Annie Oakley 378 by Andy Warhol is one of ten screenprints in Warhol’s Cowboys and Indians portfolio. Warhol was fascinated with Western movies as a child growing up in the 1930s and 40s. He remained intrigued by the genre as an adult, and he incorporated elements of the Western genre in much of his artwork. Aside from the Cowboys and Indians portfolio, Warhol demonstrated his enduring interest in Americana with his Myths series, Ads series and two Western films: Horse (1965) and Lonesome Cowboys (1968).
The Cowboys and Indians portfolio illustrates the American Frontier with five prints of the “Cowboys” and five representing the “Indians.” Notably, Warhol does not attempt to create a historically accurate representation of the frontier days; he attempts, rather, to mirror the representations of the frontier in popular culture and media. Though the “Indians” and “Cowboys” are juxtaposed in the series, all of the figures and icons appear as idealized versions of themselves: noble, heroic, and emblematic of the era.
Annie Oakley 378 depicts the female sharpshooter, also known as “Little Sure Shot.” One of the most popular performers in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, Oakley toured nationally and internationally as a sharpshooter from the early 1880s to the early 1900s. Following a serious injury, she began an acting career in the stage play The Western Girl. She continued to set shooting records later in her life and was an advocate for women’s rights her whole life. In life and in death, Oakley became a globally recognized symbol of the American West.
In his portrait of Oakley, Warhol depicts the world-renowned exhibition shooter in a kaleidoscope-like array of color. Illustrated in profile, Oakley’s face and hat appear in muted blues and greens while her chest, adorned in countless medals and ribbons, appears in a range of reds, oranges, and pinks. The ribbons and medals take up a large portion of the composition, highlighting Oakley’s achievements and fame. The pop color palette and signature Warholian style renders Oakley as a sensational cultural icon and an important historical figure. Facing westward, Annie Oakley 378 captures the hope and promise of greatness that the frontier represented in the American imagination.
With the Cowboys and Indians series, Andy Warhol presents the romanticized version of the American West that lives in popular culture, film, television, and literature to this day. In these prints, we see the West as Warhol was introduced to it in Western films as a child. This portrait of Annie Oakley captures America’s love affair with a woman who came from nothing and made a star of herself from talent and skill alone. In Annie Oakley 378, Warhol illustrates the hope and prosperity that is essential to the mythology of the American West.