July 30, 2021
The Ray Drew Gallery at Highlands University has contemporary cowboy art on exhibit in honor of the National Day of the Cowboy. The show is virtual and will be on view through the end of August.
The National Day of the Cowboy was created in 2005 to celebrate both historical and contemporary cowboy culture. The day falls every fourth Saturday of July, and according to the website National Today, fifteen states currently celebrate the holiday, including New Mexico.
Karlene Gonzales-Martinez, the Ray Drew gallery curator, began the annual Cowboy Art show four years ago to commemorate the holiday. This year, the show features a range of art across many mediums, including painting, pencil, metalwork, watercolor, and photography. The artists include Gary Morton, Alex Carone, Gayle Bone, Julie Carter, Jared Buhrmester, Lori Jones, and Liberty Proffit Day—all of whom have lived or worked in New Mexico. The virtual show is composed in video form and is set to original music by artist and musician Stephen E. Lee—a working cowboy whose art was featured in last year’s show.
Gonzales-Martinez said that her decision to exhibit cowboy art annually came in part from her family’s connection to cowboy culture and the way her own interest in art began.
“As a kid, we would go to the ranch on the weekends and we didn’t have electricity or anything,” Gonzales-Martinez said. “So, I would sit and look at magazines and just draw hundreds of pictures of horses.”
Gonzales-Martinez solicited artists for this year’s show through her Facebook page, Karlene’s World of Art, and she said she got a much greater response to her call due to the show being virtual.
“For this particular show, I tried to stick with people who do live the cowboy way of life,” Gonzales-Martinez said. “I like to keep it authentic that way, but I also try to be flexible.”
All seven of the artists featured in the show are working ranchers and most of them are self-taught in their artistic disciplines—something that Gonzales-Martinez says is common in the cowboy world.
“The wintertime is usually when cowboys do their craft,” Gonzales-Martinez said. “A lot of times where they’re at there’s not TV, so some of them write poetry, some of them paint. When you practice a lot, you get pretty good at it.”
The artists’ expertise comes through in their lines, framing, and attention to detail. Overall, the show is a celebration of cowboy culture and an expression of the beauty of living outdoors and among cattle and horses.
Gonzales-Martinez says her favorite piece is the paining “Bell Remuda” by Gary Morton. The painting, which is photographic in its detail, depicts a herd of horses running toward the viewer with a wooden corral and dry mesa behind them.
“My dad’s ranch is in that country so that painting reminds me of our ranch,” Gonzales-Martinez said. “And I was always raised knowing that Bell Ranch was a part of the Pablo Montoya Land Grant and had a lot of history in it. That country has a special place in my heart.”
While Morton’s art offers glimpses of cowboy life amidst sweeping high desert landscapes, other artists in the show offer a more intimate view of the work and animals that are a part of their everyday lives. In Gayle Bone’s pencil drawing, “Hi There!” she captures a humorous encounter with a foal who smiles through wooden fencing at the viewer.
“The neatest part for me is meeting people with the same interests and developing those relationships,” Gonzales-Martinez said.
For Gonzales-Martinez, curating an annual show to exhibit cowboy art is her way of making sure viewers understand that cowboy culture is not a relic but is an ongoing way of life.
“What I hope what the general public takes from the show is an appreciation for the things that still occur,” Gonzales-Martinez said. “Ranching has been happening for ages, but it’s still contemporary and it happens here in San Miguel County and in New Mexico. There’s people’s livelihoods that depend on it.”
The show is only available online, but anyone interested in purchasing art can contact Karlene Gonzales-Martinez at 505-454-3338 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And for those interested in seeing art in person, an exhibit of the art available in the Donelly Library is now on display at the Ray Drew Gallery.