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Bolo tie exhibit shows Arizona’s fashion past and official neckwear

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PHOENIX – The only sunshine reaching these bolo ties today comes through high windows in a room at the Heard Museum. Most of these ties used to adorn the necks of Arizona cattle ranchers, businessmen and businesswomen and average citizens.

Through September, their history is preserved behind glass, on display to educate Arizonans about the ties, the state’s official neckwear since 1969.

“I never paid much attention before this exhibit, and now I’m obsessed,” said Alan di Perna, public relations manager at the Heard Museum, who bought his first bolo tie right before the exhibit opened.

About 98 percent of the ties were donated, and many of the bolo ties came from the personal collection of Norman Sandfield, a collector in Chicago who wanted to contribute to Arizona’s centennial celebration.

Diana Pardue, curator of collections, said the 1950s marked the “blossoming” of this art form.

Although the Southwest is a cultural home, the bolo tie has long been made in places such as Mexico, Japan, Peru and Denmark.

And they’re still popular today.

Pardue said younger bolo tie artists are introducing new looks by using different materials such as stainless steel. Choice of materials is a popular way to set apart an artist’s work.

“They’re so individualized,” Pardue said. “You recognize an artist’s style immediately.

“Once you get into it, you can really geek out forever on this.”