Booth celebrates Old West with Southeastern Chuck Wagon Gathering Saturday


Striving to “amplify the artwork” in the Booth Western Art Museum’s collection, Art Comes to Life will be an integral component of the venue’s 16th annual Southeastern Chuck Wagon Gathering.

Previously known as the Southeastern Cowboy Gathering, which spanned three days, the re-named event still will feature a wide array of activities showcasing the Old West. Kicking off Saturday at 9 a.m., the Southeastern Chuck Wagon Gathering will culminate with a 7 p.m. concert by Kristyn Harris.

“If you remember the movie ‘Night at the Museum,’ where they had all the stuff that was in the museum that came to life, we kind of wanted to do something like that where pictures in the museum have living people walking around,” said Jim Dunham, director of special projects for the Booth museum. “… So this will be the first time we’ve had a number of people actually scattered throughout the museum trying to be the characters that are in the paintings and the sculpture.”

As Dunham noted, Art Comes to Life — taking place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. inside the museum — will be larger in scale than past years’ offerings. 

“Everybody likes it, because one of the things about paintings — if you don’t know how art is created, you can’t quite relate to it as much as you can a real person in a costume,” said Dunham, who will portray an Old West marshal for Art Comes to Life. “It’s easier. First of all, you can communicate. You can ask questions.

“… [We] have a really great painting of the Gunfight at [the] O.K. Corral by John Hampton called ‘The First 6 Seconds.’ … Well, if I’m standing in front of it with a badge and a gun and a cowboy hat on, I can tell people that the gunfight is 30 seconds long and the painting catches it just at the first 6 seconds and why the painting is called that, what’s happening and what’s going to happen next. As a result, we can really amplify the artwork by giving more information.”

Situated at 501 Museum Drive in Cartersville, the Booth is known worldwide for its extensive collection of contemporary Western art. The 120,000-square-foot venue became an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in 2006. The museum offers a variety of exhibit spaces, some of which include the Civil War gallery; Sculpture Court; a presidential gallery; the Picturing America photography gallery; and the interactive children’s gallery, Sagebrush Ranch.

“We have had this event every year since opening the museum,” said Booth Western Art Museum Executive Director Seth Hopkins about the Southeastern Chuck Wagon Gathering. “The original idea was to create the largest chuck wagon gathering east of the Mississippi as well as other Western-oriented events. We also hope to make the art in the museum come alive and be more easily understood by demonstrating things in the paintings and sculpture for the public.”

For Hopkins, songwriter Tony Arata and chuck wagon cook and business owner Tom Perini will be among the highlights of this year’s Southeastern Chuck Wagon Gathering.

“This year we're excited to have two very special guests who are going to add a lot to the event,” he said. “Tony Arata, the Nashville gentleman who wrote the song ‘The Dance,' that was performed by Garth Brooks, will be here doing a two-part songwriter workshop that day. In the morning, he will teach the basics of songwriting and as time allows review work students may bring with them to the class. In the afternoon, participants in the class will have the opportunity to perform during an open mic session. Tickets are required for the class but members and those paying general admission are welcome to watch the open mic session.

“Also on hand will be Tom Perini, the legendary chuck wagon cook and steakhouse owner, from Buffalo Gap, Texas. Tom will be doing a brief overview of the history of the chuck wagon, discussing his entry into the chuck wagon catering business, and describe his experiences cooking for presidents and celebrities.”

The event’s programs will be presented inside and on the grounds of the Booth museum and the nearby Grand Theatre, 7 N. Wall St.

“The five chuck wagon crews participating will begin preparing food early in the morning and the public is welcome to come watch as they prepare five dishes,” Hopkins said, referring to the Southeastern Chuck Wagon Invitational, which will be underway from 9 a.m. to noon. “Generally they will do country fried steak with gravy, mashed potatoes, cowboy beans, a biscuit or cornbread, and a cobbler or fried pie for dessert. Each team is given the same ingredients to work with and try to keep their offerings as authentic as possible.

“Additional events going on [at the] museum include children's activities [and] costumed characters who have stepped right out of the paintings on the museum's walls will greet guests. [There] will also be musical entertainment [and] cowboy poetry throughout the day in the Bergman Theatre. At 7 p.m. [at] the historic Grand Theatre, Kristyn Harris will put on a concert. She has twice been named the Western Music Association Entertainer of the Year, so her performance [is] one not to be missed. … Also on the big stage that evening will be Tony Arata, [who] will open the show fresh off his songwriter workshop.”

Each chuck wagon crew will serve their creations to diners at high noon on the Booth’s festival grounds. Since this offering is limited, interested patrons are encouraged to purchase their meal tickets — $17.50 plus tax — in advance by contacting the Booth at 770-387-1300 or visiting A complete schedule of the Southeastern Chuck Wagon Gathering and event fees also can be obtained online at the museum’s website.