Artist Gary Cooley is about to embark on an exotic adventure to the steel and neon jungles of Las Vegas for the annual Safari Club International convention from February 4-7 where he hopes a rousing crowd of art and travel enthusiasts respond to his inspiring African art collection.
A section of his cozy The Collection Gallery in Sisters is devoted to his stunning bronze sculpture pieces capturing the essence of cape buffalos, Maasai warriors, lions, gemsboks, antelopes and rhinos and he’ll be packing up and hauling close to thirty carefully wrapped artworks for the long drive to Nevada.
“I’ve been going to this show since about 1985,” he said. “When I started doing it there were only about 200 booths and now it’s expanded to around 1500 tables. I’ve followed it around to different venues over the years and now it’s being held at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. They even tore out some walls on the convention floor to accommodate everyone.”
Formed in 1972, Safari Club International is a worldwide hunting, travel and leisure organization that also contributes to humanitarian efforts around the planet like providing clean water, medical supplies and building schools in Africa. Their 55,00 members are devoted to the mission of protecting individual’s rights to hunt and promoting wildlife conservation.
“It’s like the world’s biggest adult candy store,” Cooley joked. “There’s so much to do and see, between the jewelry and the artwork and the incredible displays from hotels and lodges all over the world. I think they get around 25,000 patrons coming through over the long weekend.
“There’s phenomenal painters, bronze artists, lots of high end jewelry booths, made-in-Africa furniture, native folkart and outfitters from every part of the planet, travel clubs and guide services for safaris and expeditions of all kinds, everything from bass fishing on the Amazon to bear hunting in Russia.”
Also included in the show is an amazing collection of firearms, custom knives and archery equipment. Cabelas is there in force and numerous outdoor apparel and equipment manufacturers.
“I have pedestals for almost every art piece, as well as all my own lighting and carpeting. Some of the corporate setups there are amazingly elaborate. The architecture of their booths are spectacular, with heavy wooden beams and it’s evident how much work everyone does to make this show beautiful.”
Some of the most popular pieces Cooley sold over the years are his vivid bronze Maasai warriors and the African sable and kudu busts. Another prized piece is his black panther and leopard coffee tables that elicit a lot of attention during the swarms of excited adventure fans flooding the four-day event.
“It’s always fun because I enjoy visiting, to meet people and connect. I have a really great location this year for our setup. Through the years I’ve donated quite a few art pieces for their live auction and your place on their booth selection list is based on monies collected from those auctions so I’m at number 62 out of 1500, which gives me a premium spot.
Karen, my wife, is a big asset. She’s really good with new clients and sales and I’m grateful to have her along for the trip.”
Gary Cooley’s The Collection Gallery
353 West Hood Avenue in downtown Sisters