Autry Museum of the American West honors Roswell artist with Stories of the West Award for Best Narrative
By Christina Stock
The American spirit of the Southwest shows in Kim Douglas Wiggins’ painting style and motifs — it is in his blood after all, he is a native-born son, raised on a ranch just north of Roswell where he was surrounded by the beauty of Southeast New Mexico. And, while rising in the new genre, New West, which focuses on innovating Western art, Wiggins’ roots shine through.
Wiggins’ zest to capture the colors, culture and spirit of Southeast New Mexico came to fruition on Feb. 8, where his painting — carried out in his unique style — was awarded the Stories of the West Award for Best Narrative at the 2020 Masters of the American West Show, held at the Autry Museum of the American West (AMAW) in Los Angeles, California. The show is an invitation-only exhibition and sale, featuring on average 60 of the best Western artists nationwide, competing for the top awards. Wiggins was also asked to speak at the event.
Other award winners at the Masters of the American West are Tony Abeyta, Len Chmiel, Mick Doelinger, Steve Kestrel, Terri Kelly Moyers, Dan Pinkham and Kyle Polzin.
This is not Wiggins’ first and most likely not his last award, but it is one that is very close to his heart. After asking him to share what this award means to him, Wiggins responded with an email, sent from Los Angeles: “I am so excited,” Wiggins wrote. “I grew up on a ranch north of Roswell so this award means so much to me — it speaks to my heritage — and the painting is from my Goodnight/Loving Trail series. This trail passed right through the Roswell area in the 1860s, ‘70s, ‘80s. The Roswell Museum and Art Center has the first painting from this series. They commissioned me to do the painting, “Cattle Kings of the Pecos,” in 2012. It hangs in the permanent collection at the museum. That painting features the three great cattle kings of the Old West, Goodnight, Loving and Chisum. They made the first major cattle drive in history right through this area in 1866.
“This has been a 22-year journey exhibiting at the Masters of the American West,” Wiggins wrote. “The show is held every year at the Autry Museum of the American West. The show began in 1998 and my first year participating was 1999, so this was my 22nd year. My signature painting, “Fleeing Hell’s Fury – Range Fire,” won the Stories of the West Award, gold medal for Best Narrative. My work sold out opening night and ‘Fleeing Hell’s Fury — Range Fire’ will be going to the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District where it will be on public display once the Masters show ends (March 22).”
Proceeds from Masters support the Campaign for the Autry, which helps provide essential support for AMAW’s educational programs, innovative exhibitions, which includes more than 100 public events annually.
In the press release for the event, it states, “Masters 2020 offers a glimpse into the ever-vibrant and dynamic world of Western American art. A range of stylistic traditions, from realism to impressionism and abstraction, now sit comfortably side by side. From classic frontier stories to contemporary Native visions, Masters embraces a widening array of artists that together celebrate both the history and contemporary beauty of the West.” This year, a new Buy It Now opportunity for miniatures was included in the show.
The award-winning painting from the Stampede series is Wiggins’ latest addition, and it focuses on large, compelling figures rather than his other works that have landscapes as the main character with humans and animals playing a part, but not a central role in the compositions. All his paintings reflect a powerful, even confrontational stance, Wiggins’ purposeful structure to draw in the viewer and engaging imagination is unparalleled. According to Wiggins, he wants his paintings to document mankind’s timeless battle against the overwhelming power and force of nature.
“Within any culture, the greatest works of art speak to or even symbolize the struggles and heartbeat of that society,” Wiggins wrote. “In these works of art, the message can be as important as the image. America has been a beacon of hope around the world, especially since World War II with the Greatest Generation’s many sacrifices. In my mind, the cowboy represents the very soul of the American spirit conveying a message that we can overcome any adversity — even in the face of insurmountable odds.”
Wiggins’ biography reads like the American Dream for an artist, which started early in his life. He was discovered at the age of 12 by a dealer from Scottsdale who started handling his formative work. Though he is largely self-taught, he was mentored by masters such as Henriette Wyeth, Alexandre Hogue and William Lumpkins. During the 1980s, Wiggins experimented with various art forms, which included Impressionism, Expressionism, Magical Realism, Symbolism and Modernism. This would eventually give birth to his vibrant and unique painting style.
His artwork is part of a collective resurgence of love for the West. His work in museums is an art map of most influential institutions representing the New West Movement, which Wiggins is a renowned forerunner. Starting with the Autry Museum of the American West, where his monumental work, Lewis & Clark Among the Mandan, is part of its permanent collection, other collections include the American Museum of Western Art and The Anschutz Collection in Denver, Colorado; Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas; Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia; New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe; Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana; Phippen Museum in Prescott, Arizona; and The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Staples Center in Los Angeles houses a collection of 10 major historical works by Wiggins depicting the history of California.
Wiggins has been honored with numerous awards, including the Briscoe Museum’s William B. Travis Award in 2018 and the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico’s Heritage Award in 2014. He was also honored with the People’s Choice at the prestigious Painters and the American West in 2000 for his massive work, “Merging Cultures on the Santa Fe Plaza.” This major exhibition on the history of the West traveled from the Denver Art Museum to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC; The Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska; and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Wiggins’ work has been featured in a recent National Geographic book, “The Old West” and has appeared in or became the cover of publications such as “American Psychologist,” “Architectural Digest,” “Art of the West,” “Cowboy & Indians,” “Elle Decor,” “International Artist,” “Southwest Art,” “Wildlife Art,” “Western Art & Architecture,” “Western Art Collector” and “Wildlife Art.” The book, “Kim Wiggins, Artist of the Modern West,” was recently released in conjunction with his solo show at Manitou Galleries in Santa Fe. Special events are in conjunction with Maxwell Alexander Gallery, Los Angeles, California; and Settlers West Galleries Inc., Tucson, Arizona.
Manitou Galleries represents Wiggins and features his newest art.
Wiggins’ next solo show will be at Manitou Galleries, 123 W. Palace Ave., Santa Fe, Aug. 2, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. The exhibit itself will be up until Aug. 31.
For more information, visit manitougalleries.com.
The show, which includes Wiggins’ award-winning painting, will be up until March 22. AMAW offers also a wide variety of exhibits, events and programs. For more information, or to learn about next year’s event, visit theautry.org or call 323-667-2000.