(article) Gallery Exhibit: Ranch Gates of the Southwest

Ranch Gates of the Southwest: Manifestations of Individualism

“Ranch Gates of the Southwest: Manifestations of Individualism” is an exhibition developed and produced by Henk Van Assen, Daniel M. Olsen, and Texas Folklife curator Nancy Bless. The project is based on a related book by Van Assen and Olsen published in April 2009 by Trinity University Press in San Antonio.

The ranch gate is one of the most recognizable cultural artifacts of Americana, representing the people and landscapes, history and folklore of the American West. Standing out, often in a treeless landscape, ranch gates are pragmatic and ornamental, workaday and symbolic, modest and monumental, private expressions with a public face. Ranch gates are entry ways, but also symbols of one of the nation’s most complex ideas, the frontier and representations of the “west.” They are a physical manifestation of the individualism associated with the American southwest.

Dwarfed by the immensity of the landscapes they inhabit, ranch gates are local monuments to the grand space of the American West. The ranch gate is a point of orientation, a signpost, a marker, and a frame. In a desolate landscape they are signs of human occupancy, a point of transition between the public domain of the road and the private, expansive grazing ground that supports the ranching way of life. Like a cowboy’s ornate belt buckle, the gate signifies membership in a unique fraternity, and frames the entry into a ranch with a theatrical and ceremonial air.

As a visual language, the naming and claiming of the territory that lies beyond the gate’s arch offers a variety of typographic, conceptual and sculptural possibilities. The name of the ranch is always present, in word, symbol or both. We find designs like the Circle Z, Bar O or Rocking R –brands constructed of welded steel or re-bar– that are the heraldry or coats of arms of cattle ranching.

As ranches are consolidated and ranching becomes industrialized, the number of ranches is dwindling and the handcrafted gate is becoming a thing of the past. Across the west, the ruins of derelict gates are the landscape equivalent of ghost towns, signs of once thriving places, now abandoned and left to the elements. The ranch gate is one of the most recognizable cultural artifacts of Americana, representing the people and landscapes, history and folklore of the American West.

The text contained in the exhibition will offer a critical look at these artifacts. These texts will address issues ranging from cultural aspects of rural life, to writings that rethink design issues through analysis of these vernacular forms. The exhibit will invite viewers to explore the resonant visual language and multiple meanings of these American icons.

 

Exhibit specifications:

Running feet: 220 feet

Framed, ready to hang, all hardware included

8 didactic panels

43 Photographs, (Archival digital prints on canvas, and Chromira Prints)

Rental: 4-8 weeks: $1800 + shipping and insurance

Please contact Texas Folklife at info@texasfolklife.org  or call us at 512-441-9255 for more information