Collector’s Focus: Art of the Cowboy
Bill Pickett (1870-1932) left school in the fifth grade to work on a ranch. His father had been a slave and his mother was Cherokee. He is said to have invented bull-dogging, wrestling a steer to the ground, often biting the steer on its lip to succeed. The display was a rodeo event and not one that occurred in the daily life of the working cowboy. Getting into rodeos was often difficult for a black cowboy so he emphasized his mother’s Cherokee heritage to be allowed to compete. Forty years after his death from being kicked in the head by a horse, Pickett was the first black rider inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame. Today, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo “celebrates and honors black cowboys and cowgirls and their contributions to building the West.”
Rodeos began as competitions among cowboys who wanted to show off their skills. The first formal rodeo competition was held in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1872 and the first professional rodeo was in Prescott, Arizona, in 1888.
The horsemanship on display in the rodeos has always been a popular subject for artists. Bob Coronato makes paintings and etchings of the adventures of cowboy life. An irony of his etchings is that the ruggedness of cowboy life is recorded on delicate Japanese rice paper in a technique called chine-collé. The rice paper is cut to the size of the image, and the back is coated with glue. The rice paper and a sheet of watercolor paper are run through the press, bonding the two kinds of paper and printing the inked image on the rice paper.
Coronato says, “In tiny hidden corners of our country, you can still find places untouched by time. There are ranches that gather on horseback 2,000 to 3,000 head of cows, across hundreds of miles of fenceless landscape. Hulett, Wyoming, is one of these hidden treasures. Twenty years ago I attended Otis/ Parsons Art institute in Los Angeles, and upon graduation, I moved to a town of 408 people called Hulett, to find the West I was looking for…the freedom of the West, and the wide open spaces have become a symbol of our great country. As our lives become more regimented and the rules become more numerous, we long for those places of freedom.”
Curt Mattson captures the energy of cowboy life in clay which he casts in bronze. One of his collectors has said he is “a stickler for accuracy.” He first saw his work at a
Quest for the West exhibition at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, where he saw that accuracy for himself. Mattson says, “Few of us will ever know what it is like to be on horseback in [a] country that swallows you up with its grandeur...in spite of the challenges he faces today, the buckaroo understands that what he does has an important role in America’s future. He is an American icon that represents what is good in our great country. My art celebrates this lifestyle.”
He provides stories about his sculptures and for Too Close for Comfort he writes, “The cowboy roped the steer’s horns then flipped the rope around the steer’s hip and rides by the steer dallied around the saddle horn. The result is that the steer trips and the wind is knocked out of him. There were then two possible outcomes. Either the steer would
get up and be manageable or he would get up and be really mad. It is the latter that has taken place here, and the steer has run back up the rope and charged the cowboy and his horse. The cowboy has jerked his horse up and out of the way just in the nick of time. The mad steer just misses his target.” In his scrupulous accuracy Mattson also provides information of the type of saddle he depicts as well as the cowboy’s regalia.
Ed Mell was an art director in New York and moved into illustration before teaching two summers on the Hopi reservation convinced him to return to his hometown of Phoenix. “Spending months in that beauty right after being in the city was the catalyst that changed my artistic direction,” he says.
In his paintings and sculpture, Mell reduces the detail of his subjects to its essence. In his sculpture Bull Rider, bull and rider become one energetic form. He pushes both his paintings and his sculpture and remarks, “Seeing the real thing has much more impact than a photographic representation of nature, so in order to duplicate nature, I like to push it a little further and bring back some of the impact that nature has in real life.”
In the pages of this special section, collectors will find cowboy-related artwork from the foremost galleries, museums and artists across the country.
Pam Bunch of Lee-bunch Studio Gallery, having deep Texas roots, incorporates the vast West Texas landscape into her paintings, which depict her ranching heritage and the cowboy life. “Too many of our ranching communities seem to be running out of cowboys,” says Bunch. To keep this important part of our history alive, Bunch incorporates this aspect into her art in either oil or watercolor. Her passion is to capture the spirit of the subject matter and to convey that story to the viewer in such a way that they can step back to that place or time.
The Calgary Victory Stampede will continue to capture the marvels of the past in 2019, when it marks the 100th anniversary of the event. According to the C.M. Russell Museum, this historic event billed itself as a world championship frontier contest and victory celebration that marked the end of the Great War. Next summer, the C.M. Russell Museum celebrates this momentous event
with Return to Calgary: C.M. Russell and the 1919 Victory Stampede. The Stampede was embraced citywide by businesses and residents alike and became a means through which to deliver the West and its cowboys, broncs, ropers and steer wrestlers to audiences across western Canada and the Pacific Northwest.
