Q&A with Ross Matteson: 2016 Prix de West Bolo Artist
Each year, a different artist is given the honor of designing the collector’s bolo for the Prix de West® Invitational Art Exhibition. The nation’s premier Western art exhibition, Prix de West is held annually at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum® in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Collecting each year’s bolo has become an honored tradition among artists, patrons, docents, and staff alike since artist Hollis Williford created the first medallion, called Eagle Dancer, for the 1986 exhibition.
For 2016, Ross Matteson, a Prix de West artist for 24 years, was asked to design the collector’s bolo. Hailing from Olympia, Washington, Matteson received the Major General and Mrs. Don. D. Pittman Wildlife Award at the 2012 Prix de West, and the James Earle Fraser Sculpture Award in 2013.
A story describing Matteson’s process in producing the collector’s bolo appears in this year’s Prix de West catalog. In order to craft the story, a handful of questions were sent to Matteson. His responses (as would be expected from an artist of his caliber) were both creative and heartfelt.
We thought the Museum’s blog would be the perfect venue to share this unique Q&A. Matteson agreed, and was gracious enough to offer his permission to reprint it here.
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NCWHM: This is your 24th year as a Prix de West artist. Could you explain what your history with Prix de West has meant to you as an artist both in terms of personal pride and career growth?
RM: Over the last 24 years, my late spring migrations to the Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition have provided increasingly green pastures for my professional work. These migrations have also intertwined like multi-veined caribou trails with many special people who are simply driven to the panoramic vistas of wholesome, shared values.
I have been blessed in the company of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s lovers of the West. Personally, I view the Museum as committed to the “West” as a metaphor for “beauty, tradition, and progress” – perhaps a somewhat feisty balance of the three, and increasingly from different cultural perspectives. Once a year, like a time-lapsed animation, I have seen personal and collective visions of artists and visionary museum directors getting funded and brought to fruition (or brought to fruition and funded!).
I take pride in being a small part of this Museum community. I cherish the Museum’s progress, which includes recording history, such as in artist interviews. It also includes collecting art, gathering historical materials, building new galleries, showing exemplary hospitality, inspiring Oklahoma City volunteers, extending outreach to underserved communities, and inviting a growing diversity of artists to represent the West – past, present, and future.
As many artists have repeatedly emphasized, true friendships are nurtured in this community of staff, management, patrons, docents, visitors, and artists. The artists learn from each other, compete with each other, and celebrate each other. Authentic, unique, hard-earned, original discoveries are honored. What a privilege to see the spirit of these ideas tangibly expressed right here on earth!
In your opinion, what is the importance of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and Prix de West to the world of Western art, and the larger art world in general?
Quite frankly, Prix de West takes one of the most passionate, proven stands of any, for the value of representational art. Representational, from my point of view, means that it has the motive to communicate – to represent something relevant in our life for the benefit of others. In essence, it is art motivated by big love and hard work. The artists are chosen for their professional commitment and their “true to their own experience” authenticity. As an observant and engaged community, we choose to celebrate fine art that is uncompromised in both craft and in “Western” subject matter.
As an artist who pushes the definitions of “Western art” and “wildlife art” in ways such as my choice and use of media, choice of subjects, and spectrum of cultures that influence my work, I have felt honored to be included in this show over so many years.
Personally, I don’t feel a need to exclude “modern art”, “conceptual art” or “ancient art’s” ability to also represent ideas of value, but I believe that many of the exceptional paintings and sculpture exhibited at the Prix de West, to the credit of this institution, will have the opportunity to be proved both timeless and universal.
Creating the collector’s bolo for Prix de West is an honor in itself. Could you describe your reaction to being asked to produce the 2016 Prix de West bolo?
One of the greatest privileges of being an artist, in my opinion, is being licensed to explore ideas. In its highest meaning, this includes asking questions as freely as a child.
I am not alone, among Prix de West artists, in my curiosity to explore a wide range of media and scale. In fact, some of my very first sculptures and some of my most expensive “sculptures” are one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces. It is really a comfortable pleasure to be invited to design a piece of jewelry for Prix de West – the 2016 bolo.
Could you describe your process for creating the 2016 bolo, from initial inspiration to completed piece?
This design is based on my sold-out 1999 bronze edition titled, “Quail Call.”
One of the reasons I chose this piece for my reference is because the bird invites being framed by a circle. The graceful, simple, lyrical, circular lines and shapes in the feathered topnotch and head of this handsome bird invites being encapsulated in this form. The quail, interpreted with smooth textures in bronze, is also signature subject matter in my portfolio.
As a subject, the California quail evokes the life, smells, and sounds of the West, for me. This handsome little game bird’s range includes much of California, Oregon, and Washington. A covey of quail almost requires a beautiful landscape – a perfect habitat that provides its needed food and shelter. In the morning or evening, a perfectly feathered cock bird will daringly expose himself on a fencepost to announce his presence and domain with a classic “quail call” – and then, almost as if he has surprised himself by his sheer audacity in the presence of numerous predators, jump down to the ground and comically scurry off as though embarrassed for what he might bring down on the covey!
My process for the original model included turning the soft tactile disc background on a wood lathe. The relief for the bird was built up and carved in wax. From there it went through a traditional bronze foundry process. I floated my initial designs with a few artist friends to make sure that I was on the right track. [Prix de West Emeritus Curator] Ed Muno helped me find the correct foundry based on his numerous years of experience seeing these bolos brought to fruition. The agreed-upon foundry and I have been in close communication to assure quality control throughout this process.
What inspired your bolo design, and what do you hope your design conveys to others?
As a naturalist, I am surprisingly biased in my attraction to certain species. The California quail is one of these species. I think that the reason for this is that there is just so much to learn about any one species. I might as well learn as much as I can about my favorites. I truly believe that an artist can express any idea, through even one species, if he or she spends enough time observing and learning about their form, color, behavior, habitat, relationship to other life forms, and richness as a cultural symbol.
Perhaps my choice of the quail really honors the “beautiful, meek, and comical” as profoundly important in creation and in my view of West.
Lightweight; fun to touch; comfortable to wear; and safe to give a hug while wearing – all were design criteria that I embraced in this project!