GOLDEN, Colo. -- Cowboy boots are worn by royalty and ranch hands, by rock stars and rodeo performers. Their original purpose might have been utilitarian, but along the way, Western boots became icons of the Old West.
"They are the West's most wearable art form," says Steve Friesen, director of the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum, which is preparing a yearlong exhibit of boots.
Friesen organized the exhibit into three categories. "Famous Feet" includes more than two dozen pairs of boots belonging to politicians, entertainers and Hollywood celebrities.
Presidential boots are plentiful, from those on loan from the Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton libraries to a display featuring the elder George Bush's eagle-emblazoned black leather boots.
Stage styles from Joan Jett and Bootsy Collins, Dolly Parton and Marty Stewart are among those from the music world, as are two pairs from Elvis Presley, including a smooth black ankle boot with studs spelling out an "E."
Traditionalists will love the pairs worn by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, as well as a diamond-studded set made to mark their 50th wedding anniversary.
Museum visitors with a flair for the exotic will linger over the "Cool Critters" section of the exhibit featuring boots made from such unusual skins as elephant, anteater and hornback alligator. "Amazing Art" showcases the craftsmanship of bootmakers locally and throughout the United States and Canada.
Dave Hutchings is a Thornton, Colo., bootmaker who designed the exhibit's signature pair, tall leather boots with Buffalo Bill's name and image tooled on the front. They were modeled after a pair worn by the famed William F. Cody, known as Buffalo Bill for his skill at shooting bison.
Hutchings attributes the enduring popularity of cowboy boots to their roots in the old West and the fact that Hollywood celebrities and entertainers have worn them. "You also walk more naturally in them, and for men, they give you a more outdoorsy, masculine look."