I turn into a quiet little street, and there, suddenly, is my destination: Le massif Booth Museum of Western Art. Its two-story exterior is constructed from walls of shimmering glass and Bulgarian limestone to resemble a modern pueblo, and its grounds feature an impressive array of carvings of cowboys, broncos, and Native Americans. I drove from a small town in Georgia to the Wild West.
The Booth’s art collection is extensive, with a dozen galleries showcasing paintings, photographs, sculptures, and artifacts, including two life-size stagecoaches. At 120,000 square feet, it is the world’s largest permanent exhibition space for art from the American West. It is also the second largest art museum in Georgia, after the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and an affiliate of the Smithsonian.
A Western art museum in a state best known for peaches, Coca-Cola and Vidalia onions is unexpected. The fact that it’s in Cartersville, with a population of around 20,000, adds even more intrigue to this surprise in the rolling foothills of northern Georgia.
The Booth was founded by an anonymous local benefactor and others. The founder “had a successful business in the telecommunications industry,” said Seth Hopkins, the museum’s longtime executive director. “He had been collecting Western art for about 30 years, and when he sold the business he decided to give back to the community.”
The museum, opened in 2003, is named after Sam Booth, an Atlanta businessman and good friend and mentor to the benefactor’s family. The Booth became an affiliate of the Smithsonian a few years after it opened, allowing the loan of Smithsonian artifacts and traveling exhibits.
“We were lucky to be able to do that, and it’s a great relationship,” Hopkins said. “We are by far the smallest community to have a Smithsonian affiliate.”
Among the galleries dazzling with light – every room seems to be drenched in color – are the American West Gallery, with its traditional Western paintings and sculptures by historical and contemporary artists; the Modern West Gallery, with more contemporary works; the Native Hands Gallery, with more than 150 Native American artifacts; and the Carolyn and James Millar Presidential Gallery, with its original letters and photographs of each president.
Key artists at the stand include early Western artists including George Catlin, WR Leigh (some call him the ‘Sagebrush Rembrandt’) and Charles Russell. The heart of the collection, however, is made up of the living masters of the genre, including Howard Terpning, G. Harvey, Thom Ross and Donna Howell-Sickles.
Most visitors start at the American West Gallery. The walls are minimally cluttered, the sculptures perfectly spaced out so that one can enjoy each room without having to feel rushed to move on to the next. My favorites here were a bronze sculpture called “The Last Drop”, created in 1903 by Charles Schreyvogel and depicting a cowboy pouring the last bit of water in his hat for his horse, and “Trail Along the Backbone” by Terpning, with its three Native Americans riding along a mountain ridge streaked with gold and silver lighting, creating the effect of a photo more than a painting.
Further on, “Red Butte With Mountain Men” by L. Maynard Dixon, a 1935 oil painting, stopped me in my tracks. The huge painting, in rusty and warm shades of red and orange, occupies almost an entire wall of the gallery. It’s a vintage western landscape that contrasts the vast desert with the little mountain people moving across the bottom of the artwork.
Another piece I spent several long periods of time on is Allen Eckman’s “Calf Roper”, an extremely detailed cast paper sculpture, a sort of paper form of a bronze statue. Its title is self-explanatory, a cowboy wrapping a calf, but each blade of grass on its base and each hair on the cowboy, his mustache and on the horse and cow were added one piece at a time. That’s wonderful.
But for me, Lori Musil’s “CowPony,” a life-size sculpture of a horse in acrylic on fiberglass, was the star. Musil, a New Mexico-based artist, designed the piece for the Trail of Painted Ponies, a public art project that began in Santa Fe and eventually turned into a book and then a documentary narrated by the actress Ali MacGraw.
“CowPony” is inspired by a real-life incident when a horse Musil had planned to ride meandered almost completely hidden among a herd of Hereford cows. Musil sculpted the face of the sorrel in the herd, resulting in a piece so intricately detailed that the entire work appears sculpted in 3D. The Booth bought him for $50,000, the highest price of any Painted Pony.
