Brea 'Western Sagas' Offers Glimpses at Rowdy Pioneer Past

Times Staff Writer

Wide open prairies, cattle roundups, cowboy shoot-outs and Indian warriors are the focus of an art exhibit called "Western Sagas" at the Brea Civic and Cultural Center Gallery in Brea. Forty-four artists, most of whom are Southern Californian, are displaying 120 art pieces with Western themes, varying from an oil painting of a boisterous saloon brawl to a watercolor of an Indian squaw in traditional costume. Pottery, baskets, paper sculptures and bas-relief leatherworks are also included.

Some critics tend to dismiss Western art in general as irrelevant to contemporary aesthetic concerns. Still, "I don't know what it is," said gallery director Marie Sofi, "but people really relate to the Western feel."

Sofi had organized a similar show last year and, she said, received many calls from people asking for another.

The current exhibit, which continues through Feb. 5, attracted about 600 to the opening earlier this month--an exceptionally large crowd for the gallery, Sofi said. Moreover, she said, the exhibit "appeals to people of all ages" and is especially popular with families.

James Colt, an artist from Long Beach whose work reflects what he calls the "mud and dirt West" (his contributions to the show include several impressionistic paintings of such scenes as a fearsome Indian attack and a cowboy shoot-out on a dusty abandoned street) said he believes that "Western art is making a comeback."

Budd Sherrick goes a few steps further. An artist from Los Angeles who contributed five brightly colored pastel paintings depicting Indians in traditional attire (he describes his work as "a combination of realism and German expressionism, with a strong use of color"), Sherrick said he thinks "Western-themed art is the most popular art in the world today, outside of (the works of) the dead artists."

Sherrick said he has especially noticed "a growing hunger to know more and more about the native American Indians."

Bob Higgins, who owns the Trials West Gallery in Laguna Beach, where he displays only Western art, said the appeal in California stems from "people relating more to their roots; to where their families came from in the early West. When (someone) sees cowboys and Indians crossing the plains, it means something to him."

In any case, more and more people are decorating their homes and businesses with Western art, Higgins said. "Artists that produce Western-styled art have never done better financially."

Not all the work in the show is traditional, or even representational. Leo Monahan of Long Beach describes his huge paper sculptures--montages of feathers, basket weavings and leatherwork, all constructed from paper--as "collages in the third dimension."

"When other artists see it," said Monahan, who was raised in the Black Hills of South Dakota, "they are startled."

"Western Sagas," an exhibit of paintings and sculpture reflecting life in the Old West, continues through Feb. 5 at the Brea Civic and Cultural Center Gallery, One Civic Center Circle, Brea. Hours: noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays. Admission: free. Information: (714) 990-7714.

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