The cowgirl has a certain place in America’s heart and history along with her counterpart, the cowboy. Just like her male peers, the cowgirl has a long tradition in the American West. Like generations before her, she gets up before dawn, feeds and doctors her animals, tends to the various duties that are required to run a ranch, and in most cases, raises a family as well. Cowgirls: Contemporary Portraits of the American West introduces us to some of these women. Ronnie Farley takes us alongside these women on their ranches as they work their cattle and sheep and on the road as they compete in rodeos.
This exhibit is the culmination of Farley’s trips out west interviewing women ranchers and rodeo contestants between 1992 and 1993. Of the book Cowgirls: Contemporary Portraits of the American West, first published in 1995 by Crown and reprinted in 1998 by Thunder’s Mouth Press, The New York Times wrote, “Although the subtitle suggests this tribute is purely pictorial, the accompanying narratives are as engaging as Ronnie Farley’s stunning photographs; both rescue cowgirls from rhinestone-studded stereotypes and document the gritty realities of Western life.”
These women truly embody the spirit of the West — its rich history, romance, adventure, renegade attitude, and hard working ethic. They accept challenges and misfortune, the highs and lows, with equal grace and reserve. Through every story runs a common thread of hardship, determination, and independence. These cowgirls are tough ladies. Their lives should inspire people of all ages and enrich our knowledge of the American West and the many contributions of western women.