The Bolo Tie's Artful Ride From Closet To Museum Long a staple of Western wear, the bolo tie is getting the museum treatment in Phoenix. The Heard Museum celebrates the tie's history and artistry in a new exhibit where simple designs are displayed alongside more traditional works of art in the high-ceilinged gallery.

The Bolo Tie's Artful Ride From Closet To Museum

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Lynn Neary. The state of Arizona celebrates its centennial next year, and to help people get dressed up for the occasion, the Heard Museum in Phoenix recently opened an exhibition. It features the state's official neckwear. Yes, Arizona has official neckwear: the bolo tie. NPR's Ted Robbins takes us to the museum.


TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Back when Western swing was in full swing, a cowboy and silversmith in Wickenburg, Arizona, named Vic Cedarstaff was out riding his horse. As the story goes, the wind picked up, and to keep his silver hatband safe, Cedarstaff looped it around his neck.

NORMAN SANDFIELD: And a friend looked up and said: Nice tie you got there, Vic.

ROBBINS: Norman Sandfield is one of the world's foremost bolo tie collectors. He says the Cedarstaff story may be true, but no one really knows if it was the first bolo tie.

SANDFIELD: In the late '40s, Navajo artists were making them in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area: very simple, small, maybe 1-inch-high slides with a braided cord.

ROBBINS: Those simple designs are alongside true works of art in a high-ceilinged gallery at the Heard Museum: silver, gold, turquoise, coral, onyx, stones surrounded by Hopi silver overlay; shapes from nature and abstract designs. Diana Pardue curated the show. Her favorite: a tie nearly 4 inches tall depicting a man and woman square-dancing.

DIANA PARDUE: It's a Zuni bolo tie made in coral, white shell and jet, and I like it because it has a lot of movement and it has a lot of character.

ROBBINS: Many of the ties here came from Norman Sandfield's collection. He is still buying bolo ties, though he passed on one from an auction at the Roy Rogers Museum inspired by Roger's horse Trigger.

SANDFIELD: And it was Trigger's horse poop bolo tie. Poop, P-double O-P. From fine jewelry to folksy pieces, they're made out of everything you can imagine. It's not all art.

ROBBINS: A 1964 Barry Goldwater for president bolo is on display here. Logos from football teams, military units and a tie in the shape of Arizona.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play...

ROBBINS: Singing cowboys may have first popularized the bolo tie, followed by rockabilly musicians in the '50s, who made them hip.


ROBBINS: Bolo ties have never really gone out of style. A large photograph on the gallery wall shows a line of runway models wearing them in a New York fashion show last year. All they require is a shirt with a collar. The way you wear them, says Norman Sandfield, depends on the occasion.

SANDFIELD: The simple rule is the more formal you are, the higher you wear it. With a tuxedo, you would definitely button your top button and push it all the way to the top of the collar. More casual, you have open buttons, and you wear it lower.

ROBBINS: The show is officially titled "Native American Bolo Ties." It's at the Heard Museum in Phoenix for the next year. Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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