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Exhibition: Cowboys Real & Imagined

Categorized as: Art & Galleries
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Grand opening April 14 at 2 p.m.

Santa Fe (Feb. 20, 2013)—When America needed hard workers, the cowboy was there. The job was dirty and difficult, low-paid and lowly regarded. But when an America torn by the Civil War needed a hero to unite its soul, the unassuming cowboy was an unlikely—and ultimately lasting—pick.

Since riding out of Spanish horse culture, he’s been an itinerant hired hand, an outlaw, a movie star, a rodeo athlete, a radio yodeler, and a rhinestoned disco diva. He’s been Spanish, Mexican, African American, Anglo, male, female, straight, and gay. His image has been co-opted to sell trucks, beer, boots, beans, jeans, tires, cigarettes, leather couches, presidential candidates, and a lifestyle far beyond the means of real-life buckaroos.

Despite the sometimes tortured lengths our imaginations have taken cowboys and cowgirls, the basic fact of their life is this: a rough-hewn job stacked against steep odds. The daily dangers of working with cattle and horses are matched by volatile global markets, a public with fickle tastes in heroes, and a big sky that can deliver glorious sunshine as easily as tornadoes, droughts and snowstorms.

Today, real cowboys sit uneasily in the saddle (or on the seat of an ATV, occasionally dubbed “a Japanese cutting horse”). Climate change has altered the range an