Much like visual art, the enduring tradition of cowboy poetry is a rich and vital form of cultural expression in the American West. This exhibition is inspired by the classic and touching poem Equus Caballus, written by Texas poet Joel Nelson to honor the important role and contributions horses have made to the world. The exhibition combines a unique audiovisual presentation of Nelson reciting the poem with a selection of historical and contemporary paintings, photographs, and sculptural works drawn from the permanent collection of the Nevada Museum of Art, alongside a handful of special items on loan from private collections.
Joel Nelson’s poem Equus Caballus (the scientific or Latin name for “horse”) is especially powerful because it is one of the few poems that gives a voice to an animal whose longtime relationship to humans is emotionally layered and historically complex. Nelson’s poem elicits a range of feelings and emotions that resonate with anyone who has spent time with horses and respects them as patient and faithful animals.
In many ways, the visual artworks included in this exhibition also reflect the myriad roles and relationships that horses have had—and continue to have—with humans. From artworks that relate the longtime importance of horses to indigenous people, to photographs of cowboys with their animal partners on the range, and prints and paintings that capture the stoic pride of these stately animals, visual artists using a variety of media their effort to elucidate the essence of the human relationship to the horse.
This exhibition was developed jointly by the Nevada Museum of Art in collaboration with the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada.