Abe Hays Collects the History of the West
A kid originally from Western Pennsylvania who didn’t move to this side of the Mississippi River until he was well into his forties might seem like an odd choice for True West Magazine’s “2016 True Westerner of the Year” award. However, for anyone who has met Abe Hays, they know the recognition is nothing short of a long-time coming.
Now a Paradise Valley resident, Abe’s love affair with the West began in 1935, when his family would travel to the base of the San Francisco Peaks just north of Flagstaff to stay on a ranch for a few weeks each summer.
“There is just something about the scenery, the native people and history, and just the general ambiance and lifestyle of being on a ranch and living that kind of life as a young boy. It would be pretty easy to say I was never able to get it out of me,” explains Abe, discussing what pulled him westward after those early days spent at Fern Mountain Ranch.
Following the lead of his father, who was also a collector, Abe began his own collection in the 1940s with the goal of gathering art and artifacts that were either made or used in the nineteen western states.
After a successful career in public relations, Abe moved to Scottsdale in 1976 and opened the Arizona West Gallery on Main Street, where he could continue to focus on his collection and become an advocate for the region’s often overlooked heritage of craftsmanship.
Over a half-century later, the Abe Hays Spirit of the West Collection has grown to over 1,200 artifacts and is featured as an ongoing exhibition at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Divided into categories such as western gear made in prisons, western movies, parades, saloons and others, the collection offers many different examples of holsters, spurs, guns, bronco belts, knives, hats and billheads (invoices), among many others, some of which are exceedingly rare.
The highlight of the exhibition is a variety of saddles on display, some of which date back to the 1800s. As a vital part of life in the Old West, the collection represents many different saddle-makers and different eras of production.
“When we were developing the museum, I felt that the artwork on these saddles was deserving of being shared with the public in different ways,” says Mike Fox, director of Western Spirit.
“I had sandblasted throughout the property, on the sidewalks and in the courtyard, different designs that we took directly off of these saddles. It offers an extension of this extraordinary collection to be shared with the public as people walk up to or leave the museum.”
As one of the driving forces behind Western Spirit, it is only fitting that the museum not only house the Abe Hays collection, but in many ways be inspired by it. After a lifetime of preserving and promoting the western way of life, it is also clear that True West Magazine has indeed selected one of the worthiest as their westerner of the year.
“That magazine has become rather important over the years, and it’s just marvelous now,” says Hays. “(True West Executive Editor) Bob Boze Bell told me that it was long overdue. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I am very honored.”
For more information on the Abe Hays Spirit of the West Collection, please visit ScottsdaleMuseumWest.org.