A few years ago during a visit to California we took time to visit the Autry Museum of the American West. I was slightly crushed over the fact I didn’t blog about it, which was for a combination of reasons. First, it was very overwhelming! There is so much stuff at the Autry, and my eyes couldn’t stop darting around at all of the wonderful stuff there was to see! Additionally, museums are notoriously difficult to photograph. And the few photos I did take in the first room turned out so horrible I didn’t bother to continue. But we returned recently and I took loads of photos! Some are still not as great as I would like them to be, but I still want to share some of the Autry’s treasures with you! But before we get to that, let’s take a peek at what I wore, because it was pretty darn awesome.
This suit is one of the most prized pieces in my western wear collection, and one I didn’t even find. In fact my dad found it at the Portland Antique Expo, and sent an image of it to me and only eyeballed the measurements, and when it arrived I was overjoyed that it fit perfectly! It’s by Rodeo Ben, who is one of the pioneers in western wear in the 20th century, along side Nathan Turk and Nudie Cohn. Many credit Rodeo Ben with developing the snap closures, and photographs show his work using snaps as early as 1933. It should be noted however that Rockmount was the first manufacturer to use snaps, beginning 1946. Like Turk and Nudie, Rodeo Ben did work for the likes of such western legends as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. And the Autry even has pieces by Rodeo Ben in its collection.
I paired my suit with another prized piece, a vintage sterling silver and 14 karat gold ranger belt made by Edward Bohlin. Bohlin is hailed as a true artist with it comes to cowboy belt buckles and saddles. His gorgeous “Big Saddle” (there is an image of it after the cut) is on display at the Autry, with a plaque reading it “reportedly took fourteen years to complete and weighs approximately seventy pounds.” The belt is not just an amazing artifact by a well-known maker, but it means a lot personally. It originally belonged to my grandfather, my dad’s dad, who was a bit of a cowboy himself. While born in Oklahoma, he grew up on a ranch in Texas. And in the photos I’ve found while working on our family’s genealogy I’ve uncovered more than one image of the man riding, along with images of my grandmother and dad riding as well. I even found some of him with a lariat.
The Autry is both a source of western film history, as well as the history of those who blazed a trail and settled in the wild west. The museum offers up unique and fascinating displays to showcase their items.
The Autry always attempts to stay up to date with whatever is the latest western in one of the display cases. During my first visit there were costumes from Disney’s film version of The Lone Ranger, and during this visit there were costumes from Quentin Tarantino’s latest film The Hateful Eight. I didn’t see the film in cinemas, and after learning about the scene in which Kurt Russell destroys a very rare guitar, I knew I couldn’t see the film in cinemas without freaking out. We finally rented it and I had to walk out of the room when I guessed the scene was coming.
One of my favorite displays in the museum is a little mock up of a child’s room in the 50s, a time when the cowboy was king, and features loads of amazing vintage toys and housewares. Sadly, this is one of the super difficult to photograph things at the museum, as it is surrounded by glass.
The above suit was done by one of my favorite western wear designers, Nude Cohn for singer and actor Eddie Dean.
Above is “The Big Saddle” I mentioned earlier, that Edward Bohlin made for himself. It is beyond gorgeous and features many panels that depict images of the west, from cowboys on horses, to animals, to covered wagons, to stage coaches, and much more. The museum also features a catalog and a necklace and earring set he made for his wife.
The museum obviously features a lot of Gene Autry items, as he is in the man who established the museum. One amazing piece is this suit.
While the cowboys of the radio, TV, and silver screen are amazing, the true history of the American west is just as fascinating and the museum houses many astounding pieces.
One of my favorite pieces is a small display case featuring items people used to use to cheat at cards with, along with small firearms.
And of course what museum about cowboys isn’t complete without guns, and The Autry has a beautiful collection of both guns own by famous people, as well as a massive Colt collection. For example these guns belonged to one of my heroines, Annie Oakley.
And the above gun belonged to legendary outlaw Billy the Kid.
Just above the entrance to the Colt Gallery is a massive wood Single Action Army Model Revolver, which hung in front of the Colt factory office in Hartford, Connecticut as early as 1890.
The Colt Gallery is both amazing as it chronicles the history of Colt and showcases rare and unique guns, as well as a few that were made for presidents, including my personal fav, Lyndon B. Johnson.
My history major heart leapt when I saw the original painting of John Gast’s 1872 work, American Progress.
I can’t tell you how many times I saw images this piece during college. I took of course the basic US history courses, but I also took the History of the Pacific Northwest, as well as The American West Through Film, and in each this image was discussed as the epitome of “Manifest Destiny” and we analyzed in every single class. It’s just so rare that you get to see the real deal of something you study and that is so widely circulated.
I’ve been to more than my fair share of museums, and I’d like to say I’ve nearly seen it all when it comes to quality. And The Autry remains one of the best museums I have ever visited. It’s displays are amazing, especially the room which display cases with theme facades to match with the cultural group selected. The Autry also highlights contemporary artists whose work focuses on the American West with its rotating galleries. They also host an array of events. So, we decided to become members! I look forward to more return visits throughout the year.
Rodeo Ben Suit & Tooled Leather Purse: Found by my dad
Scarf: Portland Outdoor Store, Portland, Oregon
Bohlin Belt: Belonged to my grandfather
Boots: Buffalo Exchange
Silver saddle ring: Central Park Antique Mall, Bakersfield,