“I didn’t find out till I was an adult that one of my grandfathers was a major Western movie fan,” says artist Joann Peralta. “He followed William Hart and Gene Autry movies amongst others. I never knew him, but now I [understand] that my love of Westerns and the cowboy was no mere coincidence. It was in my blood…i believe the cowboy spirit is pride in American values and a way of life. I also take pride that my heritage helped inspire the cowboy, though it became a brand all its own—i love it all,” she says.
Artist Den Schofield has a passion for Western culture as well. Since his childhood, Schofield has dreamed of depicting dramatic characters and events, his work primarily focusing on 19th-century subjects. He has traveled extensively throughout the country, familiarizing himself with sprawling landscapes and wide open spaces.
“My bronc riders are emblematic of the cowboy of the Old West and the most basic of the cowboy experience,” says KC Spink.
“A man, a rope, and a horse.” His oil Ready to Launch captures the motion of a bucking horse, with clearly defined musculature evident in the equine beast.
A cowgirl from the moment she knew they existed, and long before she ever rode a horse, Rush Cole began her art career by falling eternally in love with everything equine. From there, the jump to everything “Western” was a natural one for the Santa Fe-based artist. Focusing first on the intensity of her subjects, she then adds pertinent details—the precise crease of a Western hat, an accurate honda on a flying loop, the gleam of silver conchos adorning a breast collar. Cole was invited by Priefert Rodeo & Ranch Equipment, a sponsor of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, to provide artwork for the WPRA’S World Finals in 2019.
The bronzes crafted by sculptor Bill Nebeker strive to produce an authentic portrayal of the American West. Describing his piece Hare-raisin’ Ride, which depicts a cowboy on horseback above a group of jumping hares, Nebeker says, “One of the
reasons I love Western art [is] because it usually tells a story. Sometimes the stories are dramatic or action-filled, sometimes emotional, serene and often humorous. Charlie Russell and George Phippen’s paintings and sculptures showed scenes of the humorous side of the West. I wanted this bronze sculpture to be a link to that long tradition in our history of humor in Western art.”
“I paint what I love, and I’m so blessed to be able to be in the middle of what I love every day,” says Amanda Cowan. “One of my favorite things is to see and paint the relationships between animals and people. The ranching lifestyle would be so different and sad without the horses and dogs that work with us. They are my favorite part of this life.”
Inspiration for the subject matter in Les Lefevre’s art comes from truly living the Western lifestyle. “I try to ride regularly and work on ranches as much as time allows me and love being around horses. I am inspired by not only the modern ranchers but the cowboys and Indians who were here 150 years ago. I love the historical aspect of the West,” says Lefevre, who lives in Dubois, Wyoming, a Western town that has remained relatively untouched over the years. Lefevre advises collectors to “do more than just look at a
painting with your eyes. They are the tools to see a painting, but our imaginations allow us to really enjoy it. Buy what moves you.”
“Cowboys are a symbol of rugged, tough Americans. They will always be something that is bigger than life to me,” says Steve Boaldin, who works in a variety of mediums including oil, graphite, watercolor and colored pencil. “I paint what I know, the contemporary cowboy in action. On the ranch, or in [rodeo], it all ties together. This has been my passion most of my life and will always be my motivation for good authentic art,” Boaldin says.
Native Texan artist Susan Temple Neumann’s desire to capture the spirit of the Southwest and its history fed her passion for painting the West. A lifelong fascination
with cowboys, horses, Native Americans and wildlife provides the inspiration for her work, along with her Western travels. Neumann’s art has received many awards over the years including Best of Show in the 2018 American Plains Artists exhibition, and her work has been displayed in juried gallery shows and museums across the country.
Jane Chapin’s oils Footloose and Bringing ‘Em In will be available at the 2019 Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale in Denver, Colorado. “This is a junior barrel race under 12 years old. She is perfectly stuck to her horse at full speed heading for the finish despite the fact that her foot is no longer in the stirrup. I love the way children are brought up in this culture that respects tradition, athleticism and respect for the animals,” she says of Footloose. Bringing ‘Em In will be a part of the silent auction at the Coors show.
“I have always been humbled by the images of the cowboy and the [part] they played in our history,” says Pat Sessions. “The
painting of the horse has become a passion for me.” Self-taught, Sessions has been painting for 12 years and now takes classes to continue honing her craft.
At one point, Sam Thiewes thought he would never paint Western-style artwork. “Famous last words!” he says. Thiewes explains that while attending art shows in Denver, he “had a chance to meet a number of real cowgirls. I realized that there were not a lot of artists telling their stories.” He eventually began painting cowboys and ranch life as well, wanting to tell a more complete story of this historic time period. “It is my hope that through my paintings I can document some of this history. I will always be thankful for my friends who have allowed me to share a little of their lives.”
Janeil Anderson gets inspiration for her work from living on a working cattle ranch in Southern New Mexico. Many of Anderson’s paintings are the life of the working cowboy behind the scenes of life on the ranch. Anderson is a member of American Women Artists.
