Barbara Van Cleve:

Old Friends - The 40th Anniversary Exhibition

Exhibition Dates: April 11, 2024 – May 28, 2024

Opening Reception with the Artist: Saturday, April 13, 2024, 7:00 to 10:00 P.M. at the Andrew Smith Gallery Arizona LLC,  330 S. Convent Ave., Tucson 85701

Andrew Smith Gallery Arizona is pleased to announce the opening of its penultimate public exhibition, Barbara Van Cleve: Old Friends - The 40th Anniversary Exhibition, celebrating her career as the leading Western photographer of ranchers, ranches, horses, cattle, and the Western landscape.


©Barbara Van Cleve, Quiet Loops, 1989

The gallery's final exhibition will be in June of 2024 featuring Miguel Gandert, celebrating his career as the leading photographer of Hispanic Culture in the Southwest for 50 years including groundbreaking documentary work on Indo-Hispanic Ceremonies from the Southwest United States to South America.

In September 2024 the Andrew Smith Gallery will scale back to a by-appointment private dealer status. The Gallery will continue to represent its leading contemporary artists, Shelley Niro, Zig Jackson, Victor Masayesva Jr. [Duwawisioma], Barbara Van Cleve, and Miguel Gandert as well as the estates of Patrick Nagatani and George Gardner. The Gallery will continue working with large collections and important historic and classic photography particularly Geologic Survey photography and the works of Laura Gilpin and Ansel Adams.


©Barbara Van Cleve, A Fine Evening, 2001

Barbara Van Cleve (b. 1935) is nationally and internationally recognized for her photographs depicting traditional ranching life in the American West. Descended from Montana pioneers, she was born and raised on her family's historic ranch founded in 1880 near Big Timber, Montana. By age eleven she was photographing with a Brownie Box camera, and she has never stopped working. Van Cleve currently lives in Big Timber, Montana but for twenty years she was a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In August of 1985, Andrew Smith Gallery then located in Albuquerque, had its first solo exhibition of work by Barbara Van Cleve. Van Cleve’s first love and second career is photography. She left the family ranch for college where she studied Victorian poetry and became a college teacher and administrator in Chicago. In the summers she was always back at the ranch, as she said in a 1989 interview:

“I was born and raised on a ranch, so I've worked cattle all my life I've packed a camera with me since I was 11. It's second nature. Also, working cattle is relatively slow compared to running horses. It's "Hell for leather," running horses from horseback! When I'm at the family ranch for four months every summer I'm so busy I can't pick up a camera unless I really make a tremendous effort. My interest in photography and the demand for it has grown so much that I'll be spending less time on the ranch. My mother, brother, married sister, and her husband are there to run things on a year-round basis. My real love at the ranch is taking care of the horses, making decisions about the brood mare stock, getting the colts halter broken, really gentled, and started. Riding everyday all day with the guests on the dude ranch when we move and sort cattle, gathering horses, and branding colts among other things is what eats up my time and energy.”


Barbara has released a group of exquisite vintage silver gelatin prints of classic images in celebration of 40 years of working with Andrew Smith Gallery.


©Barbara Van Cleve, A Good Day Under the Crazies, 1989

Highlights from Barbara Van Cleve exhibitions at the Andrew Smith Gallery:


©Barbara Van Cleve, Brewing Storm, 2000

Our first exhibition of Barbara Van Cleve's was Wranglers, Punchers and Cattle Women: Photographs of the American West in 1985. Liz Kay, longtime gallery writer, wrote:

"Barbara Van Cleve is an old hand at photographing the West. As much at home in the saddle as she is behind a lens, Van Cleve has been taking photographs of ranch life and rodeos since the 1940s when she and her father, Spike Van Cleve, owner of one of the largest spreads in Montana, competed in rodeos together. Barbara's friend, teacher and rodeoing partner, Spike authored two highly praised books about ranching in Montana. Sharing her father's intimate knowledge of cowboy life, Barbara has recorded it with her camera, combining her father's humorous journalistic vision with her own photographic skills. Her elegant black and white photographs of ranchers, rodeos, cowboys, and cattle women, reveal much about the rapidly transforming western United States, as well as our romantic ideas about the frontier."

