MANHATTAN — A chance encounter between a motorcyclist and African American trail riders in Louisiana sparked the photographs featured in the new Marianna Kistler Beach Museum exhibition “Jeremiah Ariaz: Louisiana Trail Riders” and led to the photographer being named the 2019 Friends of the Beach Museum of Art Gift Print Artist.
The exhibition of former Great Bend resident Ariaz’s work will run Aug. 6 through Dec. 9 in the Beach Museum of Art’s Archie and Dorothy Hyle Family Gallery.
The focus of Ariaz’s exhibition photos are the African American trail riding clubs in southwest Louisiana. The professor of art at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and former Kansan came across the clubs in 2014 while riding his motorcycle. When he pulled over to allow the equestrians to pass, he got out his camera and took a few photographs. He was soon invited to join the riders and became a fixture among the clubs for the next few years.
The trail riding clubs are part of Louisiana’s Creole culture that has its roots in the population of Frenchman, Native Americans and free people of color who settled in the region during the 18th century. Today’s Louisiana trail riding clubs number in the dozens and bear distinctive names such as the 5 Star Fillies, Steady Steppin’ Riders and Crazy Hat Riders. Club members gather on weekends and move through parish communities and prairie grasslands, listening to zydeco music from a sound system or by live bands in tow. The trail rides are an opportunity for generations from rural parts of the state to gather and celebrate.
Ariaz, who was born in Hutchinson and grew up in Great Bend, says the clubs have influenced his understanding of American history.
“I spent my childhood in Kansas and had a particular image of a cowboy shaped by popular culture,” Ariaz said. “He was gruff, serious, white and situated in the modern West. The trail riders in Louisiana are a stark contrast to most depictions of cowboys, offering a radically different vantage point to consider images of the West and acknowledging that black equestrian culture stems from a time when the American West was Louisiana Territory.”
“Gavin (front) and Jock (rear) Saddle Horses, Ride or Die Club (Opelousas, La.)” from the “Jeremiah Ariaz: Louisiana Trail Riders” exhibition has been chosen as the 2019 Friends of the Beach Museum of Art Gift Print. Each year the Friends commission a limited-edition print by a recognized Kansas artist for sale to Friends members and the public. For more information about supporting the museum as a Friend or purchasing a gift print, call 785-532-7718 or go to beach.k-state.edu.
Ariaz earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Kansas City Art Institute and a Master of Fine Arts from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
The museum will offer some related activities, all free and open to the public:
• The Art in Motion cowboy-themed kickoff event will be 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at the Beach Museum of Art.
• At 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Volland Store Gallery near Alma, Ariaz will sign copies of his 2018 book, “Jeremiah Ariaz: Louisiana Trail Riders” and give a talk. As part of the program, Liz Seaton, Beach Museum curator, will present a talk about the museum’s exhibition, “John Steuart Curry: The Cowboy Within,” which will run from Sept. 24 to March 21, 2020.
• “Buffalo Soldiers,” a made-for-TV movie from 1997 starring Danny Glover, will be screened and followed by comments from consultant and actor Barrie Tompkins of the Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers Association from 5-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, at the Beach Museum of Art.
The “Jeremiah Ariaz: Louisiana Trail Riders” exhibition is supported by the Greater Manhattan Community Foundation’sLincoln and Dorothy I. Deihl Community Grant Program, Dan and Beth Bird, the Bluemont Hotel and the Friends of the Beach Museum of Art. The artist’s work and the exhibition are made possible by South Arts; the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities; New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation; and the Louisiana Board of Regents.
The Beach Museum of Art, at 14th Street and Anderson Avenue, is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free and free parking is available adjacent to the museum.