Photo show to open Monday at museum

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

A fair amount of show business and promotion have grown up through the generations around the lives and work of cowboys, but Shidler’s Molly Lawson is interested in the nitty-gritty.

“It’s all about how they work and how they use their bodies,” Lawson says of her photography. She grew up in the ranching life at Dexter, Kansas, the daughter of a cowboy, and she has married a cowboy. Her interest is photographing the real-life labor of cowboys, not a romanticized version of it. That includes the athleticism of the cowboy and his horse.

“I want them to feel like they’re actually there,” Lawson says regarding the reactions of those who view her images. She has a show of 16 photos coming up next Monday at the Ben Johnson Cowboy Mouseum, in Pawhuska. The images, mounted on canvas, will include a mix of black-and-white and color shots, she said.

This will be a first, both for Lawson and for the museum, which is a year old now and growing. It also has personal significance for Lawson because she almost gave up photography a few months back. What resurrected her interest was a winter day on the job with her husband, Kevin, who needed a hand. She took her camera out of habit, and what she shot caught her husband’s attention.

“Molly, I think you kind of need to do this again,” she recalled Kevin saying when he looked at her pictures. “I think you really need to pursue this.”

She had been about to quit altogether, but that day changed everything. Afterward, she contacted other cowboy friends and made arrangements to photograph them at work.

The result is titled the “Cowboys of Oklahoma Art Show” and it is scheduled to open at 6 p.m. next Monday and be on display until July 31 at the Ben Johnson Cowboy Museum, at the intersection of Sixth Street and Leahy Avenue in Pawhuska. The images she offers for viewing at the museum will be available for purchase.

Cody Garnett, owner and curator of the museum, said he was favorably impressed by Lawson’s passion for her work, and by the care she took in putting her show together. A former rodeo cowboy, Garnett also noted the element of Lawson’s photos that emphasizes the transmission of cowboy skills and knowledge from one generation to the next.

“We’re proud it’s a local artist, and that we’re able to give a local girl her first art show,” Garnett said. Of course, it’s also his museum’s first show.

Lawson, 29, is the owner of MHeart Artistry & Studios of Shidler. Of her reaction to her first show (she’s been taking photos about seven years), she said, “It’s nerve-racking.”