“I am inspired by scenes that make me wonder what led to that moment and what happens next. I encourage people to buy art they love…that ensures they will never be disappointed,” says Andy Thomas. His piece Hot Time in Ft. Benson - A True Story is a “demonstration of the power of a mountain howitzer to impress the Indians [which] seemed a clever move to their agent. That would make the meeting more productive. No need to unpack it, the back of the mule would work. The mule did not agree.” The painting, available for purchase, is based on a true story.
Texas-based artist Sonya Terpening is inspired by the world around her and comes from a heritage of pioneers. “My family stories tell of land runs, wagon trains, sod houses, farming and ranching...it is this pioneering/ ranching background that I admire and want to capture and share in my art,” Terpening says. “America has a colorful history, some grand and some very sad, but it is a unique history that should never be forgotten. So, I paint the stories of my family and the stories that others tell me about their history. I paint the simple quiet moments that are common to all of us. In doing so I have found that sometimes art can say things that words cannot.”
The Great American West Gallery showcases the artwork of Olaf Wieghorst and Kyle Polzin. Weary Traveler, an oil by Polzin, depicts a worn-out saddle and stirrups
bronze,wild and wooly,...it’s dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle!, original chine-collé etching, ed. of 95, 10¾ x 127/8", by Bob Coronato.
1. Medicine Man Gallery, Bull Rider, ed. 45, 11¼ x 4½ x 12", by Ed Mell.2. Rogues Gallery,
3. Bill Nebeker, Hare-raisin’ Ride, bronze, 23 x 12 x 9" 4. Norman Film Manufacturing Company, Poster for “The Bull-dogger”, starring Bill Pickett, 1921 5. Andy Thomas, Hot Time in Ft. Benton - A True Story, oil on linen, 26 x 46" 6. Andy Thomas, The Gang’s Settlement, oil on linen, 28 x 44" 7. Brian Lebel’s Old West Show & Auction, The Hungry Sign, oil on board, 20 x 34”, by Joe Beeler (1931-2006).
8. Curt Mattson, Too Close for Comfort, bronze, ed. of 9, 31½ x 20¼ x 13¼" 9. Brian Lebel’s Old West Show & Auction, Horse Ranch, oil on canvas,28 x 38", by Olaf Wieghorst (1899-1988). 10. Bill Nebeker, Born to Run, bronze, 16 x 18 x 8" 11. Amanda Cowan, Taking a Breather, oil on canvas, 8 x 10" 12. Trailside Galleries, Long Trot, acrylic, 18 x 22½", by Mikel Donahue. 12
13. C.M. Russell Museum, Jumped, 1914, oil on canvas, 30 x 48", by Charles M. Russell (1864-1926). Petrie Collection, Denver, Colorado. 14. Bill Nebeker, Rimrock Rescue, bronze, 27 x 20 x 11" 15. Joann Peralta, Henry Darrow as Manolito Montoya, oil on linen canvas, 24 x 18"16. An exterior view of the C.M. Russell Museum. 17. Joann Peralta, Western Sky, oil on linen canvas, 26 x 42" 18. Great American West Gallery, Quitting the Herd, oil, 20 x 24", by Olaf Wieghorst (1899-1988). 19. KC Spink, Ready to Launch, oil, 16 x 12" 16
20. Great American West Gallery, Weary Traveler, oil, 28 x 44", by Kyle Polzin. 21. Sonya Terpening, Quittin’ Time, oil on linen, 30 x 24" 22. Sonya Terpening, C’mon, Supper’s Waiting, oil on linen, 30 x 40" 23. Sonya Terpening, Waitin’ on the Shade, oil on linen, 16 x 20" 24. Janeil Anderson, Where Have You Been All My Life?, oil, 30 x 24" 25. Steve Boaldin, All in a Day’s Work, oil, 20 x 16" 26. Jane Chapin, Bringing ‘Em In, oil on linen, 9 x 12"
27. Jane Chapin, Footloose, oil on linen, 24 x 30" 28. Steve Boaldin, Lookin’ for Two, oil, 24 x 30" 29. Den Schofield, Trail Boss, oil on canvas, 8 x 10" 30. Lee-bunch Studio Gallery, Range Talk, oil, 20 x 16", by Pam Bunch. 31. Sam Thiewes, Ramrod, oil, 18 x 24" 32. Les Lefevre, Father Daughter Day, oil on canvas, 24 x 36" 33. Pat Sessions, Race for the Barn, oil on canvas, 20 x 24" 34. Steve Boaldin, Lethal Weapon, oil, 24 x 48" 35. Sam Thiewes, Night Check Zapp, oil, 16 x 20" 36. Pat Sessions, Dusty Ride, oil, 16 x 20" 37. Den Schofield, The Texian, oil on canvas, 8 x 10”