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Tom Browning's oil "The Dawn of a New Day" (detail above) won the Purchase Award at the 2009 Prix de West. (National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum)

Tom Browning was blown away when his oil painting The Dawn of a New Day won the Prix de West Purchase Award medallion at last year’s invitational art show and sale at Oklahoma City’s National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

‘To hang permanently with such a select and inspiring group is truly humbling and more than I would ever ask for’ —Tom Browning

It wasn’t the accompanying cash award—$5,000—that humbled him. Nor was it the tile placed in his honor in the museum’s Edward L. Gaylord Exhibition Wing, nor that the museum added the painting, priced at $18,500, to its permanent collection in the William S. and Ann Atherton Art of the American West Gallery. It wasn’t even because the work beat out 343 other works entered in the event.

It was everything.

“It truly marks the highlight of my career,” says the Bend, Ore., artist, who began painting full-time in 1972. “Yet, it should always remind me of a responsibility—to always work at getting better, to produce the best my ability allows and to settle only for excellence. To hang permanently with such a select and inspiring group is truly humbling and more than I would ever ask for, when it’s already such an honor just to be part of the Prix de West experience.”

Since 1973 the Prix de West has brought together outstanding regional painters and sculptors, making it one of the nation’s premier Western art events. The show encompasses contemporary and historic artworks, including landscapes, wildlife and illustrative scenes and impressionistic paintings. The 2010 exhibition begins the weekend of June 11–13 with two full days of art seminars and demonstrations and a fixed-price sale of all exhibited pieces. These will remain at the museum through September 6, when their buyers take possession.

Last year’s event brought in more than $3 million during the opening weekend alone. The record, set in 2007, is $5,230,000.

Since Clark Hulings won the first Purchase Award in 1973 for his oil Grand Canyon, Kaibab Trail, the Prix de West’s top honorees have represented a who’s who of top Western artists, including William Acheff, Richard V. Greeves, Martin Grelle, Allan C. Houser, Oreland C. Joe, Tom Lovell and Howard Terpning. Just being invited is an honor.

“I think it helps validate them as a serious Western artist,” says Bloomfield, N.M., artist Tim Cox, who won the 2003 Purchase Award for his oil On to Better Pastures. “It exposes their art to a different level of collector. Anytime an artist is invited to participate in a major show such as the Prix de West, it increases their exposure to the public.”

That first invitation, of course, can try an artist’s nerves. “When I was invited for the first time, I was excited, nervous and worried how my art would be received by everyone there,” recalls Cox. “I had always known of and admired the art and the artists in the show for many years. I had dreamed of showing with them. I felt it was important for me to do well. Luckily, I had a sold out show and was treated wonderfully.”

Other honors presented at the show, each with a gold medallion and $3,000, include

• The Robert Lougheed Award: Chosen by invited artists for their favorite display of three or more works in the show;

• The Express Ranches Great American Cowboy Award: For the artist who exhibits the best cowboy subject matter;

• The James Earle Fraser Sculpture Award: For exceptional achievement in sculpture;

• The Nona Jean Hulsey Rumsey Buyers’ Choice Award: Selected by buyers throughout the opening weekend for the work they most admire that also exemplifies the museum’s artistic mission;

• The Frederic Remington Painting Award: Selected for exceptional artistic merit, and

• The Maj. Gen. and Mrs. Don D. Pittman Wildlife Art Award: For a wildlife painting or sculpture.

“This museum stands as an island of hope for representational art,” Morgan Weistling, winner of the 2008 Purchase Award, said in his acceptance speech. The award, for the oil-on-canvas Indian Stories, was Weistling’s second. “It is our haven as artists, where we know we can go to be celebrated and appreciated. I thank God for this place, for protecting the integrity of traditional painting and sculpture, because there aren’t many places that hold this in such high regard.”

For more information, visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum online.