Autry National Center

The Autry National Center Presents
Western Frontiers: Stories of Fact and Fiction

Exhibition Inaugurates New George Gamble Firearms Gallery
Opening July 27, 2013

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Los Angeles, CA (June 25, 2013)—Western Frontiers: Stories of Fact and Fiction inaugurates the Autry’s new Gamble Firearms Gallery and celebrates the gift of the George Gamble Collection, an incomparable selection of Western firearms and related materials. The exhibition explores the many roles guns have played in the history of the West, from the opening of the frontier in the late eighteenth century through television Westerns in the middle of the twentieth century. Showcasing rare and notable firearms and accessories—including exquisite specimens of the gun maker’s art—the exhibition also features historical documents, artworks, and cultural artifacts from the Autry’s collection. Western Frontiers opens to the public on July 27, 2013, as part of the Autry’s commemoration of the National Day of the Cowboy.

Western Frontiers illuminates the sweep of American Western history through a focus on its archetypal artifact: the firearm. The exhibition highlights the finest examples of rifles, carbines, and revolvers used by pioneers, hunters, lawmen, renegades, military personnel, conservationists, and entertainers. Many of the firearms on display were owned by historical figures such as Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Major General George G. Meade, saddle maker Edward H. Bohlin, E. K. Root of the Colt Company, and musician Jimmie Rodgers. Steve McQueen’s Mare’s Laig from Wanted: Dead or Alive, the 1958–1961 TV series, is here, as are Annie Oakley’s gold and mother-of-pearl-gripped pistols. Maps, advertisements, programs, and other ephemera, as well as art by the likes of Frederic Remington and Frank Schoonover, provide rich historical context.

In amassing the George Gamble Collection, George Gamble has acquired only exemplars of the Western firearm, works of true beauty or significance. His gift of some fifty firearms and twenty-five related artifacts, adds further depth to the Autry’s own collection and solidifies the Autry as one of the finest firearm repositories in the country.

“We are deeply grateful to George Gamble for his generous donation to the Autry,” said W. Richard West, Jr., President and CEO, Autry National Center. “Firearms are an important part of Western history, used by everyone from settlers and Native Americans to law enforcement officers and outlaws. Firearms were used for hunting, for self-defense, to make war, and to keep the peace. As a museum dedicated to sharing the diverse stories of the American West in all their complexity, the Autry continues to examine the role firearms played, both good and bad, in shaping our understanding of the West and our nation. Given the current national debate, it’s especially important that museums like ours provide historical context to the role of firearms—without glorification or condemnation. This gift will be used to enlighten the public and further scholarship in the field.”

The Exhibition

The Gamble Firearms Gallery is designed to evolve; modular cases allow the Autry to highlight different artifacts and stories over time. Repurposed wood from the museum’s former “Back Lot” movie installation, which made way for the Art of the West exhibition opening this month, adorns the walls of the gallery, giving it a cabin-like feel. Themes explored in the debut of the Gamble Gallery include the opening of the frontier, hunting and trapping, the impact of technology on firearms, the conservation movement, and the West in popular culture.

“Firearms were used in all aspects of life on the American frontier, and they were featured prominently in the re-creations of the West that took place on stage and screen,” says Jeffrey Richardson, the Autry’s Gamble Curator of Western History, Popular Culture, and Firearms. “Firearms are thus a means to tell the story of the West—its history, its myths, its captivating personalities. These artifacts provide entree to an earlier time.”

Proceeding historically, the exhibition opens with a circa 1807 Kentucky Rifle. Longer, lighter, and more accurate than European longarms, it was a crucial tool in opening the American frontier to settlement. The Hawken Rifle expedited hunting and trapping for trading companies such as John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company. With the Industrial Revolution came better rifles, such as the Sharps Model 1874, which allowed hunters to kill bison from a safe distance. The subsequent slaughter of the buffalo was a severe blow for Native Americans, who depended on the animal for survival.

Reliable, easy to operate, and capable of firing several shots in rapid succession, the Winchester Lever-Action Repeating Rifle was one of the most important firearms in the history of the West. Several examples are on display here. The multi-shot revolver was important to outlaws and lawmen alike. The exhibition features many models by Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, Smith & Wesson, and E. Remington & Sons. Annie Oakley’s guns set the scene for a mini-history of Wild West shows, and TV Westerns are considered through the lens of Steve McQueen’s memorable Mare’s Laig, a modified and cut-down Winchester rifle.

Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter, also recognized the need to conserve nature and wildlife for future generations. Two of his custom-made “equipments finished in the most expensive style,” a revolver and a carbine, are seen in the exhibition, alongside his personal holster, spurs, and cartridge belt. These are accompanied by a copy of Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail (1888), authored by Roosevelt himself and illustrated by Frederic Remington, alongside an original painting by Remington that was featured in the book.

Exhibition-Related Programs

Westerns Frontiers: Stories of Fact and Fiction opens on July 27, the National Day of the Cowboy. The Autry celebrates with a daylong festival honoring Wild West shows, complete with trick ropers, gun-slingers, live music, and a scavenger hunt. On August 10, the film Quigley Down Under, featuring a customized Sharps rifle as a virtual character in the film, will screen as part of the What Is a Western? film series. Curator Jeffrey Richardson will lead a discussion, “Check Your Guns: Firearms in the Old West,” on December 7 with Phil Spangenberger, historical film consultant and field editor of True West magazine, and Adam Winkler, UCLA law professor and author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.

Publication

A book about George Gamble’s collection has just been published and will be available in the Autry Store.

Photo caption, Left to right: Program, Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, 1893. Museum Purchase, Autry National Center; 90.253.605 • Detail of Winchester Third Model 1866 (Blind Justice), .44 rimfire caliber, serial number 79863, made by Winchester Repeating Arms Company, New Haven, Connecticut, circa 1871. Decorated with engraved floral designs by Conrad or John Ulrich. The George Gamble Collection, Autry National Center; 2012.2.20.1 • Newspaper clipping, picture of Annie Oakley, Police Gazette, number 1147, August 12, 1899. Caption: “Annie Oakley / Famous Rifle Shot and Holder of the Police Gazette Championship Medal.” Donated by Petra and Greg Martin, Autry National Center; 89.68.1

About the Autry National Center of the American West

The Autry is a museum dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West, connecting the past to the present to inspire our shared future. The museum presents a wide range of exhibitions and public programs—including lectures, film, theater, festivals, family events, and music—and performs scholarship, research, and educational outreach. The Autry’s collection of more than 500,000 pieces of art and artifacts includes the Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, one of the largest and most significant in the United States.

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About the Autry National Center of the American West

The Autry is a museum dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West, connecting the past to the present to inspire our shared future. The museum presents a wide range of exhibitions and public programs—including lectures, film, theater, festivals, family events, and music—and performs scholarship, research, and educational outreach. The Autry’s collection of more than 500,000 pieces of art and artifacts includes the Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, one of the largest and most significant in the United States.

HOURS

Museum and Autry Store

Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m
Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.

Crossroads West Cafe

Tuesday–Friday 9:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.

The museum, store, and cafe are closed on Mondays.

Press

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