Oklahoma City, OK - (4/8/24)  “Italy’s Legendary Cowboys of the Maremma,” a photographic exhibition by San Francisco, CA artist Gabrielle Saveri, is currently enchanting viewers from all over the world at Oklahoma City’s National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Saveri’s traveling showcase offers a mesmerizing glimpse into the world of the "butteri," Italy’s native cowboys, who have long inhabited the picturesque ancient region of Maremma, nestled between the historic cities of Rome and Florence.

The butteri are the cattle breeders and horsemen of Maremma, a rugged coastal region spanning from southern Tuscany to northern Lazio and along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Their origins are believed to date back to the spread of agriculture in Etruscan times.

The butteri also have a deep connection to Buffalo Bill and the American West, as well as a strong emphasis on sustainable husbandry, but their culture is now threatened. It is estimated that there are less than 30 authentic, working cowboys left in the whole region. 

Saveri, a photographer, writer and videographer, embarked on her life-changing journey to Maremma in 2013, driven by her Italian-American ancestry, a deep love of horses and her fascination with the timeless traditions of the butteri. A serendipitous encounter with a French horseman a year earlier provided her with a vital connection to the butteri community in Italy and led Saveri to the rural town of Alberese, where she was warmly welcomed into the world of the butteri.

During her inaugural visit, Saveri joined three butteri on their morning work ride through verdant olive groves and lush meadows, immersing herself in the age-old rituals of horse herding and cattle tending. Reflecting on her transformative experience, Saveri remarked, “I first heard about the butteri in the 1990s while working as a reporter in Rome. For years, I dreamed about going riding with them. I finally did it. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever done. My dream finally came true!”

Since then, Saveri has returned to Maremma every year (except during the pandemic), meticulously documenting their lives through her lens. Her award-winning, painterly photographs, characterized by bold, vibrant colors and striking compositions, offer a poignant tribute to the proud spirit of the remarkable men and women of Maremma who are now fighting to preserve their historic culture and customs.

While working on her project, Saveri learned about the social, economic and agricultural upheaval of Maremma initiated by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini's drainage of the local marshlands starting in the 1920s. That was followed more recently by several Italian recessions, changes in agricultural practices and food laws, and higher grain prices due to the war in Ukraine, all of which have irrevocably altered the physical and economic landscape of Maremma and prompted many butteri to leave the fold altogether or seek livelihoods elsewhere. 

Saveri's exhibition showcases the traditions of the butteri, some of them hearkening back to the days of Buffalo Bill, and serves as a testament to their resilience and determination to preserve their legacy for generations to come.

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s exhibition of Saveri's vibrant images offers visitors a rare opportunity to immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Italian cowboy culture. Through Saveri's exhibition of 29 photographs and a video installation, audiences are invited to embark on a visual odyssey through the rolling hills of Maremma, where the timeless allure of the butteri tradition beckons.

As part of their commitment to showcasing diversity, The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s has featured two exhibitions about Native American, and Black cowboys, as well as on the butteri. There are cowboys all over the world and Saveri’s exhibition helps place the butteri within a much larger global context. Recently, cowboy culture has even crossed over into modern-day pop culture due to the success of hit television programs such as "Yellowstone" and in the music industry, Beyonce's just released country album "Cowboy Carter."