Go big or go home seemed to be the theme of the annual Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale, one of the nation’s premiere Western art events that again raided more than $1 million over the weekend.
The sold-out show under the big tent set up in the parking lot of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody benefits the center and the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. It perennially crosses the $1 million threshold by the end of its two centerpiece events, the Friday night Live Auction and the Saturday morning Quick Draw Live Auction.
This year’s 42nd annual auction kept that streak alive with more than $1 million paid for dozens of exquisite works of Western art. Just how much was raised hasn’t been finalized.
By the end of Friday night’s live auction, 91 of the show’s 103 pieces were sold, while 12 pieces didn’t reach their reserve prices by the time the bidding ended. The combined appraisal value of all 103 pieces in this year's live auction is more than $1.24 million.
The largest piece in the show ended up with the highest bid. “Sounds of the Night,” a 5.6-foot bronze sculpture by artist Vic Payne, sold for $45,000.
The highest-earning painting was "Crow Indians on Magpie Creek" by Kevin Red Star, which sold for $32,500.
Artists Love It Too
Among the 650 patrons who signed up for the auction were 70 artists with pieces in the show. All the artists chosen to participate are encouraged to attend the entire week of artistic events in Cody.
Brandon Bailey lives in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, but grew up in Cheyenne. This was the fifth year he was invited to participate in the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale. His painting “Smoke on the North Fork” depicts three Native Americans on the North Fork of the Shoshone River.
“My process starts with a lot of research, especially when using Native American subjects. I have a library of model photographs to build my compositions, but I also use real models from the different reservations, and they dress up in native garb,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
Bailey thinks attending the auctions is one of the best parts of being included in the show.
“I’ve met so many collectors and live-long friends here. No other show treats you better than this one. It’s almost like a family reunion,” he said.
Whitney Hall’s painting “Compass” was a more abstract depiction of a Vaquero rider on an Appaloosa horse. The Bozeman-based artist was inspired when she saw the pair before a parade in Phoenix, Arizona.
“I found them as they were getting ready, so they were getting dressed and warming up,” she said. “It was obvious they were enjoying themselves, and the horses were enjoying themselves. I wanted to capture the relationship between the horse and the rider. They’re a matched pair of dancers.”
This was Hall’s ninth year in the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale, which accepts her and her style as welcome additions to the experience.
“They’re really good to their artists, and there’s always a fun collection of artists,” Hall said. “As a more abstract artist, Western shows can be very traditional. This show is open to a wide variety of art, so I really enjoy coming here.”
Bailey said he was “sick to his stomach” when “Smoke on the North Fork” made it onto the runway. Watching as one of his works is auctioned off is stressful and exhilarating.
“I’m always super nervous,” he said. “When your work is hanging next to such great artists, you start seeing all its blemishes. But that excites you to keep growing as an artist, too. It’s a whirlwind of emotion,” he said.
His painting appraised for $9,000, and sold for $19,000. Hall’s painting “Compass” sold for $4,500, while “Distant Thunder,” by Phil Epp, sold for $9,500.
Epp is an established name in the art world, but this was his first year in the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale.
“Most of my career, I’ve been doing gallery shows. I don’t follow the circuit of Western shows. But I had some encouragement to come to the show this year, and I wanted to see the collection. That was my main incentive,” he said.
Epp got a bonus when his painting “Distant Thunder” won the award for the Best Two-Dimensional Piece.
He complimented the atmosphere of great Western art at the show and in the gallery of the Whitney Western Art Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
“It’s a pretty exciting show from all standpoints,” he said. “I’m meeting people whose work I’ve seen for a long time, and I’ve seen some of my “heroes” work too. Cody and the museum are phenomenal.”
Going ’Til They’re Gone
After a dinner of Western fare, everyone settled into their seats to prepare for the back-and-forth of bidding that everyone finds exhilarating.
Troy Black of Black and Associates Auctioneers Inc. was the auctioneer of the evening.
“I’m going to sell them when we’re all done,” was his common refrain when the bidding slowed, and it almost always got it going again.
Black settled into his infamous routine, recognizing many patrons and utilizing that to keep the money coming in. In one bidding battle, Black spoke directly to a woman strategizing a purchase with her husband.
“How long have you been married to him? 50 years? You haven’t listened to him in all that time. Don’t start now!” he said, which immediately sparked peels of laughter from the audience and the couple.
Quick Draw, Paint and Sculpt
After the previous night's excitement, everyone was a little tired, but on their feet, during Saturday morning’s Quick Draw, where 27 artists were hard at work on the pieces they would soon carry down the runway for another round of bidding as patrons watched their creativity at work.
Everyone was anticipating the bidding for the final piece of the morning, David Frederick Riley’s “American Dream.” The large portrait of a bison not only won the People’s Choice Award for the Quick Draw (decided by an audience vote), but it also was the highest-earning piece of the morning, selling for $19,000.
Bailey was one of the Quick Draw artists, painting “Lakota War Chief” that morning while still in good spirits from the night before. Bailey even knew the Cody patrons who bought his work.
“It’s staying in Wyoming, and I’m really happy about that,” he said. “Couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
“Lakota War Chief” sold for $4,250 in the Quick Draw Auction, bringing the combined sales of his two paintings to $23,250.
Artist Santiago Michalek had a phenomenal weekend. His painting “Horse Power” won the People’s Choice Award, which was announced and presented to him the night before the auction.
Both of Santiago’s paintings, including his Quick Draw piece “Standing Guard,” sold for a total of $37,000.
The Million-Dollar Mark
By the end of the two-day event, both live auctions raised $1,048,200. That crosses the million-dollar mark, but there are still more numbers to crunch before anyone knows how much money was raised over the course of the weekend.
In addition to the two live auctions, there were silent auctions Friday and Saturday for smaller pieces that weren’t part of the main show. There was also a Buy-It-Now auction in the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale gallery, which had raised at least another $35,000 when it closed a few hours before Friday night’s live auction.
There also was an auction of several pieces by artisans at the Cody nonprofit art gallery By Western Hands. Four pieces, including a beaded Remington flap holster set and a Molesworth-style club chair, sold for $29,500.
Overall, the 42nd Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale continued its strong streak by raising over $1 million. Nobody’s happier about that than the participating artists, who are already looking forward to next year’s show.
“If they invite me back, I’ll be back,” Bailey said. “I love this show.”