A bronze mountain lion - twice the size of life - deserves some credit for the new show at the Phippen Museum titled "The Wild West."
Some months ago, Phippen Executive Director Kim Villalpando was visiting a gallery in Scottsdale and came upon "Secret Canyon Dweller," a larger-than-life sculpture by Sedona artist Ken Rowe.
"I would love to have that at the museum," she thought. The museum's first exhibit devoted to Arizona animals grew from there. She and curator Lynette Tritelle got busy contacting galleries, artists and collector to see what the museum could borrow for such a show, and ended up with 77 pieces of art depicting the West's native wildlife.
Rowe's skills as a taxidermist serve him well as he sculpts his wildlife creatures. "I like it all. I love the challenge more than anything," he said. One particular challenge popped up when he watched a mountain lion through his binoculars at the 7th Spring campground in the Bloody Basin area north of Phoenix.
The animal appeared to be hunting, walking the rims of a canyon, looking down for prey. This was the third lion he had seen in the wild, he said, adding that kind of good fortune is "sheer luck."
With his vision in his mind, Rowe set out for Montana, where it is legal to have pet mountain lions and he was able to find such a pet to use as a model. This became "Secret Canyon Dweller," now residing at the entrance to the gallery exhibiting "The Wild West."
A smaller bronze, "Petunia," is another piece of Rowe's on display. He found her model at Arizona Game and Fish's Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center in Phoenix, where he often finds subjects for his sculptures.
The 3-month-old javelina "literally" acted like a dog, Rowe said. "She'd roll over, let you scratch her belly and give you kisses." He took his armature and clay and sculpted her in five sessions. Her bronze image is now in the Phippen exhibit, eating a petunia "which is what they do in my yard," Rowe said. "They roam our neighborhood. I think they're hilarious. Succulents are a salad bar to javelina."
Colorado artist Sarah Phippen has contributed two oil paintings to "The Wild West." One she calls "Doe Eyes," a single portrait of a deer, which she did "in a sketchy style." Her other is of mule deer in a ponderosa forest. Most of her work is cattle and horses "in action," she said, describing her work as realistic. "I enjoy exploring the color possibilities that a horse has," she said. "Their expressions are powerful to me. I seek to make horses' expressions and emotions accessible to people."
She finds her equine subjects "anywhere and everywhere," she said. Any horse that "comes within my view is fair game."
Phippen is the granddaughter of George Phippen, the artist for whom the museum is named and who was one of the founders of the Cowboy Artists of America.
While Sarah Phippen stands firmly on her own as an artist, "I do still look at his work for
inspiration," she said. "The way he handled horses and the action are very inspiring to me."
The new exhibit, which runs until Oct. 28, offers the spectrum of wildlife indigenous to the Southwest, Tritelle said. Viewers will see all manner of wildlife in bronzes, oils, acrylics, etchings and dye on
Cave Creek artist Linda Budge - whose "Portrait of a Grey Wolf" is in the "Wild West" show - resides in the heart of the Sonoran Desert where she sees a bevy of wildlife to paint.
"For whatever reason, I have a passion for animals," she said. "I have always studied them. I won't paint an animal unless I have studied it."
Of her native landscape and its opportunities, she said, "I paint wherever I am. My paintings are accurate. When you see an animal, you see them in their habitat."
"Out and about, in the wilds" or maybe in national parks are the places Colorado artist Edward Aldrich finds the North American animals of the West he paints in his realistic style. Or, he might photograph animals in captive settings, take the pictures home to portray in oil on his canvas, using realistic colors, with some enhancements that provide form, "as well as highlighting interest" of the painting.
In all Aldrich has 23 works in the show, including one of a cougar he painted in a demonstration at the exhibit's opening and gave to the museum.
"Hello There," a bronze frog, petite in comparison to "Secret Canyon Dweller," calls out to viewers despite his size. This creature is the work of Prescott artist John Skurja, owner of Skurja Art Castings. He has also sculpted larger-than-life frogs, such as "Leaps and Bounds," which stands in the Yavapai College Sculpture Garden.
He now has bronze frogs in collections all over the world he said, explaining his affinity for frogs "just happened" when he did images of them in college. "It just stuck with me," he said. "People thought they were fun - and started buying them."
"The Wild West" runs until Oct. 28. The museum is located at 4701 Highway 89 North. For more information, call 778-1385 or visit www.phippenartmuseum.org.