Art lovers wearing Prix de West bolos he designed is something that Utah sculptor Blair Buswell has waited 20 years to see.
The Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition and Sale opens Friday at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Bronze and silver versions of a tiny Indian chief sculpture Buswell designed will serve as the all-events “ticket” for the show.
The 40th annual event, which continues on Saturday and is the museum's most important fundraiser, will showcase 295 artworks by 101 of the nation's top Western artists. Total value of the artworks in the show is $5,022,050. Last year's art sales totaled $3.5 million.
Buswell said he was honored to be asked to design the bolo for the show's 40th anniversary, which coincides with his own milestone of 20 years as an invited exhibitor. “To me, the Prix de West show is kind of like the all-star game. It's the best of the best, and to be included with all these people I admire is amazing,” Buswell said during a recent telephone interview. “I pinch myself that I'm invited.”
The artist said he tried a lot of designs before creating the bolo he has dubbed “Chief Bolo,” which depicts a Plains Indian chief wearing a feathered war bonnet. “I liked the fan effect of the feathers in the headdress — it was symmetrical and a bit abstract, and I liked all the repeating shapes,” the sculptor added. “I had fun doing it.”
Buswell is known for his sculptures of the human figure, particularly skilled athletes. Nationally, he has been invited to sculpt such famous sports figures as Jack Nicklaus, Oscar Robertson, Doak Walker, Paul “Bear” Bryant and more than 70 inductee busts for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Ohio.
In Oklahoma City, Buswell sculpted the statue of Mickey Mantle outside the Bricktown Ballpark and the life-size Charlton Heston sculpture on display at the National Cowboy Museum.
In addition, Buswell, along with fellow Prix de West sculptors Ed Fraughton and Kent Ullberg, has produced 120 larger-than-life sculptural works of people and wildlife for the Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness and Pioneer Courage Park, which sprawls across six blocks in downtown Omaha, Nebraska. The sculptures depict a pioneer wagon train and the wildlife of the Great Plains.
Two-thirds of the massive Omaha project have been completed, Buswell said. “The last part has been put on hold because of the economy,” the sculptor added. “I'm hoping to get it done when things turn around.”
Buswell said he will have two artworks in this year's Prix de West show. “My Cousin Jack,” an $8,200 bronze of a Cornish miner, pays tribute to the countless miners who came to America from Cornwall, England. “Cornish miners were known for their expertise in building walls and tunnels,” Buswell said. “So when a mine owner would ask a Cornish miner if there were any more skilled men like him, the miner would say, ‘Well, there's my Cousin Jack.' It was a general term.”
Buswell's second piece is “Longing for Peace,” a bronze relief wall plaque priced at $1,850. It is basically a larger version of “Chief Bolo,” the sculptor said.
All of the show's artwork will remain on display through Aug. 4, and any unsold pieces will be available for purchase until then.
Reservations and tickets are required to attend all Prix de West opening-weekend activities. For tickets or more information, call 478-2250. To view the show's artworks online, go to www.nationalcowboymuseum.org.