Spirit of the West

Spirit of the West

Exhibition features extensive collection of western film graphic arts


By Julie Carlson

Photos courtesy of Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West


Throughout history, Native Americans have been portrayed inaccurately in the media. A new exhibit at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West challenges those perceptions and misconceptions by bringing a new understanding to Native American culture.

The Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History exhibition features more than 100 western film posters and lobby cards from the 1890s to the mid-1980s, curated from one of the world’s largest-and most historically important and inclusive-collections of western film graphic arts. The inaugural exhibit is planned as a series of exhibitions at the museum. The entire Strickland collection includes over 5,000 items and is valued at approximately $6 million.

“The media-radio, television, film, and the graphic arts-is powerful,” says Dr. Tricia Loscher, chief curator of the museum. “Despite the diversity of Native North American cultures, Native Americans have been romanticized, miscast, and stereotyped. These messages have and continue to dominate mainstream thinking. When it comes to ‘cowboy and Indian’ stories, the one most often heard has been that of the white man’s side of the tale.”

Dr. Rennard Strickland, of Osage and Cherokee descent, is a senior scholar in residence at the University of Oklahoma College of Law in Norman, Oklahoma. He specializes in Native American law. He’s also the author and editor of more than 35 books on Native American history and culture. He’s served as the chair on numerous commissions of the U.S. Senate Select Committee oflndian Affairs and is the only person who has served as both president of the Association of American Law Schools and chair of the Law School Admission Council-as well as the preeminent collector of American and foreign film posters and other items.

“The study of western films and graphic arts is relevant for a variety of reasons, but especially with Dr. Rennard Strickland’s collection in that we can see how Native American themes from the history to contemporary have been interpreted and reinterpreted in the films and the graphic arts,” says Loscher. “Throughout the years, Native American imagery as depicted in the movie posters has been an enduring part of the symbolism of the American West that has an international reach.”

The first exhibition runs through Sept. 16. For example, movies represented include:

Stagecoach: The 1939 John Ford film that made John Wayne a star

Nanook of the North: Considered the first documentary film made

The Searchers: It’s thought that more has been written about this film than any other

Other poster and lobby cards teach visitors about the history of film, the western genre, and the musical aspect exemplified by singing cowboys and films like Whoopee and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair.

Mike Fox, director and CEO ofWestern Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, and a longtime friend of Strickland, invited him to participate in visionary discussions. The discussions included the leadership of the museum along with Arizona State University President Dr. Michael Crow and the CEO and president of the university’s foundation, R.F. Shangraw, Jr., as to the potential benefits of a museum/university-joint ownership of the collection.

“Our collaboration with Dr. Rennard Stickland and the Arizona State University Foundation is part of our museum’s ongoing commitment to cross-cultural understanding,” says Loscher. “These posters and the multimedia presented within this exhibition will encourage visitors to compare their own perceptions and definitions of Native American cultures against the posters that preset both the mythological and the ‘real’ West. By presenting high caliber exhibitions such as this important and rare collection, people of all ages who see this exhibition will find it both entertaining and educational.”

The next planned exhibit is women throughout the history of western films, and their portrayal on movie posters. And together Loscher and Strickland are writing a book entitled, The Golden West on the Silver Screen, about the entire collection.

To learn more about the exhibit, hours, admission prices, and Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, visit scottsdalemuseumwest.org.

Julie Carlson is a local freelance writer and an aspiring screenwriter.




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