Fred Fellows CA
Fred Fellows' Paintings | View Fred Fellows' Sculpture
Read Fred Fellows' Biography
Fred Fellows: Home on the Range
Reprinted courtesy of Western Art Collector
Fred Fellows is equally at home roping,
throwing and branding, or creating
respected art in his studio.
But whichever he decides to do it is a
given that he will do it well, because
Fred Fellows is cowboy grit and
dedicated artist personified.
Painter and sculptor Fred
Fellows is a man who has
always known what he wants.
And what he wants is to be a
cowboy and an artist. On those points he
hasn’t wavered since he was old enough
“My grandparents lived in Oklahoma,
and I grew up hearing stories of the West.
Like a lot of little kids, I thought the West
was about horses and cows. I wanted a
Even after his step-father, mother,
brother, and he moved to California in
his formative years, Fred never let go of
the dream to own a horse. While still in
high school, he went to work repairing
saddles after classes ended each day.
Fellows figured he was on his way to
fulfilling one of his dreams—to live the
As for the rest, Fellows says, “I had
just graduated high school, wasn’t going
to college or anything like that. I had
no art experience, but I wanted to go
to art school. My granddad was an
engineer. He told me he’d send me to any
engineering school in the world if you’ll
be a civil engineer and take over this
business eventually. I said ‘No thanks.’ I
still wanted to go to art school. He told
me I’d have to do it on my own. Adios.
And that was it.”
So Fellows continued on the path he’d
“I worked for seven years repairing
saddles and finally started to make new
ones. Then I served my apprenticeship
making new saddles. From there I bought
a mare and started roping rodeos.
“I went to work for a rodeo stock
contractor and I would help run the
chutes. I was eighteen or nineteen. I
would get the steers piled in the chutes
and after the roping was over, if there
were any steers left in there, the guy
who owned the place would let me rope
them. After that I started roping with
a guy that was a brand inspector from
the Los Angeles Stock Yards. We’d go
to rodeos and he’d enter me, because I
didn’t have any money.”
Fellows fell in love with the cowboy
life, and it fell in love with him. When
an opportunity arose to go north to
Monolith, California to work on a ranch,
he jumped at it. But being a cowboy was
only part of Fred’s dream.
“I was working on this ranch and my
step-dad showed up there one day and
asked me if I wanted to go to work as an
artist for Northrop. I went to Northrop
and began drawing little schematics in
their art department and after seven years
I became art director.”
But that still didn’t satisfy Fred’s drive
to be an artist.
“I just really wanted to paint, because
it’s easy. So I moved to Taos, ran out of
money and had to go back to work at
North American Aviation.
“But, what I found out was that I
wanted to live the life, too. Living it
was as important as painting it was to
me. I wanted to live in a place where I
could ride horses. So I finally, I saved up
enough and moved to Montana and just
Still, Fellows needed to make a living.
So he came up with an ingenious way to
turn his art and his passion for guns into
“Once a year in Kalispell, Montana
they had an antique gun show. Antique
gun collectors formed the Montana
Antique Gun Collectors Association and
once a year they’d have this gun show.
And then they’d have a gun show over in Spokane,
Washington. And then they’d have a gun show in Salt
Lake City, and they’d have a gun show in Denver. The
biggest gun show was in Las Vegas.
“I found that I could take paintings and stand outside
of a log cabin and put an $8 frame on them and I could
trade a painting for a gun. Then I could go sell the gun.
I knew what I was looking for. So I would go over to a
guy and say, ‘What do you want for this old, rusty 1894
“The guy would say, ‘I want $150 bucks for it.’
“I’d say, ‘Would you trade that for that painting over
there that I did?’
“The guy would say, ‘You know, I’ve never taken mywife anything. I’ll trade with you.’
“So I went and got the painting, and I’d hand it to him
and he’d give me the gun and I’d shake his hand and I’d
walk to another part of the gun show and I’d go up to a
guy and say, ‘What will you give me for this gun?’
“He’d say, ‘I saw that gun over on that table there
and he wants $150 for it and it’s not worth a dime over
“I’d say, ‘Would you give me $140?’
“He’d say, ‘Yeah, I’ll give you $140 for it.’
“And so essentially I sold my painting for $140. And
then sometimes I’d take a gun home and I’d look it and
fix it up—work on it. And I just loved them anyway. And
so I built up a small collection of guns. Every once in
a while I’d keep one. That’s how I managed to make a
living for a while.
“I still collect guns of the early West and Sharpes rifles
used by buffalo hunters. They really liked the Sharpes
because they were made with really heavy barrels. These
were long-range guns and these guys used these as a tool
everyday because they could get three or four dollars a
day for a hide. In those days, making a dollar a day was
a lot. They ended up being the early ranchers. Right now
I have fifteen to twenty guns, all documented as having
belonged to buffalo hunters.”
Also in the Fellows collection is a Springfield Carbine
that was used at the Custer fight as part of the Battle of
the Little Big Horn.
Around the same time, Fellows got his first big break.
“Margaret Jamison, of Jamison Galleries in Santa Fe
was the first gallery to have my work and she actually
sold one of my paintings for $1,000, which I just couldn’t
believe. That was more than I’d made in a year.”
Shortly thereafter and while he was still trading his
paintings for guns, the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA),
formed four years earlier, accepted Fellows as a member.
The year was 1969.
“The whole thing started as a bunch of artists who
would get together once a year and go on a ride. It was
started as a camp out.
“And then Joe Beeler (founding member of the CAA)
and the director of the newly formed Cowboy Hall of
Fame in Oklahoma City decided they should get together
and have an art show. At the time everybody was just selling art out of the back of their cars.
So they started to have a show. Once
the Cowboy Artists started showing, it
That was almost forty years ago, and
Fellows has never looked back. Twice he
has served as president of the CAA. His
artistry has been celebrated throughout
the world and his days of trading paintings
for guns and barely scraping by are a
thing of the distant past.
These days Fellows’ paintings and sculptures can be found in museum collections such as the Buffalo Bill Cody Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, and in private and corporate collections. His list of awards is impressive, and includes the Grumbacker Fine Art award and the Printing Institute of America award. He’s one of a very few artists who have won both gold and silver medals in both painting and sculpture at CAA shows. In fact, he’s won two gold and three silver medals and a Best of Show award.
At the time of writing, Fred was busy
on his work for the 2007 CAA show. He
told us, ”a radical department in subject
I’ve always wanted to paint an
airplane. I was the first one to paint a
car or truck for the CAA Show. I believed
it was the car or truck that changed the
West. A cowboy would have to get up
in the morning and ride all day to get
to a little old shack on the other side of
the ranch. He’d have to stay overnight,
check the herd, the cattle, etc. When you
have a truck, you could tow a trailer with
the horse and have the same thing done in less than a day. If you were going to a rodeo, you had
to ride your horse there, and have a tent. It was a rough
deal. So the truck and car changed the West completely.”
Fellows still lives the cowboy life in southern Arizona with
his artist-wife Deborah. Their scenic, working ranch spread
boasts horses, some steers, a burro, a dog, and assorted
others, along with two studios. He and his wife continue to
rope competitively, and they regularly help with roundups
at nearby ranches. The Fellows’ front yard looks out on
74,000 acres that have been designated by Congress as
a national conservation easement area and can never
be developed. When it comes to living his dreams, Fred
Fellows has exactly what he wants.
Return to Fred Fellows' Paintings
Return to Fred Fellows' Sculpture