Talking Travel Rediscovering America Suzanne Wright The Booth Museum Georgia


The Booth Western Art Museum:
Exploring the West – in Georgia

by Suzanne Wright

The mythology, folklore, and realities of the American West with its iconic images of western landscapes and the colliding cultures of “cowboys and Indians” resonate deeply in the American psyche.

The Booth Western Art Museum, which opened in August 2003 in Cartersville, Georgia brings together these two historically interlinked groups, and at the same time provides a unique venue for exploring the heritage of the West.

When asked about the appeal of Western American art, James Norton, past president of the Cowboy Arts Association (CAA) said, “I think that Western art represents America itself. It represents freedom and wide-open spaces and the things this country was founded on. I think it is America’s art.”


Why did the American West and its cowboy sub-culture play such a significant role in the shaping of the collective culture of the United States? How did that sub-culture contribute to the frontier spirit and sense of independence and self-determination that are intrinsic values of the “American Dream”? How do social values and behavior patterns in the 21st century reflect these early years in the nation's history? Why are non-Americans so fascinated by the American West? These are questions that come to mind as you tour this unique museum.

Two massive bronze sculptures flank the entrance to the architecturally magnificent museum located in the charming downtown area of Cartersville. Inside the 80,000 square foot building — the state’s second largest art museum — are six beautifully curated galleries showcasing more than 250 works of art by 100 artists.

One of country’s finest collections of western art, the Booth is a museum like no other in the East. Its collection includes original works of art by early Western artists of the Taos School, as well as contemporary creations from the CAA. Featured artists include Oreland C. Joe, Roy Anderson, Howard Terpning, Joe Beeler, Carrie Ballantyne, and Nancy Glazier.

The museum’s mission is to “educate, entertain and inspire a diverse audience by creating a welcoming place where people find meaning, value and delight in exploring the uniqueness of Western American art and culture.”

The galleries are arranged thematically: American West, featuring first peoples or native American art; American Cowboy; Presidents Gallery, highlighting signed documents; Mythic West, depicting artwork from books and magazines; War is Hell, with artworks from the Civil War; and Reel West, showcasing western movie posters. “Almost every painting tells a story,” says Jim Dunham, director of special projects.

The Sagebrush Ranch is an interactive space where youngsters can check out a bunkhouse and corral, sit on a life size horse, ride in a replica stagecoach, and learn how to brand a cow. There’s also a 60-seat multimedia theater that runs an orientation film called The American West every 20 minutes, as well as a fascinating museum shop offering a wide array of books on western arts and culture, jewelry, apparel, prints and home décor items. The café serves coffee, pastries and light lunches to visitors.

Seth Hopkins, Executive Director of the Booth, says the museum has received a tremendous response locally and regionally. “We are still working on achieving national awareness, but are winning friends everyday. The Museum currently has almost 1000 members, a large percentage of those living within our area, but we also have members in at least 20 states. Attendance at our monthly lectures, exhibition openings, and other events is steadily increasing and reflects the commitment of our supporters within the region.We also have more than 100 volunteers who contribute their time to work with school groups, adult tours and assist with events.”

Monthly “lunch and learn” programs, evening lectures, Children’s Saturdays, and western film features have also attracted visitors. Staged performances by “gunslingers,” cowboy poets, and western vocalists are held in the nearby and lovingly restored Grand Theatre. “We have had approximately 25 artists represented in our collection, along with a number of important scholars, visit the museum, most of them residing in the West,” says Hopkins. “All of them have given the Museum rave reviews and consider it among the best Western art museums in the country.”

Two annual festival-type events include the Annual Georgia Cowboy Poetry Gathering held in March of 2005 and the Southeastern Cowboy Symposium.



The third annual Southeastern Cowboy Symposium, which takes place the fourth weekend in October, is a four-day event featuring Western Art, music, cowboy poetry, western vendors, re-enactments of Western gunfights, children’s art activities, story telling, Western fashion shows, and chuck wagon cooking demonstrations. The highlight of this year’s event, “Riders in the Sky,” will be two concerts by internationally acclaimed musicians. This group is among the most famous of the Western themed acts and provided the music for the soundtrack to the Toy Story movies. The Symposium also includes scholarly presentations by authors, historians and others designed to enhance the understanding of Western art and history. Last year approximately 7000 people attended this event, according to the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

I attended the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which was hosted by the charismatic Doc Stovall, Georgia’s “official cowboy balladeer” and the Booth’s “poet lariat.” The performances included a fiddling contest and there was also a “cowboy church” service. The event was wholesome good fun and an interesting expression of this part of American heritage. Cartersville also has a charming downtown area with restaurants and shops.

The Booth is named in honor of Sam Booth, friend and mentor to several of the founding board members. A portrait by Clyde Burnette, an Atlanta artist, hangs in the Grand Hall of the museum. Located just two miles from I-75, one of the nation’s most traveled highways, the area is also rich in Civil War and Native American historic sites.

If You Go

The Booth Western Art Museum is located at 501 Museum Drive, Cartersville GA 30120; 770-387-1300 just 45 minutes north of Atlanta. Admission: $6 adults, $5 senior citizens, $4 students, ages 12 & under admitted free. Hours: Tuesday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 1-5 p.m.

Just three miles from the museum is the Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site, the most intact Mississippian cultural site in the East.

Read All About It!

The following hyperlinked excerpts from Wikipedia Encyclopedia provided excellent additional reading about the importance of the American West to the evolution of the culture of the United States.

“America's Western Frontiers: The Exploration and Settlement of the Trans-Mississippi West is a book which chronicles the history of the American West from pre-Columbian times through the mid-twentieth century. It was written by John A. Hawgood (1905–1971) and first published by Alfred A. Knoph, Inc. in 1967. The book was entitled The American West in the United Kingdom.

Hawgood was the pre-eminent British authority in the field. He won the Western History Association's Alfred A. Knopf Western History Prize for this book in 1966. The book also received the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum's Western Heritage Award for non-fiction books in 1968.”

The Western United States

“The Western United States, also referred to as the American West or simply The West, traditionally refers to the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States (see geographical terminology section for further discussion of these terms). Since the United States has historically expanded westward the definition of the West has evolved over time. The "West" had played an important part in American history and the Old West is embedded in America's folklore.”

Understanding the Culture of the West

To gain additional perspective on the opening of the American West, view the multimedia presentation The Joseph Camp Story: In Search of a Mythical Eden in the American West

Photographs courtesy of the Booth Museum