Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
Western Spirit showcases renowned artists including Georgia O’Keeffe, Allan Houser, and Charles Bird King
Published April 2015

Western Spirit

Scottsdale’s new museum weaves a unique story about the American West

BYTeresa Bitler

Set aside your preconceived notions of what the American West was in the past or will be in the future. Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West redefines both through the works of renowned artists including Georgia O’Keeffe, Allan Houser, and Charles Bird King, as well as interactive exhibits that include frontiersmen, water conservation, or life on the Aleutian Islands.
 
Curator Tricia Loscher explains that the LEED-certified museum, which opened in January, doesn’t limit itself geographically to what most would consider “the West,” but includes all 19 of the nation’s westernmost states from Wyoming and Texas to Hawaii. As a result, the museum relates the experiences of a broad spectrum of people in a variety of mediums, including paintings, sculptures, leatherwork, vases, photographs, and historic artifacts.
 
Although the 43,000-square-foot, city-owned museum is art-centric, Loscher hopes it will be known for more than the artwork displayed in its eight galleries. One of the museum’s goals is to become a regional institute, bringing together leading authorities of the region to tell the story of the redefined West.
 
“We’re not really a traditional museum, so to speak,” she says. “We are a storytelling center.”
 
That story begins the minute you walk through the door. The smell of the organically harvested cedar that lines the walls transports you to untouched forests of long ago, while natural light from the courtyard and other windows recalls the vast expanse of the plains. Above, wagon wheels hanging from the entrance’s ceiling pay homage to the challenging journey settlers faced as they moved westward. Even the museum’s meandering layout evokes a sense of freedom.
 
Unlike many of its counterparts, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West goes beyond the story of Americans heeding the call to “go West” or the Native Americans already there. Instead, it incorporates the stories of all the people who traveled West, regardless of country of origin, race, color, religion, or the date on the historic timeline. Loscher sees this broad scope as a chance to explore some of the stereotypes that exist about the West.
 
It also keeps the museum fresh since exhibits will rotate every six to 12 months. On one visit, you might learn about Chinese influences on the West, and, on the next, cattle ranching.
 
“I hope people walk away with a sense of wonder and excitement,” Loscher says. “And that they start to question what defines the American West and what their role in the American West is.”
 
 
TERESA BITLER is the author of Backroads & Byways of Indian Country.
The museum has eight galleries and rotates exhibits every six to 12 months
The museum has eight galleries and rotates exhibits every six to 12 months
If You Go
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
3830 N. Marshall Way
Scottsdale, AZ
480-686-9539
scottsdalemuseumwest.org

Tuesday – Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Scottsdale Artwalk Thursdays, 9:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
 
Learn More
To find out about trips that highlight our nation’s Western culture, call your local AAA Travel agent toll-free at 1-888-870-9392 or visit AAA.com
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