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A Poetic Spirit -- The Enduring Art of Kenneth Riley


The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum will host a retrospective exhibition honoring renowned western artist Kenneth Riley, March 8 through May 26, 2003. A Poetic Spirit -- The Enduring Art of Kenneth Riley will be the artist's largest retrospective to date, including more than 90 works that have been gathered throughout his career.

Like many of the early painters, Riley began his career as an illustrator. During World War II, his works captured images of history in the making in the Pacific which appeared in such magazines as Life, The Saturday Evening Post, and National Geographic. Since his move from the East Coast to Arizona in 1972, Riley has recorded stories of the western American frontier in rich layers of color and dramatic design. (left: Kenneth Riley, Bodner Paints the Piegan Chief, Collection of the Phoenix Art Museum)

Riley's focus during the past three decades has been the life way, material culture and philosophies of Native peoples, notably the Apache, Mandan and Plains tribes. The time period of his works is the era of initial contact between Native peoples and explorers such as Lewis and Clark, the U.S. Cavalry and the earliest pioneers.

An ardent researcher, Riley draws upon factual resources that include journals and diaries, as well as the visual records left by explorer artists such as George Catlin and Karl Bodner. Thus it is that Riley's art is both a literal story of a landscape and its inhabitants, as well as timeless and often romantic commentary about the passions of people who lived, loved and fought one another as individuals, families, tribes, clans and nations.

"I look at things in a positive way, with rose-colored glasses, you might say. But you have to admit that the history of the West has a lot of romance in it and it is truly an American experience," Riley said.

In 1973, Riley was a founding member of the National Academy of Western Art at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. In 1982, he was elected into the Cowboy Artists of America, where his paintings have taken numerous medals during the annual exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum. In 1993, he was honored with a retrospective and the Eiteljorg Award of Excellence, Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana, and a monograph entitled West of Camelot -- The Historical Paintings of Kenneth Riley.

A Poetic Spirit -- The Enduring Art of Kenneth Riley will include major museum pieces such as Bodner Paints the Piegan Chief (Phoenix Art Museum), The Dance of Mandan (Eiteljorg Museum) and NCWHM Prix de West winner, Sundog. These paintings will be among the 50 illustrations included in a color catalogue documenting the exhibition.

A Museum "Members Only" preview reception will be held on March 8, 2003. The exhibition will remain on display through May 26, 2003.

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