In the News: Artist's Legacy Lives On

Detail from "American Horse" (1976) by Jim Savage.

Detail from American Horse (1976) by Jim Savage.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 24, 2015

The masterful work of Sioux Falls woodcarver Jim Savage (1932-1986) holds a special place of recognition at the Center for Western Studies. The artist's workshop, on display at the Center from 2001-2013, is now available as an online exhibit. New long-term exhibit installations at the Center's Fantle Building highlighting Jim's work amongst other examples of regional folk art will open in the fall of 2015.

The Argus Leader recently caught up with Jim's widow, Shirley Savage Jones, to discuss the artist's ongoing legacy.

What Ever Happened To: The Savages

By Virginia Olson, Argus Leader

Western art will always hold a special place in Shirley Savage Jones’ heart.

For three decades, she found her stride as a natural networker with fellow artists when husband Jim Savage died in 1985. She continued on with the Jim Savage Western Art Gallery and Memorial Studio in their backyard in east Sioux Falls. In 1991, she relocated, opening the Jim Savage Western Art Gallery and Historical Center at Village Square on East 26th Street.

“We moved in style,” said Savage Jones. “With the help of McCrossan Boys’ Ranch and their covered wagons, we made the move to Village Square. The gallery would be our home for 10 years.”

In 2001, the Center for Western Studies at Augustana College gave the Savage collection a permanent home.

While working in the art world, Savage Jones felt it was important to elevate the presence of South Dakota’s strong western culture and its art.

From the beginning, Savage Jones saw her husband’s art as a team effort. He was the artist; she was the promoter. Savage had made a reputation for himself with his sculptures of cowboys, buffalo and Native Americans. At art shows around the city, he would create his wood sculptures for the public. In 1972, he became a full-time woodcarver.

In the 1980s, western art was hot. Savage Jones and her husband continued to build a national reputation, as he won awards around the country.

Wanting in some way to preserve her husband’s unique wood sculptures and keep his art alive in the gallery, Savage Jones took his famous pieces, created replicas and used a technique called bronze casting to produce unique originals of her husband’s work.

To further promote the art, Savage Jones worked tirelessly with the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and the South Dakota Department of Tourism to promote South Dakota’s Old West history and western art.

In 1990, Savage Jones married Merle Jones, who was a big help in setting up the gallery at Village Square and moving the art to the Center for Western Studies in 2001. He died in 2005.

Grandson Tyler Savage, now a teacher at Harrisburg North Middle School, remembers when the art gallery was in his grandparents’ unfinished basement.

“Some of my earliest memories of the art gallery were family Christmases in my Grandma’s basement,” he said. “At the time I thought that’s what a grandparent’s basement looked like — a fireplace and family room with a workshop and wall-to-wall stuff. Amazingly, I don’t recall any of us grandkids ever breaking anything while we were playing.”

A cultural shift in art and trends led Savage Jones to step out of the art business when she moved the collection to Augustana College.

“There is less hankering for original pieces of western art,” said Savage Jones. “The Center for Western Studies seemed like a great place to perpetuate the history of western art and leave a legacy for Jim’s work. I was happy to find a home for this beautiful art and keep Jim Savage and his work in the public eye. People still ask about of his masterpieces like ‘White Bull,’ which has 2,000 pieces of natural wood.”

This summer, Augustana will open the Northern Plains Folk Art Continuum. The Savage carvings will be part of this new exhibit.

Though there is not a lot of Jim Savage’s art for resale, Savage Jones knows that social media has helped rediscover some of the late artist’s work.

Connie Savage Thiewes, his daughter who now lives in Apple Valley, Minn., maintains a Facebook page that keeps track of her dad’s art.

A large original piece of Savage art was recently tracked down in Burnsville, Minn., and brought back to Sioux Falls.

Savage Jones continues to reside in Sioux Falls. Her home is filled with Savage art and offspring. Important now is spending time with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“It’s family time now,” she said.