The Cowboy Artists of America Museum is the national headquarters of the Cowboy Artists of America, which was organized in June 1965 by a group of western artists in a tavern in Sedona, Arizona. The group was formed for the purpose of perpetuating the history and culture of the American West through fine art in all mediums and carrying on the realistic, representational tradition of such western artists as Frederick Remington and Charles Russell. As of the early 1990s the group had thirty-six artist members; twelve former ones were deceased.
The idea for the museum was proposed by five Texans-Lloyd D. Brinkman, William F. Roden, Walter Hailey, Jr., John H. Duncan, and Robert R. Shelton-and three-fourths of the twenty-six founders were from Texas. There had been some dissent among the members over the choice of location, but Kerrville was finally selected when the city presented both a plan and the necessary financing. In 1979 Shelton got a $1 million commitment for the museum, and the Cowboy Artists of America Museum Foundation was chartered by the state of Texas in September 1980. Duncan was elected president and Shelton secretary-treasurer. Architect O'Neil Ford of San Antonio was engaged to design the building. Groundbreaking was held in Kerrville on April 21, 1981. A fund-raising drive was begun on this date to obtain thirty founding sponsors who would pledge a minimum of $100,000 each. This, with other contributions, would provide the building funds and begin an endowment fund to provide operating expenses. On October 15, 1981, a contract was signed with Leo Blanchard and Associates of Fredericksburg to construct the facility. The founding director, Griffiths C. Carnes, began work on October 31, 1981, to supervise construction of the facility, continue to raise endowment funds, plan the grand opening, and direct operations of the facility thereafter. With over 400 contributors, the museum opened to the general public on April 24, 1983; the completed cost was $2.5 million. As part of the opening ceremonies, each of the Cowboy Artists of America members left his handprint, boot print, and signature on the cement patio in back of the museum.
The museum is located on ten acres of land donated by William F. Roden of Midland. The site overlooks the Guadalupe River. The 14,366-square-foot building was designed to blend with the southwestern environment and was built entirely of materials from the region. It contains a number of galleries, a library that includes an extensive video collection, a lecture gallery, and a guest house and studio for the use of member artists.
The museum was to be a place where the Cowboy Artists of America could exhibit its members' works and show its influence as a valid art movement. There is a continuous rotating exhibition of fine art of the American West by living and deceased members of the Cowboy Artists, with a minimum display of three pieces for each member at all times. In addition, at least four special exhibits of works that have significance to the ongoing history of western America are produced annually. The museum presents numerous workshops, seminars, and lectures for art students and the general public. It has also worked with Schreiner College to provide lectures and private instruction. The museum houses a library of Western American history and art that also serves as a repository for information about each cowboy artist's work.