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Dogs, ponies and Paxson

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Dogs, ponies and Paxson
Dogs, ponies and Paxson

UM Museum's first-ever auction offers works by some of the West's best artists

Painted ponies and crafted canines lead the show at the UM Museum of Fine Arts's first-ever fund-raiser, but by no means do they dominate.

With works by Tu Baixong, Edgar S. Paxson, Joseph Henry Sharp and Rudy Autio in the mix - works that have nothing to do with the afore-mentioned mammals - quality becomes the overarching theme of the event, and the mutts and mules a breathtaking diversion.

Go ahead: giggle. Who wouldn't smile at the parti-colored ponies rearing up on their hind legs courtesy of Larry Pirnie and Jerome Rankin? They're life-sized, too - terrific conversation pieces for any home.

A horse of a different color? This auction has lots of them, from Sheila Miles' legs-akimbo mare enjoying "A Good Scratch," to Stephanie Frostad's "Survivor" horse - also life-sized - emblazoned with a blackened Bitterroot Valley, to Kendall Jan Jubb's "China Horse" bearing the delicate imagery and colors of hand-painted porcelain from the orient.

Oh, but let's not forget the dogs. The show boasts a veritable pack of lovable mutts that never need feeding and that are guaranteed not to wake the neighbors at night. Who could resist Steve Kelly's "Bird Dog," with its little cocked head and eager, alert eyes? And what of Francis Pearson's "Good Dog," or David James' vibrant "Kodacolor Dog?" These pooches are meant to sit around looking pretty - for some, the ideal companion animal.

Contemporary artists, yes, have all but stolen the dog-and-pony show. Traditional Western art takes its place comfortably alongside the newer works, though. Just look at the names: Ace Powell. Bob Scriver. O.C. Seltzer. John Fery.

Abe Lincoln said you can't please all of the people all of the time, but the folks who put together the Dog and Pony Show have done their darndest to prove him wrong. Their motive is simple: money - lots of money, for maintaining and preserving the museum's collection of more than 9,500 works, the largest private collection of art in the region.

University funding for doing so is minimal, says Margaret Mudd, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, which comprises the Paxson and Meloy galleries in the Performing Arts and Radio/TV Building. The museum's operations budget, which includes Mudd's full-time salary and a part-time collections manager, falls under $100,000, she says.

For a museum that offers up to a dozen shows a year, the money is dreadfully tight, Mudd says. And, with the university cutting teaching positions to make ends meet, chances of getting more from public coffers appears nil, at least for now. Still, there are all those paintings and sculptures sitting in storage in the Social Sciences Building, in need of cleaning and maintaining and photographing and cataloguing and, yes, showing.

"We've never asked the public to help us take care of the collection," Mudd says. "Now we're saying, 'This is what we have; this is what is yours. We hope you'll help celebrate it and help us care for it.' "

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