Art Works Blog

Blue Star Museum Spotlight: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum boasts more than 28,000 Western and American Indian artworks and artifacts in its collection. The museum, which was founded in 1955, hosts several galleries dedicated to everything from Native American culture to the American rodeo and, of course, the American cowboy. This summer special exhibits include two dedicated to the intersection of comics and cowboy culture. Kids--and kids-at-heart--will find plenty to do and see, including the Cowboy Corral and Prosperity Junction, a recreation of a frontier town. We spoke with communications coordinator Tara Carr to learn more about this fascinating Blue Star Museum. 

NEA: Why is Blue Star Museums an important program for the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum?

TARA CARR: The museum and armed forces share many of the same principles such as hard work and a sense of duty to others. It is a small way for the museum to show respect and appreciation for our nation’s active duty personnel.

NEA: What do you want people to know about the National Cowboy Museum? What's unique about it?

CARR: We’d like people to know that the museum is America’s premier institution of Western history, art, and culture. The museum isn’t the same place it was 10 years ago, and won’t be the same place a year from now. It’s a place for young children, mature adults, and everyone in between to learn about the enduring legacy of the American West.

NEA: What's your favorite object in the collection (or display), and why?

CARR: The End of the Trail is undoubtedly my favorite in the museum’s collection. Sculpted by American-born artist James Earle Fraser, The End of the Trail has become one of the most recognizable images in the United States. This sculpture captivates visitors from the moment they walk in and tells a story of history, success, defeat, strength, and the vast region that makes the American West such a unique place. There’s nothing else like it.

NEA: What is a must-see when visiting the National Cowboy Museum and/or what's one of the unsung treasures?

CARR: A must-see when visiting the museum is the permanent Prix de West gallery. Each year, the museum hosts the Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition & Sale, which boasts more than 300 paintings and sculptures by the finest contemporary Western artists in the nation. As a longstanding tradition, the museum purchases one piece of art each year, known as the Prix de West Purchase Award Winner, to hang in its permanent Prix de West gallery. The gallery is an incredible showcase of the greatest pieces since the show began 45 years ago.

Prosperity Junction is an unsung treasure for the museum. It is a replica of a turn-of-the-century cattle town built in an area of the museum where a 40-foot high ceiling allows two-story structures. One can find a railroad depot, blacksmith shop, livery stable, saloon, and so much more. The shops are even filled with real artifacts. To me, it’s where fun and education collide, encouraging the imagination to run free. Most children remember Prosperity Junction from their very first trip to the Museum; it brings out the kid in us all!

NEA: In July you opened not just one, but two exhibits having to do with cartoons and comics. Can you talk about what inspired those exhibits, what you think they illuminate about cowboy/western history, and what you hope viewers will get from them?

CARR: Our temporary exhibitions strive to be building blocks that pave the way and tell the complete story of the American West. Cartoons & Comics: The Early Art of Tom Ryan and Vintage Black Heroes: The Chisholm Kid Exhibition are two fantastic examples of encouraging visitors to explore the West in more unconventiona” ways. The West means something different to everyone, and we hope that these exhibitions help visitors find their own version of what the West is.

NEA: In August you’re hosting a stickball event for kids, which is not something we normally think of finding at a museum. What inspired it, and what other hands-on types of things can kids expect to do at the museum?

CARR: The museum strives to create a learning environment where not only children but visitors of all ages can explore, participate, and engage. Stickball is considered one of the oldest team sports on the continent and was played widely among Native American tribes. This year staff from the Cherokee Cultural Center will join us in demonstrating and teaching museum visitors the basics of the game. On the first Saturday of each month visitors can participate in hands-on activities, crafts, and demonstrations designed for family visitors. Each month we explore a different theme. In addition, there are a number of special programs designed for children and families throughout the year including the annual Chuck Wagon Festival, National Day of the Cowboy, and more.

NEA: How can families prepare to visit your museum? What are one or two tips for getting the most out of a visit to the National Cowboy Museum?

CARR: There are several ways a family could prepare to visit the museum! First of all, I suggest that potential visitors check our site and social media platforms often, as we commonly host days where admission is free–a huge savings for a large family. Speaking of, admission is free every Wednesday from August 2 – November 15, 2017. A perfect time to check out all the museum has to offer for no cost!

I’d also recommend visitors giving themselves plenty of time to view the collections. While time is typically of the essence for most, we recommend at least two hours (minimum) to get a quick walk through of the entire museum. Many people can stay the entire day and still come back for a second trip to see everything they missed! The sprawling grounds and gardens will keep you engaged and excited the whole day through.

NEA: What's your favorite Blue Star Museum (next to your own museum, of course) and why?

CARR: I would say the Art Institute of Chicago. They have a unique blend of art and historical artifacts.

Want to make sure you include a Blue Star Museum or two or three on your itinerary this summer? Check out our map of Blue Star Museums across the U.S. 

Add new comment