I have a feeling that the vast majority of the citizens of Bartow County are like I was until recently; completely unaware of the cultural jewel we have right here in Cartersville, which is the Booth Western Art Museum. At a recent business networking meeting hosted by the Booth Museum, I was introduced to Jacque Hollis, Director of the Smithsonian-affiliated museums in Georgia, which includes both the Booth Western Art and Tellus Museums. I was chagrined to have to admit that I have never been in the museum in the eight years since its opening, and blamed it on my heavy workload, church and political obligations, not to mention my family. I didn't want to insult her by telling her the other reason I had never come; namely, that I just didn't expect a museum of any significance to be located so far out of Atlanta, and certainly not right here in our own hometown.
Ms. Hollis graciously offered to give me a guided tour at my convenience, and I decided to take her up on the offer. My wife and I went to the museum and were greeted by Ms. Hollis, who introduced me to Jim Dunham, who serves as the Director of Special Projects. I would learn that Mr. Dunham is more than meets the eye. Not only is he an artist in his own right who is a friend and colleague of many of the artists whose work is housed in the museum, his extensive knowledge of the history of the Old West and especially the firearms of that era have been used as a consultant for Hollywood films on the topic. As we toured the museum he seemed to know the artist, style, date and some tidbit of information about every single painting, sculpture or exhibit. It was like taking a tour guided by a walking, talking encyclopedia of art, history and western culture.
As we began the tour I was immediately taken in by the beauty of the architecture, the large, open spaces, the warm lighting, the clean lines and welcoming atmosphere. Of course, the art itself is the focal point and purpose of the museum, and the quality and variety of the art exhibits did not disappoint. Exhibits ranged from abstract art and bronze sculptures, to original Old West movie posters and the original paintings used as the cover art for western novels. It also included Indian headdresses, weapons of war, clothing and more. It was truly a stunning display.
There is no way to cover all of the wonderful art in this short column, but a few really caught my eye. One was a painting by Paul Calle, titled "Beyond the Ridge."The scene depicts frontiersmen on the plain with mountains in the distance, holding their horses' reins as they surveyed the area. What is so striking about this painting is the stunning detail of the style, called photo-realism. Every blade of grass is individually painted, as is every line of wood grain on the rifles, and even the hairs on the horses tails. When you consider the amount of time this must have taken, you appreciate the painting even more.
Another of my favorites are the two full-size stagecoaches on display; life-size because they are original stagecoaches once in use. The first is a Red Bird stagecoach in original condition, built in the 1870's. The other is a luxury stagecoach built for the Hanson Stagecoach Company of Indiana, restored to its original condition as it was manufactured in 1865 by the Abbott, Downing Company. As nice as they are, you can see that long distance travel would not have been nearly as comfortable as we enjoy today on our paved roads and shock-absorbing cars.
As a lover of American history of the Revolutionary era, my favorite exhibit was the Presidents Gallery. This gallery contains a photograph and original handwritten letter of every single president from George Washington to the current president, some even written specifically to the Booth Museum. There is also a life-sized bronze sculpture of Thomas Jefferson, sitting at his writing table as he pens the Declaration of Independence. It is an absolute treasure of American history.
The museum hosts school groups, tours, and lectures each month during Art for Lunch and on the Third Thursday evening, and a daily Highlights tour of the Museum. There is also an interactive area for children, the Sagebrush Ranch, with a stagecoach to ride in, areas to do their own drawings and other activities. I toured the museum for more than two hours and barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer.
If you are like I was and have not taken the opportunity to go see this world-class museum, I encourage you to do so. Come enjoy this testament to America's heritage, our love of the rugged individualism embodied in the spirit of the Old West, and let your children come and learn of the things that helped make this country great. Come and see this excellent venue, and then go tell your friends and family. You have my word that you will not regret it!
Louis De Broux