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, like Maynard Dixon's American West, feature works from contemporary artists to help blend the present with the past.
“The museum offers visitors the unique opportunity to participate in a full and rich story about the American experience through a diversity of narratives,” said. Dr. Tricia Loscher, Assistant Museum Director.
The Maynard Dixon American West exhibit features the most comprehensive retrospective ever showcasing Maynard Dixon’s life and artistic career, along with select contemporary artists inspired by Dixon’s iconic works. Dixon (1875-1946) was one of the premier artists of the American West, and a true pioneer with an independent view and unique modern aesthetic of the American West. He thrived in the raw beauty and remoteness of the Western landscape and its diverse cultures, and his iconic interpretations of this land and time form the backbone of the exhibition. Also featured is important artwork by well-known artists, Dorothea Lange and Edith Hamlin, who were both Dixon’s wives and companions, adding further storytelling perspectives about Dixon’s life.
Catch the exhibit through Aug. 2, 2020.