The museum also offers special exhibitions. Through July 10, “Through the Years: Kenny Rogers’ Photographs of America,” features snaps of the singer from the American West as well as celebrities he knew. Through July 31, check out “Western American Art South of the Sweet Tea Line VI: Toast to Texas,” featuring works from private Texas collections. Upcoming exhibits include the annual Booth Photography Guild exhibit and “Plein Air Painters of America: 35 Years Outdoors,” among others.
Expect to spend at least two to three hours at the stand, which has both a gift shop and a cafe offering sandwiches, salads, burgers and desserts. There are also several excellent restaurants within walking distance of the museum and, if you decide to spend the night there, interesting places to stay in and around Cartersville. The Booth offers an unusual opportunity: to explore the West, but also the South.
Anderson is a writer based in Hazlehurst, Ga.
597 Barnsley Gardens Road, Adairsville
Set on approximately 3,000 acres of rolling terrain, the resort, with 150 one- to seven-bedroom guest rooms, suites, and cottages, offers golfing, horseback riding, shooting, hiking, shopping, and spa services. The ruins of Manor House, a historic southern estate and elaborate gardens, are on the property, as are three restaurants: the Woodlands Grill, Beer Garden, and Rice House. Rates start at approximately $271 per night, plus resort fee of $42 per night per room.
Red Top Mountain State Park
The state park is located on Lake Allatoona and offers 20 cabins starting at $200 per night with a two-night minimum, a yurt starting at $90 per night with a two-night minimum, and 93 tent campsites, caravans and motorhomes. State Park Fee $5 per vehicle, per day. Georgia State Parks Annual Pass $50.
632 Old Allatoona Road, Cartersville
The Inn, a Victorian house built in 1893, is the centerpiece of a 16-acre farm where horses graze. Adjacent to Allatoona Pass Battlefield and Lake Allatoona, the Inn features wrap-around porches, private decks, and private baths. Walking trails are nearby. Open Thursday to Sunday. Rates start at $115 per night, per couple. Additional guests $25 per night.
14 E. Church St., Cartersville
Within walking distance of The Booth, the restaurant’s Southern-style dishes include seafood, chicken, and beef. The Portobello Mushroom Appetizer stuns with its rich flavor, and the Smoky Mountain Trout and Creamy Shrimp and Grits are also standouts. It’s often crowded but worth the wait, and you’re lulled by Appalachian music as you dine. No reservations. Open Tuesday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday until 9 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. Closed on sunday and monday. Appetizers start at $14.95.
Maine Street Coastal Cuisine
24 Main Street West, Cartersville
This restaurant’s shrimp and grits dish has been honored as “100 Plates Locals Love” by Georgia Eats, published by Georgia Tourism. Entrees include prime rib and fish and chips, with an emphasis on freshness. Seafood comes from sustainable fisheries. (Try the lobster ravioli.) Open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday until 8 p.m. Lunch entrees from $8, dinner entrees from $12, Sunday brunch entrees from $9.
214 E. Cherokee Ave, Cartersville
Consider this restaurant Northern California’s wine country coming to Cartersville, with dishes inspired by French, Italian and Mediterranean flavors. Try the crab-stuffed grouper, followed by the raspberry chocolate mousse tartlet for dessert. It is also known for its charcuterie boards. Open Tuesday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. Closed on sunday and monday. Salad, soups and lunch sandwiches starting at $14. Dinner entrees from $26.
501 N. Museum Dr., Cartersville
The museum, about an hour’s drive north of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, features contemporary Western art, a presidential gallery, a Civil War art gallery, and an interactive gallery for children. The exhibitions change regularly. Virtual tours available in line. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday until 8 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Monday. Admission $13 per adult, $11 for seniors 65 and over, free for children 12 and under, $10 for students. Free active military with ID.
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