For the ninth year I was privileged to attend the Rendezvous Royale art auction and show at the Buffalo Bill Historical Centre in Cody, Wyoming. I was allowed to touch the selected sculptures while my husband had the challenging task of describing the paintings to me.
The sculptures for the auction were ingeniously arranged among the paintings for their dramatic impact on the sighted visitors, but for me the exhibit unfolded inch by inch as the mystery of the pieces were revealed through my hands. My hand-eyes interpreted the eye-hand creations for my mind’s eye.
At the entrance to the gallery I heard water. My husband guided my hands around a container. I hugged the container to gauge the size of it, put my hands inside and found the water. With my wet hands I trace the figure. At first I have no concept of the piece, but slowly my fingers found a life size grizzly bear sitting with one leg inside the water and the rest of him on the rim. “Reach” said David and like the bear I was after the trout. I had to stand on my toes to reach the tail of the fish. I explored the bronze grizzly who had plucked a trout from the stream by the Honored artist, T. D. Kelsey. Just like the old instant photographs an image of the whole slowly developed under my hands.
As we wandered through the art, my fingers rolled over the finely executed shapes of man and beast. I delighted in the contrast between the most subtle features and the bold, dramatic actions. The theme in the museum is western and, under my hands, bronze cowboys herded cattle, broncos bucked, a fawn galloped, steer, elk, and goat horns pricked my palms. I could smell the metal and distinguished between rough and smooth surfaces. I explored sculptures of Native Americans in full regalia. Dainty bronze details of buttons on coats, the weft in a woven blanket, fish scales, eagle feathers and wind in a horses main. I’m overwhelmed by the precision and balance of the figures full of action and purpose. Abstracts in marble wood, bronze and glazed clay stirred my imagination. Such was the interaction I’ve had with the art during the festival.
Behind every piece is a story. Discovering the sculptures is like reading a book. My fingers start at the beginning of the book not knowing the ending. As I touch along the plot develops into a surprise ending. The story book event sculpted by Vic Payne, called “train wreck,” affected me in this manner. David placed my hands on a bear standing at attack. At first a bear on his hind legs is all that’s there for me. Gradually I traced along a tree, then…oh my, a cowboy on a rearing horse trying to get away from the bear. That is not the end yet! Behind the cowboy is his pack mule loaded with the spoils of his hunt, elk meat and the trophy. Each detail acutely shaped to tell the tale. Though the bronze was cold under my fingers, the heat of the conflict was tangible. I imagine this scene could have taken place in the Thoroughfare, the wilderness outside Yellowstone, where I myself have ridden on a narrow mountain trail. Goose bumps spread over my arms and my scalp began to tingle as I remembered the narrow passage where no horse can turn around and flee leave alone with a pack mule in tow.
A scenario sprang to life as I caressed the delightful piece “And then what…?” by Charlie Ringer. Through the vitality of one of the cowboy figures I perceive a yarn is being spun and the reaction to the tale is conveyed in the body language of the listeners. I stroked the dwarf-sized cooking utensils and other cowboy paraphernalia which surrounded the tiny campfire. If I could, I would have shrunk myself, climbed up to sit and listen to the tale and of course take a sip from the teensy bottle.
The task of describing the paintings rested on David’s shoulders. He painted with words what he saw on the canvases. A mountain lion ready to pounce, a laughing cowgirl introducing a little red hen to her horse. A rainbow colored grizzly bear, a trapper with his canoe…on and on he translated shape color and pictorial instance while I experience the paintings through my ears.
Usually art is inaccessible for the blind visitor, but during the art show and auction I’m allowed to touch the selected sculptures. In the galleries as well touch is welcomed for the visually impaired.
In sue Simpson’s gallery I touched work by T.D. Kelsey inspired by his latest trip to Africa. Sue herself guided my fingers over three bronze Masai boys standing on one leg in a yoga-like position. These three comrades had their arms around each other, perhaps talking or telling a tale or watching over their cattle. While probing a stately Masai warrior with his spear delicately balanced I listened to the voices of customers, excited over the display of art and I felt grateful for the inclusiveness of this exhibit.
My favorite touch experience in the Simpson gallery named “Field Trip” was of a female lion carrying one cub in her mouth while the other little one was following behind her. I immediately connected with my roots through the sculpture for, as a child in South Africa, this kind of scene was described to me in the Kruger National Park where when a cub gets tired the cub’s mother will carry it in her mouth for a while as they trekked from an old den to a new one.
For me, to experience art is to connect with art, and to connect with art is to experience art. That is how it was again at the Rendezvous Royal art show and auction late September of 2009.