National Cowboy Museum exhibit 'Caballeros y Vaqueros' tells the global origin story of the cowboy – Oklahoman.com

October 5, 2019 - Comment

“Often when we think cowboy, we’re thinking the long (trail) drive period, 1860 to roughly 1890 … and we’re going back to 1519 and really the reintroduction of the horse to North America, which it’s 500 years this year,” Jones said. “In that time period, it’s not the white guys. The white guys aren’t even


“Often when we think cowboy, we’re thinking the long (trail) drive period, 1860 to roughly 1890 … and we’re going back to 1519 and really the reintroduction of the horse to North America, which it’s 500 years this year,” Jones said.

“In that time period, it’s not the white guys. The white guys aren’t even here yet, with the exception of some Spanish people who are purely European – as opposed to the ones who are coming from North Africa, actual enslaved Africans or Native Americans who are in some way riding a horse or doing the workmanship.”

Michael R. Grauer, McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, talks about the exhibit “Caballeros y Vaqueros” in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]
A vaquero saddle is displayed in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum's exhibit "Caballeros y Vaqueros" in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, at the the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]
A vaquero saddle is displayed in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s exhibit “Caballeros y Vaqueros” in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, at the the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]
"Saddle for the Women Who Rode Wild Horses," by John Willemsma, is featured in the Traditional Cowboy Arts Exhibition & Sale 2019 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. [Photo provided]
“Saddle for the Women Who Rode Wild Horses,” by John Willemsma, is featured in the Traditional Cowboy Arts Exhibition & Sale 2019 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. [Photo provided]

Bilingual exhibit

While the exhibit traces how Bedouin, Mongolian and Native American horse cultures coalesced in the American West, as the title implies, it pays special attention to Latin American cowboy traditions. The title “Caballeros y Vaqueros” translates to “Gentlemen and Cowboys.”

“We wanted to draw a distinction between the sociological meanings of ‘cabellero’ – i.e. gentlemen, someone who on horseback of elevated status, literally, above people on foot – and the vaquero, who is a worker,” Grauer said.
Visitors can view items used by the charro, or Mexican cowboy; huaso, or Chilean cowboy; llanero, or Colombian cowboy; and the gaucho, or a cowboy from Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil, in the exhibit, with labels in English and Spanish.

“If you’re going to tell the story of the cowboy, to not have it in Spanish is kind of a disservice. Most of the history happened in Spanish or at least partially in Spanish. … It’s the right thing to do, but of course we’re hoping for new audiences and to help broaden who’s exposed to this story,” Jones said. “Every day I’ve been up I’ve heard Spanish at least once in the gallery, which has been rewarding, frankly.”

Grauer said it is important for audiences to know that the museum “isn’t shrine to dead white guys.”

“By the same token, the dead white guys deserve their respect and honor as well,” Jones said. “This big thrust to be inclusive and show diversity and so on, sometimes that’s a watch word, and it’s also a trap, because you can’t create diversity where it didn’t exist. But in the cattle country it did.”

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