The National Cowboy Western & Heritage Museum is America’s premier institution of Western history, art and culture. Founded in 1955, the museum in Oklahoma City collects, preserves and exhibits an internationally renowned collection of Western art and artifacts while sponsoring dynamic educational programs to stimulate interest in the enduring legacy of our American West. More than 10 million visitors from around the world have sought out this unique museum to gain better understanding of the West: a region and a history that permeates our national culture. The mission is to preserve and interpret the evolving history and cultures of the American West for the education and enrichment of its diverse audiences of adults and children.
The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is a museum in Oklahoma City,, United States, with more than 28,000 Western and American Indian art works and artifacts. The facility also has the world’s most extensive collection of American rodeo photographs, barbed wire, saddlery, and early rodeo trophies. Museum collections focus on preserving and interpreting the heritage of the American West. The museum becomes an art gallery during the annual Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition and Sale each June. The Prix de West Artists sell original works of art as a fund raiser for the Museum.
It was established in 1955 as the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum, from an idea proposed by Chester A. Reynolds, to honor the cowboy and his era. Later that same year, the name was changed to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum. In 1960, the name was changed again to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center. The American Alliance of Museums gave the museum full accreditation in 2000, the year the museum took on its present name.
To maintain the memory of the founder, the museum grants the Chester A. Reynolds Memorial Award. This prize is granted to a person or institution contributing to the preservation of American West history and heritage.
The museum encompasses more than 200,000 sq ft of display space. The museum’s collection includes over 2,000 works of western art, the “William S. and Ann Atherton Art of the American West Gallery”. The 15,000 sq ft exhibit space contains landscapes, portraits, colorful still lifes, and sculptures by 19th- and 20th-century artists. Its over 200 works by Charles Marion Russell, Frederic Remington, Albert Bierstadt, Solon Borglum, Thurmond Restuettenhall, Robert Lougheed, Charles Schreyvogel, and other early artists lead to the Museum’s prize collection of contemporary Western art created over the last 30 years by award-winning Prix de West artists. The first winner was a large oil by Clark Hulings, “Grand Canyon – Kaibob Trail”, about a mule team barely crossing a Grand Canyon trail in deep winter snow. The collection also includes over 700 pieces by Edward S. Curtis, and over 350 from Joe DeYong.
The historical galleries include the American Cowboy Gallery, a look at the life and traditions of a working cowboy and ranching history; the American Rodeo Gallery, fashioned after a 1950s rodeo arena, provides a look at America’s native sport; the Joe Grandee Museum of the Frontier West Gallery exhibits some of the more than 4,500 artifacts once belonging to Western artist Joe Grandee; the Native American Gallery, focuses on the embellishments that Western tribes made to their everyday objects to reflect their beliefs and histories; the Weitzenhoffer Gallery of Fine American Firearms houses over 100 examples of firearms, by Colt, Remington, Smith & Wesson, Sharps, Winchester, Marlin, and Parker Brothers.
The museum also houses Prosperity Junction, a 14,000-square-foot authentic turn-of-the-century Western prairie town. Visitors can stroll the streets, peek in some of the store windows, listen to antique player pianos, and actually walk into some of the fully furnished buildings. The town comes alive with historical figures once a year during the museum’s annual holiday open house, “A Night Before Christmas”.
The museum includes three halls of fame, including the Hall of Great Westerners for actual people who lived through the frontier era to present. Other halls include the Hall of Great Western Performers, for actors only, and the Rodeo Hall of Fame.
The Donald C. and Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center (originally known as the Research Library of Western Americana) opened on June 26, 1965. Today, the center serves as the library and archives of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. The center is a closed-stacks library, containing books, photographs, oral histories, and manuscripts focusing on western popular culture, western art, ranching, Native Americans, and rodeo.