Van Cleve's long familiarity with "wrangling dudes, punching cattle, and running horses" has resulted in powerful documentary photographs as well as mythic images about the scale and freedom associated with the American West.


©Barbara Van Cleve, Ground Blizzard, 1981

"Ground Blizzard" was taken on a deer hunting trip with her father. Caught in a sudden snowstorm, Barbara saw the chance for a highly poetic photograph of her father and the four pack horses moving into the blinding snow.


©Barbara Van Cleve, Noon Break (No. 2), 1981

"Noon Break, Northern New Mexico (No. 2)" is an image of four cowboys on horseback in a prairie. Above them a billowing thunderhead mushrooms in the summer sky. The camaraderie of the cowboys is emphasized by the vastness of the land and sky around them.

1990 Exhibition: The Last Great Trail Drive

In this work Barbara Van Cleve photographed an epic event of Americana: one of the last great cattle drives of the American West. In the summer of 1990, Van Cleve helped drive 3000 head of cattle on the Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive sixty miles from Roundup, Montana to Billings, Montana.

This exhibition featured 30 prints from the drive, and envisioned the historic past as it documented the present. Van Cleve's photographs capture the freedom of movement over open spaces, changes of mood and weather according to time of day, and a spirited cooperation between people and animals.

In all her work Van Cleve reminds us that many Americans still live close to nature and are in direct physical touch with their daily realities. Realizing how quickly these qualities of existence are vanishing in our technological world, she seeks to do more than make nostalgic images of the past. Through her photographs she gives the viewer a taste of something intangible yet familiar, perhaps hoping to inspire within us a need to preserve what we can of an earthy and invigorating way of life.


©Barbara Van Cleve, Ghost Horses, 1989

"Ghost Horses" is a hauntingly beautiful image that conjures up timeless scenes of running horse herds and lines of plodding cattle partially obscured by dust.

“It was an honor for me to be selected as one of the 109 drovers on the Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive. Approximately two people were chosen from every county in Montana. The drive was 60 miles, from Roundup, Montana to Billings, Montana.

I was in the drover's camp that worked the main herd. There were five other women drovers besides myself, and with the exception of one they were all "Pure quill" -honest-to-God ranch women. There was also the social riders camp which was made up of 209 covered wagons and at least 3300 riders. I never saw them except toward the end of the first day when they made camp.

My intention was to photograph the drive, so it looked as much as possible like a drive of 100 years ago. Of course, that's impossible. I went there thinking about L.A. Huffman's work from the turn of the century. He photographed men on a cattle drive in their bedrolls. I've never worked so many cattle before; moving 3000 head of Longhorns, Crossbreeds, Watusis, Angus, and Herefords...and before long I realized I'd never get images of cowboys in bedrolls because they were up and about before it was light.”

1992 Exhibition: Photographers of the West


©Barbara Van Cleve, Graceful Control, 1991

Van Cleve's earlier photographs captured the freedom of movement over open spaces, changes of light and weather, and a spirited cooperation between people and animals. This body of work focused on the drama and abstractions of photographing moving forms. With a bold new vision, Van Cleve photographed the highly trained Lippizzaner horses during a performance in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Unlike her usual outdoor work which has always contained specific references to time and place, the white Lippizzaner horses charging against a black background are as timelessly classic as a Greek frieze. Several images of Lippizzaners and other subjects in this exhibit contain Van Cleve's most abstract work to date.


©Barbara Van Cleve, Dance of the Runaway Horse, 1989

1993 Exhibition: By Day and By Night

In this commanding body of work, Ms. Van Cleve presents photographs of the most observed and challenging of subjects, the weather and western skies taken both at night and by day. Photographs of "cloud to cloud" lightning, "buttermilk" skies, dust, the celestial movements of sun, moon and stars, and other meteorological conditions describe the weather's physical and emotional effects on land, animals, and people.

