Stars to shine bright, paintings to evoke awe during Western Heritage Awards weekend

Great State

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The banner for this year’s Western Heritage Awards is already hung.

Passing beneath it this year, and, maybe for the first time in one room together, the likes of actor Robert Duvall and singer George Strait, plus perennial attendees like actor Barry Corbin, or cowboy poet Red Steagall.

Cowboy Museum President Natalie Shirley likens this year’s awards weekend to a picture full of stars.

“In fact,” she boasts. “Many people call it the Oscars of the West.”

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Cowboy Museum President Natalie Shirley

Some of those luminaries are bound to wander from the banquet hall to the galleries where a new exhibit just opened.

‘New Beginnings’ takes largely from a private collection of 70 artists spanning a century, all of whom did paintings in and of New Mexico.

“It’s, by far, the best collection of New Mexico art anywhere,” claims curator Michael Grauer.

He showed us around and insists everything in a frame here is a master work on the subject.

“With every crate we opened, and there were 125, there was a new unveiling.”

Grauer has been busy over the past couple of years, whether putting together this exhibit or writing a book about a western artist he wishes he’d met.

From his basement office deep in the museum’s archive, Michael dug into the life and times of H.D. Bugbee, a cowboy painter who did everything he could to make a living as an artist in the Texas Panhandle from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Grauer says, “When he died in 1963, he was only 62 years old, so his work was, largely, forgotten.”

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A gorgeous piece on display at the National Cowboy Museum.

One of his pieces is part of the Cowboy Museum’s permanent collection.

He got so busy writing and curating, and looking at other artists’ work, he never looked up himself to see that his book about Bugbee was nominated and ultimately received a Western Heritage Award.

“I had no clue until I was notified,” he states. “So, it’s their book (meaning the Bugbee estate) not my book.”

Come Saturday night, he’ll line up for the ‘Western Oscars’ and the spotlight will shine on him for a few minutes, maybe even to reach a basement studio where he writes art of his own.

For a list of Western Heritage awardees for 2021, go to

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