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Show Proves Western Art Is Galloping to the Foreground

For years, many art collectors have considered it a stepchild to avant-garde works.

But Western art will apologize no longer; it has become classic in its own right, said Bob Hill, organizer of the third annual El Cajon Western Art Festival, which runs here through Saturday.

“Years ago, if you weren’t serving French wine, you weren’t serving the best. Then California wine became accepted. It’s the same with Western art,” Hill said. “You don’t have to buy Van Gogh or Monet to show you have taste.”

The show features 300 works by 30 Western artists, including paintings in oil, watercolor and acrylics, bronze sculpture, pottery, wood carvings, and prints available for view and purchase. The artists were handpicked by Floyd and Helen Jones, owners of Art World Western Heritage Gallery in El Cajon, and Hill, its director.

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Since the gallery began sponsoring the show three years ago with works from 17 artists, the Western Art Festival has become the largest exhibition of its kind in Southern California. Last year, 3,500 people saw the show, and Hill expects an equal number this year.

The festival’s three-day run began Thursday and continues from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., today and Saturday in the East County Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Main St., El Cajon. Admission is $5.

Although Western art has always had a loyal following, Hill said he’s seen “a terrific amount of interest” in the style build during the past few years. The works’ values have appreciated as Western art has become more widely accepted.

Why the interest in collecting Western art? Hill said the typical buyer is looking for a valuable investment, but also appreciates the genre. As people with more money have moved to California, Hill said he’s seen a surge in purchases once limited to the Southwest. Buyers no longer live just in Arizona and New Mexico, but California, Nevada and other Western states.

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Scenes of cowboys, Native Americans, and pioneers depicted in many paintings are “history on canvas,” said Hill, who compared them in historical importance to European art works of the 1600s.

This year’s Western Art Festival includes a retrospective of works by Olaf Wieghorst, known as “The Dean of Western Painters.” The display spans Wieghorst’s 45-year career. After moving from New York to the El Cajon Valley, he composed hundreds of works before he died this year.


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