​Working from horseback on her Montana ranch, Van Cleve generally takes a camera along to record nature in both its placid and threatening moods. In the photograph Hot Storm, horses run for cover as lightning bolts flash from heavy cloud cover. "I hate to be out on a horse in weather like that, " says Van Cleve. "My granddad had two horses knocked out from under him by lightning. Nothing is that important that needs to keep me out on that flat when there's a storm like this coming. I want to live to a ripe old age!" Hurrying Home depicts the same urgency as a cowboy and cattle try to outrun lightning bolts. Technically, Van Cleve has emphasized the scale of the storms in these photographs and reduced the land and animals to tiny, vulnerable forms at its base. The photograph captures a "hot storm" when thunderheads discharge lightning but no rain. Van Cleve divided the picture plane between brilliant lightning bolts and a dark mass that looms as land or sea.


©Barbara Van Cleve, Hot Storm, 1993

2016 Exhibition: Pure Quill

“I want to capture the beauty of the landscape, the setting or rising of the sun, and the dust swirling as horses or cattle move across the terrain . . . I want people to see ranching as something different from the mythical image of the cowboy riding off into the sunset, brave, strong, and alone . . . There are also women doing half the work or even more.”  ---Barbara Van Cleve - "Pure Quill: Photographs by Barbara Van Cleve." 

Barbara Van Cleve is the real deal. She has both the swagger and shyness of a true westerner. Her sense of the land and people combined with her sophisticated photographic techniques elevate her work into a special pantheon of legendary western Landscape, ranch, and documentary photographers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, notably L.A. Huffman, Evelyn Cameron and Erwin Smith. Not only is she a brilliant photographer of the American West; she herself grew up in the saddle so the authenticity in her work shows clearly from her lifetime of genuine experiences and insights. Unlike many tinhorn eastern photographers, who adopt the cowboy life as a romantic hobby, Van Cleve embraces the grit and substance of real Western life. Her subjects are not sentimental objects, but rather friends and colleagues. Her black and white prints show more than any photographer of her generation, including expressing the true grandness and enthralling isolation and toughness of the American West.


©Barbara Van Cleve, Cow Country: Wet Country Grass, 2011

Amid the breathtaking vista of open range, a long line of black cattle is being herded by four drovers. This powerful horizontal composition describes ranching life at its most idyllic. The cows form a serpentine black column that contrasts with the silvery pastures. 


©Barbara Van Cleve, A Natural Design, 2011

Van Cleve almost always works with available or natural light, searching for exceptional atmospheric displays in the early morning, late afternoon, or even by moonlight. She took this photograph as the late afternoon sunlight glowed upon seven horses and colts grazing peacefully in a sweeping landscape. 

In the mid-1980s Van Cleve was working on a photo series about a three-time champion women’s bull rider. She hoped to interest People Magazine in the story and when that did not play out her mother gave her an even better idea. “Why don’t you photograph ranch women across the West?” she asked. Van Cleve grabbed on to the idea and a decade later the project became the book titled "Hard Twist: Western Ranch Women.” A 1996 exhibition of 120 photographs was organized by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.


©Barbara Van Cleve, Sorting Cattle in a Crowd: Ann Holland Daughtery, 1988

Barbara Van Cleve was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1995 in recognition for her great achievements in photography. In 2000 she received the Distinguished Artist Award from the Santa Fe Rotary Foundation. Her books include "Roughstock Sonnets" (1989), "Hard Twist" (1995), "Holding the Reins: A Ride Through Cowgirl Life" (2003) and “Pure Quill: Photographs by Barbara Van Cleve” (2016). She received the 2001 Mary Belle Grant Award from the Coors Western Art Foundation for “honoring an individual who embodies the spirit of the western way of life and symbolizes a passion for the West through art.” In 2005, as the featured artist at the Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale, she became the first woman and the first photographer to be thus honored. She became the Treasured Montana Artist in 2009. Her archive will reside at the Montana Historical Society.

Thanks to Liz Kay the longtime gallery writer who interviewed the artists and wrote all the press releases for the gallery from 1984 to 2018.


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