Best of the West: 10 facts about Scottsdale’s downtown museum

Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West is at 3830 N. Marshall Way. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Located along Marshall Way in southwest downtown Scottsdale is Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West — an $11.4 million, Smithsonian Affiliated facility comprised of sculptures, myriad forms of art work and artifacts from the country’s rich Western history.

Since opening Jan. 15, 2015, the museum features regularly changing exhibitions of Western art and historical objects on loan from some of the world’s foremost collectors and institutions. In addition, the museum immerses its guests in the essence of the American West through entertaining events and informative programs.

Interactive games and activities, as well as multi-media kiosks strategically located throughout the galleries, provide insightful stories about the art and objects on exhibit.

The downtown museum’s featured exhibitions range from horse saddles and spurs, Hopi clay pottery, 1900s Western film movie posters, paintings, sculptures and artifacts. The museum is at 3830 N. Marshall Way.

Since its opening, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West has become a Smithsonian Affiliate organization, a TripAdvisor highly rated Scottsdale destination, and was named the nation’s “Best Western Museum” twice by the editors of True West magazine.

The museum is owned by the city of Scottsdale and operated by Scottsdale Museum of the West, a nonprofit organization. In April 2016 the museum building was certified LEED Gold, highlighting the facility’s design, construction and operation of environmentally conscious buildings.

The Scottsdale Independent reached out to Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West to learn some of the best fun-facts about the historic items. Read below to learn “Did You Know?” facts about individual exhibitions.

Exhibition: The Abe Hays Family Spirit of the West Collection (photo by Melissa Fittro)

No. 1

Vest pockets and saddlebags were used by working cowboys to store key personal items such as razors, shaving soap, pocket knives, can openers, bandanas, playing cards, tobacco and, at times, a harmonica or flask.

(photo by Melissa Fittro)

No. 2

In the American West, spurs came north with the Mexican vaqueros and developed differently in Texas and California. California spurs were frequently decorated with inlaid brass, silver, and gold. Texas spurs were generally heavier and larger, and featured a metalsmithing process referred to as overlay.

John Coleman, “Man’s Prelude to Honor,” 1993, layered bronze. From the exhibition “Of Spirit and Flame: John Coleman Bronzes from the Collection of Frankie and Howard Alper.” (photo by Melissa Fittro)

No. 3

This exhibition celebrates the unique patronage and decades-long friendship between Scottsdale, Arizona residents Frankie and Howard Alper and award-winning Western artist John Coleman. The Alpers first learned of Coleman in 1993 through a friend. Curious, Howard Alper called Coleman and asked him to express mail photographs of his artwork to him. Alper bought two artworks and, later, purchased additional sculptures during a visit to the artist’s studio and home. Ever since, the Alpers have added the number one bronze casting to their collection, which now totals almost 100 Coleman sculptures.

Joe Beeler, American (U.S.), 1931-2006, “Down the Snake,” bronze; Courtesy the Peterson Family Collection. From the exhibition “Confluence of Cultures in the American West: A Selection of Contemporary Artists.” (photo by Melissa Fittro)

No. 4

From 1815-1840 the mountain man lifestyle was at its peak. However, as beaver and buffalo declined in population, so too did the mountain man’s traditional way of life.

(photo by Melissa Fittro)

No. 5

Although hundreds of thousands of movie posters rolled off the presses, relatively few have survived. Posters were shipped from theater to theater, and became worn, ragged and outdated. Paper drives during World War II emptied film-studio storage warehouses, making silent film posters particularly rare.

Exhibition: The Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

No. 6

The earliest Westerns were filmed in New Jersey. They derived from the Wild West shows that were touring the country in the late 1800s. California’s long days of sunshine and variety of outdoor settings quickly lured film companies to the West.

By artist Thomas Moran. (photo by Scottsdale’s Museum of the West)

No. 7

Artist Thomas Moran’s sketches captured the nation’s attention and helped inspire Congress and President Ulysses Grant to establish the Yellowstone region as the first national park in 1872.

Museum building: Eco-friendly and sustainable architecture/design (photo by Melissa Fittro)

No. 8

The “weeping wall” in the Christine and Ted Mollring Sculpture Courtyard collects rainwater from the roof and 100 percent of the condensation from the museum’s heating and cooling systems.

The Scottsdale Craftsmen: A 70-Year Legacy. On display through Jan. 7, 2018 (photo by Melissa Fittro)

No. 9

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Arizona Craftsmen Center in 1946 and 1947 and later wrote glowing reports in her iconic “My Day” column, bringing national attention to Scottsdale as an arts, crafts and fashion destination.

Marjorie Thomas: Arizona Art Pioneer. On display through Jan. 7, 2018 (photo by Melissa Fittro)

No. 10

Arizona’s early arts community was almost entirely female. The women who arrived here in the first two decades of the twentieth century were independent spirits who relished an exhilarating personal freedom from the rigid social constraints of the East.


Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment