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'WHEN BRONC RIDERS WORE LIPSTICK': Phippen exhibit celebrates female rodeo competitors
The “When Bronc Riders Wore Lipstick” exhibit at the Phippen Museum includes this display of vintage rodeo outfits that lady bronc riders wore in the days when women were widely accepted on the rodeo circuit. Below, Dorothy Morrell, a world champion cowgirl bronc rider, sits atop bucking bronco Skuball in a 1920 rodeo.
6/29/2012 10:00:00 PM
By Karen Despain
A new exhibit at the
offers proof that women of long ago were not left on the sidelines when it came to rodeoing.
"When Bronc Riders Wore Lipstick" makes a special showing at the Phippen during the 125th annual
Prescott Frontier Days
World's Oldest Rodeo
," and will be on display in the museum's James Gallery through Aug. 26. The works illustrate through memorabilia, photos and artwork a unique period in rodeo history when women rode right alongside their male counterparts.
If it were not for Cheri Raftery, such a collection may not exist today. As a little girl, Raftery was fascinated with the Johnny West and Jane West dolls and the Western garb, guns, horses and saddles that came with them. The Jane West dolls "had little skirts that they could wear," she recalled.
This ignited a 30-year search to build her collection of cowgirl memorabilia that now includes cowgirl skirts, bronc belts, cuffs, hats, spurs, riding boots, lace-up boots, Western art and photographs - "pretty much everything" of the cowgirl bronc-riding era. And her exhibit is "100 percent specific" to the women whose place in history she preserves with their attire, gear and artwork and photographs that depict them.
Particular artwork in the display is that of Will James, whose four pieces of original art have the name "Hazel Padgett" inscribed on the back.
"She was a real bronc and relay rider," Raftery said, but it took her 28 years "to find out she was real." Padgett apparently knew Wills through a friend and because he hung around the rodeo world.
James not only was an artist, but he was also an author, best known for his book, "Smoky the Cowhorse," which published in 1926 and won the Newbery Medal for children's literature in 1927.
The items in Raftery's collection, ranging from the turn of the century to 1929, are finds from all over, she said, and often come because "scouts" or friends see something somewhere and tip her off. One such discovery was a Hamley skirt, made by the famous saddle maker of the same name.
Raftery said she researches her acquisitions and establishes art provenance - the history of ownership - for all that she has collected.
"These hardy women who were brought up in the early West did not live by strict Victorian standards of the East," a Phippen Museum news release states. "They were tough, rugged cowhands from ranching families and were expected to work hand in hand with their fathers, brothers and husbands, raising and breeding cattle and horses. Amazingly, some began riding horses as early as 2 or 3 years old, and were soon competing in local ranching contests."
But women's prominence in rodeo - Raftery has 140 names of cowgirls in her library - would end tragically.
Bonnie McCarroll, a champion performer and bronc rider, died after she was thrown from her mount at the Pendleton Round-up in Pendleton, Ore., in 1929. The big rodeos, Raftery said, no longer allowed women to participate in rodeoing after that.
The pictures on display in the exhibit "are the poster girls of that era," Raftery said, naming Prairie Rose Henderson, Ruth Roach, Vera McGinnis of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and Florence Hughes, in particular.
For Raftery, her collection that has grown over time "is very personal. It's almost like raising a child. Personally, I am proud that I am preserving a small piece of rodeo history that people have forgotten about."
"When Bronc Riders Wore Lipstick" is on loan from Cheri and her husband, Scott, who have Arizona homes in Green Valley and Mayer.
Visitors who bring in ticket stubs from a performance of this week's Prescott Frontier Days "World's Oldest Rodeo" will get into the museum free until Aug. 26.
The Phippen Museum is located at 4701 Highway 89 N. For more information, call 778-1385 or visit www.phippenartmuseum.org.
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