Cheyenne has an active group of creative and talented artists that the city has embraced fully. There is evidence of the community’s support through the downtown area as well as other parts of town. As we walked in the downtown area, we were impressed with the outdoor artwork on display. There were murals, bronze sculptures, and large hand-painted Cowboy Boot sculptures that adorned the city streets.
Large murals painted on the sides of buildings are the handiwork of participants in the Paint Slingers Street Art festival. Every year, since 2015, local and regional artists join forces to create art for the Cheyenne community. With their spray paint cans in hand, they bring life and color to parts of the city. The Paint Slingers hope to promote appreciation for public art and also to dissuade destructive forms of art like graffiti. The organizers pair artists with local businesses and property owners who “donate” a wall and also collaborate with the artists on the wall’s design. Most designs celebrate Wyoming’s history and culture. This event is held in July and in 2022 it boasted more than 50 participating artists. These unique designs add interest to Cheyenne and draw lots of people to see them. There is a list of the mural on paintslingers.org/gallery.
The Cheyenne Bronze Statue Project is the most recent addition to Cheyenne’s downtown art scene. In 2020, Harvey Deselms, a fine art gallery owner, posed his idea of adding bronze statuary to downtown to Patrick Collins, the city’s mayor. Mr. Deselms proposed placing a statue on every corner from the State Capitol building to the Cheyenne Depot building – a total of 28 statues. The mayor was ecstatic and they formed a committee to oversee the project. They have exceeded their goal and now hope to have 50 statues in downtown in the near future. Each bronze statue depicts historical figures, animals, Native Americans, as well as scenes from everyday life. The figures are placed atop a pedestal made of bricks matching those used in the construction of the Union Pacific Depot. Local artists are hired to create the sculptures and the community continues to support the project through their generous donations. According to Mr. Deselms, “Our city, and the entire state of Wyoming share a special place in the history of the American West, and this is a way to leave a lasting legacy through art.”
Perhaps the most renowned artwork in Cheyenne are the large Cowboy Boot sculptures that grace the city. There are more than 30 hand-painted, 8 ft. tall boots in and around the city. Each one tells a story and they are so popular that there is a map indicating the location of each one. Eighteen of them are highlighted (mostly the ones in the downtown area) as part of a free audio tour of the Cowboy Boots. David and I had a great time tracking many of them down on our walking tour of the city. In total, we managed to see 16 of them during our time in Cheyenne. The majority of the ones we saw were downtown but we did drive to look for others. It was a fun “scavenger hunt” of sorts.
This initiative called “These Boots are Made for Talking” was a collaboration between the Cheyenne Depot Museum Foundation and the Downtown Development Authority. The boot sculptures were sponsored by local businesses and auctioned at a fundraiser. Local artists painted each one and each one tells it own story and many commemorate some aspect of Cheyenne’s history. Every year they are adding more as businesses and individuals commission them.
Here are a few of our favorites:
At the entrance to the Wyoming State Museum is the “Licensed to Boot” sculpture. The Cowboy Boot depicts the changes in the Wyoming state license plates over the years. A Cary Jr. High School art teacher designed the boot to look like a snakeskin boot but the Jr. High School Art Club actually painted it. The Cowboy Boot sculptures are truly a community affair.
Cheyenne’s largest annual celebration is the Cheyenne Frontier Days. This event first began in 1897 and has grown over the years and today it attracts national and international visitors. The Cowboy Boot called “8 – Second Steps to the Big Time” depicts the stages that a cowboy goes through on his journey to becoming a top rodeo cowboy or cowgirl. This year is the 126th year of celebrating Cheyenne’s Western heritage of which the rodeo is a central part.
Cathy Nicholas designed “The Wyoming Women 1st to Vote” boot. As mentioned in our previous post, Wyoming was the first state not only to give women the right to vote but also the right to hold public office and serve on juries. It is proud that they elected the first female governor and justice of the peace in the United States. This pink and teal boot applauds these historic decisions made in Wyoming.
These two sculptures commemorate the 150th birthday of the founding of the city of Cheyenne and also the 100th anniversary of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
One of the more controversial event in Wyoming history is depicted on a Cowboy Boot that Cecil Burnett painted. It’s called “The Saga of Tom Horn.” Tom Horn was a gunslinger who lived during the cattle rustling controversies of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in southern Wyoming. He was accused and convicted of the murder of Willie Nickell, a son of a sheep rancher. Willie’s father was involved in a range feud. Horn was hanged in Cheyenne in 1903. His guilt or innocence, however, is still debated to this day. Tom Horn has been the subject of many books and his character has appeared in many television and movie productions over the years.
Seven of the Cowboy Boots are located near or on the Depot Plaza. “Memories of the Old West” highlights how settlers arrived in the West. Cody Hammill, the artist, is also a rancher in the area. His family have been ranching in the Cheyenne for generations. With his design, he wanted to show how people arrived first via the wagon train and later on the railroad trains that past through Wyoming. This sculpture was his first foray into art and has since painted several more boots.
“Exeter’s Pony Express,” a Jordan Dean creation, depicts mail service between 1860-1861 when horsemen rode across the American West to deliver messages to the West Coast. It was the first transcontinental communication service.
“Downtown Cheyenne” celebrates the growth of the capital city through a montage of scenes on the top of the Cowboy Boot.
Alice Reed is a quilter and an abstract artist. Her love of quilting is easy to see in the Cowboy Boot sculpture called “Governors of Wyoming” which stands at the entrance to the Cheyenne Depot. The top of the boot resembles a quilt and the toe of the boot has some quilting patterns on it. The names of all the Wyoming governors and the dates that they served are inscribed on the white squares on the boot.
Wyoming’s beauty is honored on two of the boots that welcome you to Depot Plaza. The first is called “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play,” which is one of the lyrics to the song “Home on the Range.” The deer and the antelope are playing a card game under the stars and by the light of a full moon. Liz Gnagy, the artist, offers a whimsical interpretation of this well-known song about the Wyoming range.
The second called “Don’t Feed the Animals” focuses attention on Wyoming’s wildlife. There are pronghorns, but also trout, prairie dogs, and other animals that appear on the Cowboy Boot.
We had a great time exploring Cheyenne and seeing some fantastic artwork. Now when people ask us, “What is there to see and do in Cheyenne?” We can honestly say, “There is a lot” – a lot of interesting museums, cultural events, and wonderful art of enjoy. In fact, there is so much that we will have to plan a return trip to Cheyenne because we did not get to see all of the things that there are to do in the city.