Bill Ne­beker: Pre­serv­ing a Tra­di­tion

Bill Ne­beker is the long­est serv­ing full mem­ber of the Cow­boy Artists of Amer­ica, and he has sto­ries to prove it.

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS - By Michael Claw­son

Bill Ne­beker com­petes in a calf-rop­ing com­pe­ti­tion in 2006. Photo cour­tesy the artist.

In 1965, four cow­boy artists found them­selves hud­dled around a ta­ble at the Oak Creek Tav­ern in Se­dona, Ari­zona. The men, quick to laugh and in good spir­its, threw back some beers and re­flected back on a trip from a year ear­lier in Mex­ico, where they worked on a cat­tle ranch and bonded over the shared ex­pe­ri­ence. And that’s how the Cow­boy Artists of Amer­ica was born.

Throw a rock in a still pond and the rip­ples ra­di­ate out­ward across the whole pond, but the rip­ples are largest near the cen­ter. A 90-minute drive to the south­west from Oak Creek Tav­ern, in Prescott, Ari­zona, Bill Ne­beker had a front row view of West­ern art his­tory, a his­tory he would soon be con­tribut­ing to.

“It was an ex­cit­ing time back then,” he says. “You could sense that big things were about to hap­pen, which was cer­tainly re­flected in my own life, first as a sad­dle­maker, then work­ing at a foundry and fi­nally as an artist. I just knew I was go­ing to be

in­volved in some way in the West­ern way of life, be­cause that’s how I was raised.”

Bill Ne­beker was a bit too young to be part of the birth of the CAA, but he was right there at its epi­cen­ter tak­ing it all in, just one or two lev­els re­moved from the ac­tion. He was born in south­ern Idaho, but due to a bad case of asthma his fam­ily moved south— first in 1948 and then per­ma­nently in 1953—look­ing for cleaner air and slightly warmer weather. Around that time, Prescott was the home of John Hamp­ton, and Ge­orge Phip­pen was a short drive out of town in Skull Val­ley. Char­lie Dye and Joe Beeler were in Se­dona, but their pres­ence was felt far and wide in Ari­zona. Prescott, it seemed, was an ideal place for a young, tal­ented artist look­ing for guid­ance on his ca­reer.

“You talk about a cow town, this was a real cow­boy town in 1948,” Ne­beker says, adding that he drifted away from the West­ern way of life dur­ing his asthma years. “Af­ter I grad­u­ated from school, I re­ally had a de­sire to go back to my orig­i­nal roots so I started wear­ing West­ern clothes again, bought me a horse, learned how to calf rope—i just started down the road from there. I had friends who had ranches, so when­ever they had a brandin’ I would go drag calves and then I was al­ways mak­ing

Bill Ne­beker dur­ing the 2015 CAA trail ride.

Bill Ne­beker works on a re­vised ver­sion of If Horses Could Talk in his Prescott, Ari­zona, stu­dio. The work will even­tu­ally be­come a life-and-a-half mon­u­ment.

The Cow­boy Artists of Amer­ica pose for a pho­to­graph in 1983. Bill Ne­beker can be seen seated in cen­ter wear­ing a black hat.

A pho­to­graph of Bill Ne­beker meet­ing John Wayne is framed be­hind a bronze of Wayne cre­ated in 1974.

Chasin’ Mav­er­icks, 2017, bronze, 23 x 7 x 9”

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