Growing up in Chicago, it’s fair to say sculptor Nancy Davidson wasn’t well-versed in the ways of the American West. Like most of us, her experience of rodeos and cowboys came from television and film, and even the western genre scarcely represented cowgirls at all. Doris Day as Calamity Jane is probably the most well-known example, setting the standard for cowgirls as feisty tomboys, skilled in the ways of the frontier and with a stubborn streak as wide as the Great Plains.
What greeted Davidson at Fort Worth’s National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in 2005 was something else. A rodeo competition was in progress nearby and the artist was instantly fascinated by what she saw. Among the many riders competing, cowgirl Jan Youren stood out.
A multiple champion on bronco and bull, Youren remarkably rodeoed until the age of 63 — having enjoyed (or perhaps endured) an astonishing 47-year career in one of the most dangerous and physically punishing sports there is. Davidson was hooked, and embarked on an in-depth investigation of the history and culture of female rodeo which continues to this day, and has had a marked influence on her artistic practice.
Cowgirl is a book showcasing Davidson’s output on the topic, including her bonkers inflatable sculpture Roped, and also features essays by academics, curators and writers including Jessica Brier, Renee M. Laegreid, Leisl Carr-Childers. The volume is available from publishers Daylight.