painting and Artists’ Choice Award. The work impresses upon the observer the difference between the fertile world of spring and the crystalline universe of winter.
Additional honors went to: Dean Mitchell, Victor Higgins Award of Distinction, for best body of work, including Vast Land of Dreams; Tim Cherry, Cyrus Dallin Award for Best Sculpture, for Migration; and Gladys Roldan-de-Moras, Patrons’ Choice Award, for Anticipation.
This year’s Quest for the West was dedicated to the late Stephen Zimmerman, one of the founders of The Western Art Society, who helped launch the annual show and sale in 2006; he died last year.
Western Design Conference Exhibit & Sale
Snow King Sports & Events Center
September 8 – 11, 2022
The style’s the limit for the Western Design Conference, the exhibit and sale of such functional art as furniture, jewelry, and apparel that takes place during Jackson Hole’s Fall Arts Festival.
Custom-designed pieces by mostly regional artists frequently demonstrate a trend or start one. While both contemporary and traditional works were showcased, what emerged from the conference’s offerings is that one quality rules them all: authenticity.
The event in 2022 marked 30 years and celebrated one of its original artists, Roy Fisk of Lone Wolf Furnishings. Fisk exhibited a one-of-a-kind sideboard hutch, exemplifying an artist whose life has been devoted to creative endeavors. The creation, rustic in style but not lacking for intricately carved designs, was five years in the making. The 92-year-old Fisk won the event’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which comes with $1,000.
Bo Joe Jewelry was awarded Best in Show for a beautifully crafted silver-and-stone necklace, which brought to mind the geometrical designs and incisive lines of Modern art. The hand-worked piece by the Sheridan, Wyoming, jewelry studio swiftly sold for $5,000. Artist Oreland “Bo” Joe Jr. is of Navajo and Ute descent, and his methods and designs combine cultural preservation with present-day artistry, according to his website.
Henneford Fine Furniture was among the studios that reported record sales during the Western Design Conference’s 2022 gathering. The Montana furniture maker designed a leather and wood “cowboy” rocker, exemplifying the artist Steve Henneford’s statement, “I build hardwood furniture with the best materials I can find.”
Old Hickory Furniture, a company that has been hand-crafting pieces in central Indiana since 1899, donated a pair of Highlands rockers, introduced in 1908 and seen at Yellowstone National Park, for the conference’s silent auction, meaning the proceeds went entirely to the event.
Laura Zuckerman is a senior contributing editor for Western Art & Architecture. Her work has been featured in such outlets as The New York Times Magazine and Cowboys & Indians.