By Meg Glaser
Those familiar with the Western Folklife Center know that our small staff wear many hats, donning whatever is needed on any given day. As Artistic Director, one of my “hats” is exhibitions curator, envisioning our beautiful Wiegand Gallery as a multi-sensory entry into the American West and our organizational mission.
Some of my favorite exhibitions are those that bring together diverse types of arts—folk art intermingled with contemporary paintings, photography, historical imagery, and increasingly, audio-visual installations. As an organization we embrace the blurriness of cultural lines and the opportunity to draw on a deep pool of creativity in order to represent our culturally complex region out in the world. One of the first exhibitions we produced along these lines remains one of my favorites: Trappings of the Great Basin paired William Matthews’ exquisite watercolor documentation of the Great Basin and its people with the elaborate handcrafted horse gear favored in this region.
As he visited and re-visited remote Western ranches and cowboy gatherings to seek visual inspiration, Matthews witnessed the renaissance of gear-making paralleling that of poetry and music. In 1992, with William Matthews’ encouragement, leadership and support, the Western Folklife Center established its Contemporary Gear Fund and Collection to reflect the craftsmanship of some of the West’s most respected artisans.
We extend our gratitude to Willie and the many individuals who have contributed funding and gear to this growing and highly regarded collection.
Visitors can study this unique collection, along with two William Matthews’ paintings, as part of a larger exhibition—Horses of the American West—featured in the Wiegand Gallery through May 2017. The curators for the Nevada Museum of Art’s Horses of the American West drew inspiration from the classic poem “Equus Caballus,” written by our friend and Texas poet Joel Nelson. Filmmaker Paul Moon made an eloquent poem-film of “Equus Caballus” that shares the gallery with a selection of historical and contemporary paintings, photographs and sculptural works drawn from the permanent collection of the Nevada Museum of Art, along with a few special items from private collections. All those interested in the horse and horse gear will not want to miss this exhibition. Time your visit to coincide with the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to enjoy gallery tours by art and gear historians Kathleen and Griff Durham, as well as other related talks and demonstrations.
In September, we had the pleasure of working side-by-side with Nevada Museum of Art staff members Brian Eyler and Chris Martin as they installed Horses of the American West at the same time our crew were bringing saddles, headstalls and ropes from our collection into the Wiegand Gallery for the current exhibition. The week of being immersed in artwork; working with our generous, skilled and knowledgeable volunteers Beth Carpel, Griff Durham, John Dits and Karen Martin; and working with Nevada Museum of Art staff on site and back in Reno, once again reminded me of how fortunate I am to be wearing this hat.