By William C. Reynolds
February, 2009 Smoke Signals
2009 will be the ultimate blind date. We just don’t know what it will be like. But for those of us who love the art and way of the American West - the genre offers some significant opportunity in these “challenging” times. Being aficionados of the western genre, we are in what the social writers of today call a “mega-niche.” As if being in a niche market isn’t enough, now the brains of the social landscape want to cram us deeper into our passionate world by calling it a mega-niche. No matter. As my late father, a rampant collector of western artists of the vaquero-genre told me frequently, “Passion is the wood putty of life.” As one inflicted, he was right.
It’s interesting as this period we currently find ourselves in reminds me of 1980. The economy was bad and times were confusing. It was also a time when those of us in the “western culture” business – back then it wasn’t yet called “lifestyle” – saw a growing interest and awareness in the importance of our self-reliant, root-based culture. The world was in recession and we as a nation looked inward to find the strength to pull our selves out of it. The image of the cowboy and all he meant became an important icon for many in this country. Of course that little movie, “Urban Cowboy” didn’t hurt! But the core western market continued to do well as it depicted a life intrinsic to the United States as it spread to other parts of our culture and society. Self-reliance, loyalty, a strong work ethic, and humble successes were the aspects of the cowboy way of life that seemed to give comfort to a broad segment of a nation in the throws of an economic downturn.
So here we go again. A worldwide economic bust that now with the help of 24-hour-a-day news – unlike the 80s - stays right in our face. But for many of us who love the genre, we realize that the nature of the West continues to live a little in every American and proof of that can arise in the most “civilian” of places. Take the current lifestyle spin-off publication from Forbes. Called Forbes LIFE it features “aspects of the good life” – it came poly-bagged with the current newsstand issue of Forbes so one hasn’t a choice in the purchase. The cover carries the headline -“Quality Still Counts.” Below it is a tagline of an inside story, “Bullish On Western Art.” The story states it seems that classic western art continues to hold - and increase in value - due to it’s unique, American-genre collectable nature, it’s passionate following and primarily optimistic, pioneer content. That it’s subjects - the cowboy, the Indian and the vastness of the land, continue to hold - even in a downturn of the economy - the imagination and passion of its fans. Further, the genre carries it’s own unique collectable qualities in that its trappings and ephemera are so closely tied to its endeavor – the West is about work based on competency. Saddles, bridles, bits, spurs, hats and apparel – all are uniquely tied to the nature of the work of the westerner, stemming from a chosen way of life that remains uniquely American. Given that, we see investors look harder at a more optimistic and American-brand of hard assets – the genre-based asset world of the art and collectables of our American West. It is an encouraging sign. One that not only may help encourage the contemporary art and craft of the West, but, even more importantly, support endeavors that reflect a continuing pioneer perspective that has a solid following of the passionate.
© Copyright 2009 - William C. Reynolds