By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ron Jenkins
The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum returns with a new look, new galleries and new technology. All pay tribute to the women of the West. And horses, of course.
The blue sky is dotted with puffy clouds, and the pastureland is verdant. Standing near a stream, you sense something coming toward you out of the corner of your eye. Suddenly, a group of horses trots up. They pay you no mind and begin to graze, their manes drifting in the breeze.
Field trip to a nearby ranch? Yes, but it’s a gloomy February day, and we’re on the second floor of Fort Worth’s National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. The bucolic sensations are courtesy of a new video installation: Walls along the back of the gallery are filled with projections of images shot at several ranches in Texas and Colorado. The pastoral scenes are mesmerizing and soothing. About every half-hour there is a stunning reveal of a horse in extreme close-up.
The renovated upstairs now known as the Kit Moncrief Galleries is named after the Cowgirl’s board president and benefactor; the floor opens to visitors this month after an intensive remodel. The video installation, artifacts and new attractions are part of the “It’s Never Just a Horse” exhibition celebrating not only the magnificent beasts but the women, past and present, who helped shape the West. Oh, and did we mention you’ll find Wonder Woman there, too? Things have come a long way since the museum’s humble beginnings almost 45 years ago in a library basement in Hereford, Texas.
Also new is the Western Design Room created by Ideum, cutting edge exhibition designers based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. A user-friendly 65-inch multitouch table allows you to choose from bold colors and prints inspired by Hall of Fame honorees to design boots, a Western shirt or even a horse. The design is projected on the room’s walls as you work.
The Cowgirl’s popular Bucking Bronc Experience anchors one end of the gallery. Look for some additions including a new display of embellished Casanova Hats. The two-story mobile remains in the rotunda, and renovations, physical and contentwise, also have been made on the first floor. Projectiles, the Paris-based architectural firm, designed the new galleries as well as the mobile and the Hitting the Mark: Cowgirls and Wild West Shows gallery. It also was the principal on the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit that made a stop in 2011 in Dallas, as well as many international projects.
Whether you’re a regular or a first-time visitor, the whole experience promises to be as engaging as a sudden encounter with a herd of horses, virtual or otherwise.
Aside from the projections, the exhibition features five round “islands” created to house more artifacts for public view and themed to examine the historic partnership between women and horses. The raised platforms are filled with artful displays of saddles and other riding gear, guitars, trophies and awards, and even a typewriter used by a children’s book author. Interactive media stations offer details about each item, some on loan and some part of the permanent collection.
Located throughout the gallery are large cases displaying costumes, including a beautifully beaded tanned elk hide dress, a bejeweled outfit worn by performer Reba McEntire and the leathers donned by Gal Gadot when playing the aforementioned Wonder Woman in the 2017 movie. That costume is on loan from Camilla Naprous, a recent inductee to the Hall of Fame and the horsemaster for other film and TV productions including Game of Thrones. Speaking of GOT, did we mention that Jon Snow’s saddle is on exhibit?