Southern Arizona Folk Arts
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El Arte Folklórico del Sur de Arizona en espagñol

Western Boundary Art

Brands can appear, as I said, on gates and mailbox supports - objects that some folklorists call "Western boundary art." It is certainly popular all over the West to place at the edge of one's property sculptural decorations that are often in some way symbolic of the region, its wildlife, and its traditional occupations. A gate with deer or elk skulls on it, for instance, or a mailbox support consisting of some outmoded bit of agricultural equipment, or even a small sculpture done completely of horse shoes - all these are traditional ways in which Westerners have come to celebrate their identity.

Gate to the Triangle T Guest Ranch, Dragoon, Arizona, April, 1989
Gate to the Triangle T Guest Ranch, Dragoon, Arizona, April, 1989
[image courtesy of James S. Griffith]

A kind of domestic sculpture called "boundary art" by some folklorists has developed over much of the American West. One place this art manifests itself is in gates. This simple yet elegant gate to a guest ranch utilizes a common theme - the skulls of regional herbivores.

Gate to a private home, Bowie, May, 1986
Gate to a private home, Bowie, May, 1986
[image courtesy of James S. Griffith]

This gate is much more elaborate, being filled with objects symbolic of the region and its traditional occupations: ploughs, cooking vessels, and boots, among others.

Fence in Bowie, May, 1986
Fence in Bowie, May, 1986
[image courtesy of James S. Griffith]

The resident of this house apparently spent many years collecting old tools from abandoned mining camps and other locations in the region, and then constructed a fence which serves as a statement of how people made a living in southeastern Arizona. Made of narrow-gauge track from an old mine railroad, the fence contains tolls for just about every occupation that was pursued in the region during the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Mailbox support on Arizona Highway 80, near St. David, April, 1989
Mailbox support on Arizona Highway 80, near St. David, April, 1989
[image courtesy of James S. Griffith]

Rural mailbox supports are another medium in which residents can make a strong symbolic statement concerning place and occupation - in this case with an old plough.

Mailbox support, the San Simon Valley, May, 1982
Mailbox support, the San Simon Valley, May, 1982
[image courtesy of James S. Griffith]

And in this case, my personal, all-time favorite, with an old tractor, still wired up and presumably ready for work!

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