Booth Western Art Museum celebrates 10 years
by Marie Nesmith
Aug 11, 2013 | 3514 views | 0 0 comments | 98 98 recommendations | email to a friend | print
10-year Celebration
Visitors at the Booth Western Art Museum’s birthday bash last year were the first to see a new sculpture unveiled on the grounds. Fritz White’s “In Search of the Snow Goose” was donated by Anne Eldridge in memory of Robert S. Eldridge. On Aug. 24, the Cartersville museum will celebrate its 10 years of operation with a Birthday Party and Member Appreciation Day. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File 2012
view slideshow (3 images)
While the Deep South may be a surprising locale for a Western art museum, the pairing has turned into a prosperous combination for the Cartersville community. Preparing to celebrate its 10th year of operation, Booth Western Art Museum has welcomed about 400,000 visitors since the venue opened Aug. 23, 2003.

“The founders had decided to build a museum early in 2000 and asked me if I would direct it early 2000 as well,” said Seth Hopkins, Booth’s executive director. “I actually started the job July 2000 and then we broke ground in October of 2000.

“It’s very much like being a parent, to see something start from scratch and be built and grow and become such a vital part of the community and to see the developments that have happened in expanding the building itself, expanding the collection, expanding the exhibits and activities, seeing our membership grow, our volunteer-base grow and the pride the community has in the facility and what we do. It’s very exciting to look back over at the 10 years that we’ve been open and then the 13 years that we’ve actually been working on it.”

To mark Booth’s 10-year milestone, the museum will present a Birthday Party and Member Appreciation Day Aug. 24 from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. One of the event’s highlights will be the unveiling of the venue’s newest exhibit, “Beautiful Utility: Objects from Cowboy Culture,” in the Modern West Gallery at 11:30 a.m.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to really look back at all we’ve done,” Hopkins said. “We’ve hosted over 100 temporary exhibitions. We’ve had 400,000 people visit. We’ve had folks from every state. We’ve had folks from dozens of foreign countries. Those are the statistical things, but I think more importantly is to think about the impact we’ve had on school children, young people, to get them more interested in art, history and again to take some pride in the fact that their community has such a great institution that they can be a part of and participate in what’s going on.

“The founders’ goal was to have this be an educational resource and that’s truly what it is. So it’s succeeding in accomplishing their mission that they had at the outset as well as being an economic development [force].”

The upcoming Birthday Party and Member Appreciation Day will feature entertainment, children’s activities, food, demonstrations by artists and a video presentation highlighting the museum’s first decade. Complimentary for museum members, the offering will be included with regular admission — $10 for adults, $8 for individuals 65 and older, $7 for students, and free for children 12 and younger or active military personnel with ID — for non-members.

“The Booth feels very, very strongly about having a day where we say ‘thank you’ to the members,” said Karen Mahoney, Booth’s membership manager. “I’ve been here about three years now and from day one it was very, very evident that the museum is really appreciative of those folks. So my understanding of the day was that’s how it began, was really as a member appreciation day but one of the things that we often hear here at the museum is, ‘Gosh, I didn’t even know this was here.’

“A lot of times that’s from folks in the Cartersville and Bartow County area and once they get here, for lack of a better word, they’re blown away. So we do invite the public to come in. It’s really a fun day. It’s very children-oriented. ... This is really a day to bring your kids to a museum and have a lot of fun. Plus the community, even those folks who are not members, are really, really supportive. So it’s a day for them to come in and see what’s new.”

Peer recognition

Located at 501 Museum Drive in Cartersville, the 120,000-square-foot museum is known worldwide for its extensive collection of contemporary Western art.

Along with enabling patrons to view Western artwork, the venue also offers a Civil War gallery, Sculpture Court, Presidential gallery and the interactive children’s gallery, Sagebrush Ranch. After becoming an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in 2006, Booth joined the Museums West consortium— a prestigious group of Western art museums. Averaging 40,000 patrons per year, the Cartersville museum is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m.

