Best of the West

7 minutes

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition & Sale at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, which showcases works by the world’s preeminent Western artists and draws collectors from all over the country—and the world. It’s a big deal.

I can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on art, but I can afford to spend two hours of my time looking at it. And, trust me, Prix de West is a treat for the eyes. As marketing director Seth Spillman concisely observed when he introduced me to this year’s exhibit, “it challenges preconceived notions of Western art.”

It’s been years since I first visited the museum on a trip to see Prix de West, and the whole experience—the entire museum and the exhibit—did indeed change the way I think about Western art. I didn’t realize how much variety that term encompasses. Classic themes like cowboys riding horses or rustling cattle across sweeping landscapes is very much a part of Western art, but it goes far beyond those more familiar subjects. For the uninitiated, Prix de West is possibly the best tutorial in what the Western art world has to offer.

Below are a few of my highlights from this year’s show, which will be on display through August 7. Including the pieces up for auction, there are about three hundred works in the 2022 show. The art sale weekend will take place June 17 and 18. For more information, visit the Prix de West page at the museum's website.

Paul Moore
Storm Over Walpi
This oil painting of a thunderstorm hovering over the historic Arizona Hopi village of Walpi speaks to the depths of my moody heart. Add a looming water serpent to the mix and Paul Moore is the winner of the show (in my unofficial judging). Avanyu the Water Serpent, a lightning-spitting rain deity in Pueblo culture, is sculpted out of polymer, and also subtly painted along the black frame of this piece.

Paul Moore, "Storm Over Walpi" Photo courtesy of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Paul Moore, "Storm Over Walpi" Photo courtesy of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Moore, a Norman resident, has several pieces in the show, and Two Horned Priest Society is my other favorite. The bust of a Hopi priest of the powerful Two Horn Society is perched atop a box filled with floating glow-in-the-dark skulls, which is pretty cool.

Paul Moore, "Two Horned Priest Society" Photo by Megan Rossman

Paul Moore, "Two Horned Priest Society" Photo by Megan Rossman

Thomas Blackshear II
Two Americans of the Old West
Blackshear’s oil on canvas paintings are beautiful to behold in person, evoking a Kehinde Wiley vibe with their bold colors and the regal poses of his subjects.

Thomas Blackshear II, "Two Americans of the Old West" Photo courtesy of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Thomas Blackshear II, "Two Americans of the Old West" Photo courtesy of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Martin Grelle
Tonight We Cut Horses
A Texan who’s exhibited in the show for twenty-eight years, Martin Grelle has the distinction of creating this year’s most expensive piece. At $175,000, his huge oil and acrylic is incredibly rich and detailed, showing Native American scouts poised amid illuminated mountains of the West.

Martin Grelle, "Tonight We Cut Horses" Photo by Megan Rossman

Martin Grelle, "Tonight We Cut Horses" Photo by Megan Rossman

Scott Burdick
Pau Wau Dreamscape
This frenetic dancescape is one of the most colorful, energetic works in the show. The deeply textured painting style is easier to see in person.

Scott Burdick, "Pau Wau Dreamscape" Photo by Megan Rossman

Scott Burdick, "Pau Wau Dreamscape" Photo by Megan Rossman

Brent Cotton
Piercing the Twilight
I’m a longtime fan of Brent Cotton’s dark landscapes. Move over, Thomas Kinkade, because Cotton truly is the “painter of light.” Piercing the Dawn, one of his four paintings in the show, shows a man firing a gun in the twilight of a snowy morning. The way he’s able to replicate light with oil paint is alchemy.

Brent Cotton, "Piercing the Twilight" Photo by Megan Rossman

Brent Cotton, "Piercing the Twilight" Photo by Megan Rossman

Gerald Balciar
Snow-Bunny
I love this sculpture because it’s a fat little animal, and I love fat animals. This particular sculpture is one of Prix de West’s auction pieces that will be sold on Saturday night. Balciar has five other animal sculptures in the show, and visitors to the museum may recognize his 16,000-pound, white marble sculpture of a cougar, Canyon Princess, on permanent display in the main hallway at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Gerald Balciar, "Snow-Bunny" Photo by Megan Rossman

Gerald Balciar, "Snow-Bunny" Photo by Megan Rossman

Ed Mell
Cloud Motion, Vermillion Valley Wall, Canyon Flow
Mell’s three oil landscapes stand out for their distinct modernist look and vibrant colors. Geological formations and clouds figure prominently in most of his paintings.

Ed Mell, (from left to right) "Cloud Motion," "Vermillion Valley Wall," and "Canyon Flow" Photo by Megan Rossman

Ed Mell, (from left to right) "Cloud Motion," "Vermillion Valley Wall," and "Canyon Flow" Photo by Megan Rossman

Get There:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum 1700 NE 63rd St Oklahoma City, OK 73111 or TravelOK.com
Written By
Megan Rossman

Megan Rossman is Oklahoma Today's photography editor.

Megan Rossman
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