Bison, Buckaroos, & Baskets: Art at the Rockwell

The Rockwell Museum is an entirely unexpected place.


Housed in the Old City Hall building in Corning, New York, this Smithsonian Affiliate houses “a unique window to view the American experience through art.”


The small, well-curated museum began its life as the collection of Bob and Hertha Rockwell, local business owners who liked to display works of art in their large department store. What’s surprising here is that the Rockwells focused on collecting art of the American West — not something you usually find in central New York State.


The Buffalo Hunt, by William Robinson Leigh

The traditional figures of the American West are here in all their glory, from cowboys …


Cutting Out a Steer, by Frederick Remington (drafted as an illustration for a Theodore Roosevelt piece in Century Magazine)

… to Native Americans …


The Smoke Signal, by John Mix Stanley


Jerry Mirabal Examining a Decorated Garment, by Eanger Irving Couse

… to pioneers …


If the woman in the wagon was scared to death at the sight of the prairie, I surely had cause to be afraid; but I was not. I was uplifted, by N.C. Wyeth

… to settlers (both Hispanic and white) …


Jury for Trial of a Sheepherder for Murder, by Ernest Leonard Blumenschein

… to gunslingers:


The Gunslinger, by Frederick Remington

Keeping with this theme, the Rockwells amassed a collection of over 800 antique firearms:


Animals of the American West feature prominently in the museum, including elk …


Elk Calling, by Norman Akers

… horses …


The Rattlesnake, by Frederick Remington


Untitled, by Deborah Butterfield

… and, of course, bison:


Shoshone painted elk hide depicting a buffalo hunt, circa 1900


The West, by Charles M. Russell


The bison was the museum’s mascot when it was known, until very recently, as the Rockwell Museum of Western Art …


… and there’s even a bison bursting out of the museum’s facade!


The museum also has a whole room of beautiful landscapes of wide western skies and canyons and mountains …

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… and you can see the built landscape in South House — Taos Pueblo by Gene Kloss …


… and in New Mexico Afternoon by Carlos Vierra:

There are many examples of traditional western Native American art and craft on display, including this bear fetish …


… a Zia bowl …


… an Apache tray …


… and Hopi kachina figures:


One whole room is dedicated to works by the Iroquois, also known as the Haudenosaunee, who once inhabited all of central New York. You can see their split ash weaving …


… a cradleboard (for carrying babies) and corn husk dolls …


… and the games that they used to play, including a snow snake and lacrosse stick:


But not all of the Native American craftwork at the Rockwell traditional; the museum also has pieces by contemporary Native American artists who have taken modern spins on ancient arts. Two examples of this are the Dinosaur Olla by William Andrew Pacheco …


… and Ka-Ka-Win-Chealth, by Joe David. This offers a pictorial rendering of his name (which means “supernatural white wolf transforming into killer whale”) in the traditional designs of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth of Vancouver Island:fullsizeoutput_5aeb.jpeg

Some Native American artists have broken away from representation altogether, such as Emil James Bisttram, who depicts the feeling of a dance in Indian Ceremonial:


I really loved Indian Photographing Tourist Photographing Indian, by Zig Jackson — here’s a section of it:


A small exhibit called “Crafting Identity” includes paintings on loan from the Tia Collection, a private collection in Santa Fe. Several of these offer modern takes on traditional European paintings and themes, including the Madonna and Child …


Latina Brava, by Fred Spencer

… the Last Supper …


Last Indian Market, by Cara Romero

… and Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People:


American Women Dismantling the Border III, by Erin Currier

As the museum grows into its modern identity, it has moved away from a focus on the American West and toward a look into the broader “American experience.” This means that you can find paintings of everything from people …


Gwendolyn, by John Sloan

… to agricultural crops (this was painted for the 1876 World’s Fair as a sort of post-Civil War US boosterism) …


The Two Kings: Corn and Cotton, by Elizabeth H. Remington

… to vigorous outdoor life …


Outdoor Recreation, by Phillip Goodwin

… to Depression-era bread lines:


Bread Line — No One Has Starved, by Reginald Marsh

A contemporary gallery also features the American experience writ large in the form of Blanket Stories: Western Door, Salt Sacks, and Three Sisters by Marie Watt:


And for Christmas, giving the notion of the American experience a more whimsical spin, there was a gingerbread house display by local artisans!



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