Where the West is Wild01/02/2024 06:00AM ● By Deb Olsen
Featured in Steamboat Magazine Ski Edition 2023-2024.
Steamboat Springs, CO - Mountain lions, moose, bear, elk, deer, bison, coyotes, foxes – even the rare wolf. Routt County residents live side-by-side with wildlife. And that life can, in fact, be wild.
“Wild West: Wildlife Masters Past and Present,” Steamboat Art Museum’s winter exhibit, reflects the natural beauty, power and vulnerability of the animals whose presence is synonymous with the American West.
A renaissance is occurring today in the world of wildlife art, with artists taking the genre in new directions, at the same time as interest in the classic form is being renewed. “It’s wonderful,” says Tim Newton, publisher of Western Art and Architecture magazine and guest curator for the SAM exhibit.
The symbiotic relationship between Steamboat and wildlife has not gone unnoticed by Tim. “We’re right where we should be,” he says.
The story starts with legendary artists like Carl Rungius, Lanford Monroe, Bob Kuhn, Anna Hyatt Huntington and Herbert Dunton, all of whom are represented in the exhibit. Rungius was an avid sportsman who spent time in the wilderness and painted animals in their natural environment, a novel concept for artists in the early 20th century.
At roughly the same time, “Buck” Dunton was painting the landscapes and animals of the Southwest. A founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, Buck’s work is represented in the SAM exhibit through an etching from the guest curator’s personal collection. The famous black-and-white etching of a mother bear and her two cubs depicts a scene familiar to Steamboat.
Following in the footsteps of Buck and Carl, Bob Kuhn has been referred to as the “greatest wildlife painter of our time.” Until his death in 2007, Bob was a mentor to a host of artists; without him, the art form would not be what it is today, as declared by the National Museum of Wildlife Art in its recognition of him.
Two women join the grouping of legends in the SAM exhibit: Lanford Monroe and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Anna was a contemporary of Carl and Buck; her monumental sculptures of animal life earned her national renown. Lanford’s work is more recent and reflects her times, with an impressionistic approach to painting.
From this timeless foundation, the “Wild West” moves forward, including the work of internationally renowned wildlife artists, from Thomas Quinn to Tucker Smith. Greg Beecham, Jim Morgan, Dan Smith, Amy Ringholz and Jill Soukup are among the painters with works in the exhibit. They are joined by prominent sculptors like Walter Matia, Tony Hochstettler and T.D. Kelsey.
“The quality is going to be as good as it could ever be,” Tim says. “In my life, the key word is quality. That’s been my focus: to try and choose the artists. Of course, we can’t have every one of the greats, but we will have a representative slice of the best of the best.”
Two local artists met Tim’s exacting standards: bronze sculptors Curtis Zabel and Sandy Graves. Curtis, whose picturesque ranch is on the outskirts of Steamboat Springs, is known internationally for his authentic depiction of wildlife and horses. “I want my sculpture to look alive, to be convincing in its movement. I like to put in bits of humor, which I find even in the sad parts of life,” he says.
Sandy, whose wildlife sculpture tends to be much more abstract, is gaining a national reputation for her individual style, which emphasizes negative space.
Like the two local artists, the overall exhibit depicts wildlife art ranging from realism to romanticism, from impressionistic to abstract. It is as wild as it is Western.
“Wild West: Wildlife Masters Past and Present” opened Friday, Dec. 1 2023, and is on display through Saturday, April 13 2024. For more information, visit www.steamboatartmuseum.org.