Artist Kenny McKenna chose a massive view of the Grand Canyon as his subject, while painter Kelli Folsom explored the effects of color and light on a “little, old brown whiskey jug.”
Both Oklahoma City artists are returning for a third year to exhibit their paintings at the “Small Works, Great Wonders Winter Art Sale” at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
The eighth annual event will be held Friday and will showcase some 225 paintings and sculptures from 124 Western artists, including many who participate in the museum's Prix de West Invitational art show each June. This year's Small Works roster also includes 20 new artists.
There are artworks showing the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Madres, the Grand Canyon and various other Western vistas.
Painted and sculpted images show Indians dancing, riding horses, selling trinkets to tourists or bundled against the cold; and cowboys on horseback, herding cows, escaping attack, crossing rivers or looking for water.
Wildlife of all kinds enliven paintings and sculpture — from amorous polar bears and a willow-munching moose to an “un-pickled” herring and several rabbits.
Many of the artworks on sale portray winter in the American West, but not all, and the variety of styles is wide — ranging from three-dimensional sculptures, mixed media and Indian ledger-like images to impressionism, representational realism, abstract and minimalism.
Museum officials have said the goal of the Small Works event is to showcase smaller-sized and lower-priced works of art, and the show's preholiday timing is designed to expand the audience for Western art. Buyers can leave with their art purchases at the conclusion of the event.
Reducing it down
The stoic dignity of an old red barn is the subject of the smaller of McKenna's two oil paintings in the Small Works show. “Baby, It's Cold Outside,” a 15-by-20-inch oil priced at $3,500, shows cattle huddled near an old barn on a cold winter day.
McKenna said he first saw the barn depicted in his painting while traveling on a back road between Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Sugar City, Idaho.
“I've always loved painting barns, especially the old ones,” added McKenna, a full-time artist since 1987. “Old barns are getting harder and harder to find because they're getting torn down and replaced with metal buildings.”
McKenna said his snow-dusted Grand Canyon landscape, “Evening Light on Woton's Throne,” a 16-by-20-inch oil priced at $3,700, was inspired by a trip he and his wife took to the canyon a while back.
“We lived for awhile in Arizona, so it wasn't unusual for us to drive to the Grand Canyon to watch a sunset. I think I've seen the canyon in just about any condition it's under,” the artist recalled during a recent telephone interview from his studio.
As many times as he has seen it, McKenna confesses to still being enthralled by the canyon's enormity and how the view changes according to light and weather conditions. “Sometimes I wonder how I can reduce this (view) to a small canvas,” he added. “It's fun to keep trying.”
‘The fun of painting'
The fun of painting things in new ways, studying the effects of light and color, is what drives Folsom's passion for still-life painting. A full-time artist since her graduation in 2011 from the Old Lyme Academy of Fine Arts in Old Lyme, Conn., Folsom received a scholarship stipend from the National Cowboy Museum that enabled her to spend six weeks in Europe looking at old masters' artworks.
“That trip, which included a month's residency in a rural town in Bulgaria, took me out of my comfort zone,” Folsom said in a telephone interview. “I think I learned more in those six weeks than I did in four years of college. It was a whirlwind, and the funding from the museum helped pay for most of it.”
Folsom said the artist Rembrandt's use of light inspired “In Golden Light,” her 14-by-18-inch oil-on-linen painting, priced at $1,500. She said the still-life, which features an overturned brass pot, a lace cloth, some clementine oranges and a sprig of eucalyptus, was a “breakthrough” painting for her.
Folsom's “Overarched Jug,” a 14-by-11-inch oil-on-panel painting priced at $1,100, features a brown jug on a dark table, flanked by red leaves and a draped gray cloth.
“It's really a portrait of this little, old brown whiskey jug that has all these colors in it that you don't see right away,” Folsom said. “The more subtle tones of gray and brown, the little spots of color in the jug and then the red, red leaves — they're just the star of the show.
“That is the fun of painting,” Folsom added.