“As far as the museum community goes, becoming a Smithsonian affiliate and also joining the Museums West consortium, those were two certainly highlights in the museum achieving some recognition within the field and being recognized by our peers,” Hopkins said. “... Our main difference from the other Western museums — the primary ones are those other members of the Museums West consortium, like Buffalo Bill and Amon Carter and the National Cowboy Museum and so on — [is] we are the only one who is primarily focused on living artists and contemporary Western art.

“So that’s our niche out of all the great Western art museums. So for people who are interested in that part of Western art, this is a must-see venue. On top of that, out of all those museums there’s more Western art hanging in this building than any of those other facilities,” he said, noting the majority of the other significant venues are history museums. “We have the largest permanent exhibition space for Western art in the country. So that blows people’s minds a little bit here but it really catches their attention out West.”

Building a legacy

After two years of construction, Booth unveiled its 40,000-square-foot wing in October 2009. In addition to doubling its gallery space, the expansion garnered the museum the distinction of being able to display the largest permanent exhibition of Western art in the nation.

Situated on the property’s northwest corner, the two-story wing is attached to the Booth’s initial 80,000-square-foot building, and features a Sculpture Court, ballroom and galleries dedicated to contemporary Western art, the Civil War and American Indians.

“We started with the founding collection of the anonymous founders as the core of the museum when we opened in 2003,” Hopkins said. “We continued to acquire pieces occasionally between ’03 and ’09. In ’09, we acquired several pieces to help flesh out what we were going to show in the new wing. But more importantly as the museum grew in stature and prestige within the Western art community and [with] our focus on living artists [being] kind of unique, we started attracting private collectors who ... are willing to loan it to the museum where people can enjoy it rather than them having it in storage.

“So we’ve had a number of really stellar collections that were offered to us for us to borrow. So that takes pressure off us always having to be the ones to acquire new pieces and to have access to these collections, where we can borrow them, show them. Whether it be on a short-term or long-term basis, it allows us to continually change up what’s in the permanent collection galleries and have it remain fresh. ... [Also] a number of artists have donated pieces to the collection,” he said, adding prime examples are Josh Elliott and Logan Maxwell Hagege who are recognized as “rising stars” in the art world. “That lets us know that they regard the museum as being important, that they would want to have a piece of their art here. And what makes that doubly impressive is that they don’t get a tax deduction like a collector would for donating a piece.”

‘Ansel Adams: A Legacy’

While temporary exhibits usually do not have a big impact in Booth’s overall visitation numbers, “Ansel Adams: A Legacy” exceeded expectations. On display from September 2010 through early 2011, the exhibit brought increased visitation and awareness from the Atlanta market.

“That was the most visited exhibition we’ve ever had in the history of the museum,” Hopkins said, adding the exhibit helped the museum top 50,000 visitors in 2010. “The Ansel Adams exhibit was a great opportunity for us to focus on one of the most famous photographers in the history of the world and his connection to the West since a lot of his production was of Western venues.

“Our attendance is not really driven by temporary exhibits regularly — it’s pretty predictable seasonally and exhibitions only impact it marginally — that exhibit though was not the case. We had nearly double the attendance over the same period of time [in other years] because of that exhibition. We also had a nice spike in membership [where] people who came to see that exhibition decided to become members.”

Due to the exhibit’s popularity, Booth decided to extend the majority of the exhibition’s images — about 90 of the collection’s 130 prints — through March 13, 2011. The images provided guests an immersive and intimate look into the late American photographer’s career. Known for his groundbreaking printing techniques and landscapes of the West, Adams selected a wide range of subject matter for “A Legacy.”

The images, which ranged from landscapes and still lifes to portraits and cityscapes, showcased original black-and-white photographs that Adams captured from the 1920s to 1980s. Hand printed by Adams in his California darkroom, the photographs were displayed in the size that he intended for them to be viewed. To help enhance the exhibit, the museum also incorporated various educational components into the offering, such as a video of Adams and a darkroom replica.

“I think it was one of the things that helped us kind of penetrate the Atlanta market a little better and get folks who were in the Atlanta area and may have heard about the museum but had never gotten over the hump or whatever it is that prevented them from coming out at some other time. This was an exhibition that convinced them it was worth coming out to Cartersville and see what was going on at the Booth and here in town as well,” Hopkins said. “I know several of the merchants told me that they could tell that there was a spike in attendance because of that exhibition.”

