The buffalo-head bolo that many of the 1,000 art lovers attending this year's Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition and Sale will wear around their necks was originally created to be a huge architectural piece.
“Bison Medallion,” a miniature bronze portrait of a buffalo designed by Missouri sculptor Tim Cherry, will function as the “ticket” for those attending all the opening-weekend activities for the 39th annual art show, which begins Friday at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Cherry designed “Bison Columns,” two larger-than-life versions of his iconic buffalo head, to flank the main terminal entrance to the recently renovated Jackson Hole, Wyo., Airport. Each sculpture weighs more than 1,200 pounds. The artist has described the design as “an exercise in circles.”
“When they asked me to design this year's Prix de West medallion, I was thrilled and thought immediately of that Bison design in Jackson Hole. The original clay study for it started out quite small, so it's kind of been a design-in-waiting for the medallion,” Cherry said during a recent telephone interview from his home in Branson, Mo.
“Buffalo have been done to death, sculpturally, but not too many buffalo as portrait pieces,” the artist added. “I think people will be surprised at all the detail in the medallion that's not visible in photos.”
Last year some 1,200 art lovers attended Prix de West opening-weekend events and more than $3.3 million in art changed hands.
This year's art show and sale will feature 351 items of art from some of the nation's leading contemporary Western painters and sculptors. Total value of the art on display is $5,723,235, with prices ranging from an $85,000 oil painting down to an $850 sculpture.
Cherry will have four sculptures in the show. “Flat Fish,” done in mirror-polish stainless steel and priced at $8,200, was inspired by the annual Florida fishing trip the artist takes with friends each year. “I've always wanted to do a fish in stainless steel, to kind of replicate that flash you sometimes see in the water when you're fishing,” the artist said.
“Wise Guy,” a larger, pedestaled version of Cherry's bronze sculpture that was so popular with show-goers last year, is priced at $13,900 and stands nearly 6 feet tall. The artwork's pedestal was designed and handmade by a Colorado furniture-builder and design friend of Cherry's. “It's pretty spectacular,” the sculptor said. “It has a lot of presence.”
Cherry's said his third bronze, “Free Spirit,” depicts a wolf's head triumphantly bursting through a battered base and is intended to symbolize how untamed nature can overwhelm or vanquish nearly any man-made obstacle.
The piece, priced at $5,800, was inspired by the ferocious spring of 2011, which brought floods to the Branson-area where Cherry lives and a horrific tornado that flattened his wife's hometown of Joplin, Mo. “I had our house stuff packed up, prepared to evacuate, twice, because of floodwater,” the artist said. “When my wife visited Joplin, she couldn't find the neighborhood she grew up in. All her childhood landmarks were gone — homes, churches, schools, trees, everything.”
Cherry describes “Otter Knot,” a bronze depiction of a playful otter, priced at $5,200, as his “fun piece” in this year's show. “It's like a pretty teardrop design when you follow the line from the nose to the tail,” he said. “I had a lot of fun with this one.”
The Prix de West show opens at 9 a.m. Friday with a group of art seminars during the day and an exhibition preview and cocktail reception at 6 p.m.
Saturday's events will include morning seminars, art demonstrations and art-book signings in the afternoon and announcement of the winner of the prestigious Prix de West Purchase Award during lunch. The winning painting or sculpture will become part of the museum's permanent art collection.
The evening's action begins with the minimum-bid sale and exhibition sale preview at 5, followed by the drawing for fixed-price artwork at 6:30 and the black-tie awards banquet and live art auction at 7:30.
The Prix de West Perk at 9 a.m. Sunday will feature hot coffee and a quiet chance to view all the artwork in this year's show and perhaps find an unsold work overlooked in the opening-day hoopla.
Reservations are required to attend all Prix de West opening-weekend activities. A premium package is available for $450, and includes all the show's events, the collector's bolo and an exhibition catalog. A seminars-only package, show catalog or tickets for specific events also can be purchased.
All of the show's artwork will stay on display through Aug. 5, and any unsold works will be available for purchase until then.
For more information about show tickets or to view the show's artwork online, go to nationalcowboymuseum.org.