Much of the learning experience about the American West and the early days of Arizona can be done through the lens of history and traditional art, which depicts the lives of Native Americans and pioneers. But contemporary artists are putting a fresh spin on established interpretations of the American West.
MONUMENT TO THE OLD WEST
In the roundabout at Main Street and Marshall Way in Old Town you’ll find Jack Knife, an eight-foot-high bronze sculpture by legendary artist Ed Mell. This monumental piece depicts a rider on a bucking horse and is an iconic example of contemporary art telling the story of the traditional Western way of life.
"Jack Knife has a reverence for the Old West,” said Mell, an Arizona native who completed the work in 1993. “It is not traditional, but yet it has a traditional theme. The angularity accelerates the power and energy of the rider and horse more than an accurate depiction would.".
The piece, originally sized as a small table-top sculpture, is oft-rumored to be a representation of the City of Scottsdale’s official seal, although that was not what Mell had in mind at its inception.
“I wasn’t thinking, ‘this is a contemporary approach’ as much as I was thinking, ‘this is my approach,” Mell said, adding that his affinity for angular and geometric shapes is rooted in his admiration of modern artists of the 1920s and 30s in Taos, New Mexico.
WHERE OLD AND NEW COLLIDE
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West is one place where history and contemporary art meet to tell a story. A Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum houses permanent collections that help tell the story of the American West. Rotating exhibits feature works from contemporary artists to help blend the present with the past. Artists like Andy Warhol and Maynard Dixon have historically been on display during the museum's regularly rotated exhibitions.
Western Art and More
If you'd like to explore art – Western and otherwise – in more depth, head for the Old Town Arts District where dozens of galleries showcase creativity in all styles and mediums. The Arts District also is home to the free Thursday-night ArtWalk, during which galleries stay open late from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and welcome guests with artist demonstrations, exhibition openings and live entertainment. Throughout the year, special Gold Palette ArtWalks feature specific themes and extended hours. The Gold Palette ArtWalk series includes Western Week and Native Spirit in February, Summer Spectacular in July, Canal Convergence in November and Scottsdazzle in December.