Economic impact

Echoing Hopkins comments, Tara Currier also recalls the positive impact “Ansel Adams: A Legacy” had on Cartersville’s businesses. Currently the manager of Cartersville Downtown Development Authority, Currier has a unique perspective on this topic, having formerly served as Booth’s director of marketing.

“In 2011, Booth museum received the ‘Friend of Downtown’ award from Cartersville Downtown Development Authority. The largest Ansel Adams exhibition ever displayed in the Southeast had opened in September 2010, and downtown businesses had experienced a notable increase in foot traffic during the run of this exhibit,” Currier said. “The economy had been in a slump the previous couple of years, and this exhibition helped some downtown businesses succeed when things were looking their worst. Booth is a wonderful asset to downtown Cartersville, as the 40,000 [to] 50,000 visitors it draws each year are many times visiting Cartersville for the first time.

“[A] common comment I heard while at Booth museum, was ‘what a charming downtown you all have here.’ It is a benefit to Booth museum visitors, I believe, and certainly a benefit to downtown businesses, that there is so much to see and do within a short walking distance. For those making a trip, especially one that may be an hour or more drive, to visit the museum, they are often pleasantly surprised to find so many great shops, restaurants and art galleries within just a couple of blocks of the Booth. On the same hand, people who find themselves in downtown Cartersville to just look around and maybe grab a bite to eat somewhere, are also surprised to learn of the incredible 120,000-square-foot museum just down the block.”

Hoping to draw large crowds, similar to those during the “A Legacy” exhibit, Hopkins said Booth will partner with the High Museum of Art in Atlanta to display the majority of Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s collection. Opening Oct. 24 at the Booth, “Today’s West! Contemporary Art from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West” will feature about 60 master works through April 13, 2014.

“The biggest short-term goal is to really publicize our next major exhibition, which is a very exciting three-way project,” Hopkins said. “The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, they have one of the top five collections of Western art in the country and they are sending pretty much all of it to Atlanta this fall. The historic portion of the collection, meaning primarily pieces between 1830 and 1930, will be shown downtown at the High Museum and will be a major, major exhibition.

“... Our part of that is the contemporary part of the collection, and that means primarily pieces from 1960 to present, are all coming here. So the High Museum will be doing their promotion of their show. We’ll be promoting our show. Then we’re collaborating on some co-promotion in particular areas where it makes sense to say, ‘If you really want to see all of Western art across nearly 200 years of history, you need to go to the High Museum and the Booth museum and see both exhibitions.”

Looking ahead

In addition to Booth’s art collection, the venue has extended its offerings throughout the years to include events — such as Southeastern Cowboy Gathering, Southeastern Cowboy Festival & Symposium and Civil War Comes Alive! — and community outreach projects, such as Kids Cowboy Up!, the Cartersville-Bartow County Schools Art Show and Writing Through Art Literary Competition. Responding to its patrons’ needs and interests, the museum also formed the Booth Art Academy, Booth Artists’ Guild, Booth Photography Guild and Booth Emerging Artists’ Guild, and opened the Downtown Gallery.

“We certainly want to be a part of the community,” Hopkins said. “We don’t want to just be a repository or a place to come to and look at things. We want to be out in the community doing things and providing opportunities for the community to get involved in a lot of various ways. Oftentimes that [revolves] around the creation of art, that hopefully looking at art, being exposed to art gives you the impetus to want to be creative and tap into your own artistic interest or talents.

“... [We want] to continue to be responsive to our community, our members, our volunteers. [Our] outreach activities and the guilds and those things that we’ve done, those are in response to people’s comments or desires. ... That’s really, I think, our long-term goal. There’s not anything we specifically have in mind. Certainly we look at other museums and what they’re doing and are always looking for best practices and what could we do to be more impactful and make more of a difference to our visitors in our community. But I think it’s always more successful when [ideas for new offerings come] from outside.”

For more information about the Booth and its related programs, call 770-387-1300 or visit