Cowgirl Up!

Top female artists capture the spirit of the West.

Published online courtesy Western Art Collector, March, 2010

The 5th annual Cowgirl Up! Art from the Other Half of the West Exhibition & Sale returns to Wickenburg, Arizona, this month. This highly anticipated event brings roughly 56 of the nation's top women artists to the Desert Caballeros Western Museum for camaraderie and fellowship.

Opening weekend festivities kick off Friday evening, March 26, with the Artists' and Patrons' Party at the historic Monte Vista Ranch. On Saturday at 1 p.m., Sarah Burt, curator at Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, will give a talk titled O'Keeffe in Abiquiu: The House that Georgia Built on her experiences as project manager at Georgia O'Keeffe's studio and home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. At 4:30 p.m., the Bash 'n Bid gala begins followed by the much-anticipated Artists Awards Dinner at 7 p.m. Among this year's judges is Western Art Collector's own editor, Joshua Rose. The weekend gala concludes Sunday, March 28, with a Chuck Wagon Breakfast followed by the artists' Quick Draw and a lively auction.

Featuring more than 200 drawings, paintings and sculpture, Cowgirl Up! offers a broader range of works than is usually found at a Western art show. These female artists reach beyond traditional Western art to embrace the West's unique lifestyle and spirit. "This is what makes Cowgirl Up! so unique. You would have to travel to at least three other states and to all the other major art towns in the West to see the breadth and depth of what we will have here at one time...and in one place," says Mary Ann Igna, the museum's interim director. "This is the perfect show for what we call the 'emerging' collector."

Artists participating in this year's invitational show include Kathryn Stats, Sherry Blanchard Stuart, Sue Krzyston, Darcie Peet, Karmel Timmons, Marti Miller Hubbell, Judith Moore-Knapp, Linda Carter Holman, Lisa Danielle, Linda Loeschen, Rox Corbett, Sheila Cottrell and Brigitte Woosley.

This marks the third year that Arizona artist Sue Krzyston will be participating in Cowgirl Up!. In her show piece titled A Depth of Feeling, she uses light and shadow to convey the beauty and interaction that the artifacts in the composition have with one another. "I am using the glistening beadwork of the moccasins, the softness of the fuzzy blanket and the life and colors of the peppers and berries to reflect in the Santa Clara pottery, while the pottery casts a shadow on the fibrous basket to convey this feeling," explains Krzyston.

Sherry Blanchard Stuart also hails from Arizona. She enjoys painting many aspects of the American West, its landscape and people, its history and present time. Her recent piece titled The Henry illustrates the desire Native Americans had for the white man's superior weapon - the gun. The Henry in particular was the first successful repeating rifle and is distinguished by its shiny golden brass frame at the breech. "This rifle played a significant role in the frontier days of the American West. With its rapid and accurate firepower, the Henry found popularity with the Plains Indians and it was sought after because a single shooter had the firepower of many bowmen," says Stuart. "The cowboy and Indian culture had a unique and colorful past in this country, and I think the remnants of it will be with us forever."

In preparing for this year's show, Utah artist Kathryn Stats found herself drawn to the distant farms seen to the East, backlit by a September morning light. The blue hills and late summer greens with gold autumn fields seemed the winning combination of color for her piece titled High Valley Pastoral. "The challenge is to make a simple statement while bringing out the significant elements that make it special, hopefully helping me prepare to paint at Cowgirl Up! and better explore that part of the Arizona landscape," says Stats.

Cowgirl Up! newcomer Karmel Timmons of Colorado is best known for her Western-themed pencil drawings of equine. Her show piece titled Sterling represents a big departure for the artist, although she originally started doing portraits of people while in school. "It was nice to be able to get back to that," says Timmons. "Sterling's mom informed me he always wears his hat with his ears folded over, which I thought was a fun detail and something I wanted to capture in this drawing."

Rox Corbett uses charcoal to realistically create the textures of a branding; the leather and denim, the steel of branding irons, spurs and buckets, and the hair and hide of horses and calves. Through this rich and warm medium she pays homage to this unchanged tradition of the Old West. "From Mexico to Canada, ranchers brand their calves using the same gear that their pioneer ancestors did. Neighbors and friends gather for hard and sometimes dangerous work, and the old skills have not died out; roping, flipping calves, inoculating, castrating and branding are all done today just as they have been for centuries," says Corbett. "My drawings are snapshots of stillness in what is a frenetic event; the swirling of horses, the bawling of calves, the dust and the smell of burnt flesh and hair."

Linda Loeschen lives on a small ranch in Colorado where material for her paintings of cowboys and ranch life abound. She got her start painting her husband's old denim work shirt that was hanging on a fence post, then his cowboy hats, then his boots. "I enjoy painting their worn, textured clothes and admire their lifestyle of honest hard work and love of the land," she says. In Loeschen's recent piece, Fast Exit, she illustrates what happens when a dog starts yipping at one of the horses and they all start getting excited while a wrangler happens to be in there with them. "She had to get out of there fast if she didn't want to get squished," says Loeschen.

A dawn hike off Golden Gate Road in Saguaro National Monument-West inspired Darcie Peet's painting Sunup Shadows. This moment when the desert awakens is one of the Arizona artist's favorite times to explore and paint because it explodes with a treat to the senses.
"The first threads of hazy, early light create long, architectural shadows across Safford Peak, Panther Peak and the SiIverbell Mountains, rising like strange sentinels out of the desert floor," says Peet. "Still in shadow, a nearby hillside spattered with Palo Verde, prickly pear, blooming brittle bush and a myriad of desert plants create that sweet aroma of a desert spring morning. Tall, dark, stately saguaro, soon to be aglow, break the distant, long, horizontal patterns of valley light."

This marks Lisa Danielle's third year participating in Cowgirl Up!, an event she looks forward to each year. "When I walk through the doors, it's like coming home," says Danielle. "From the kick-off trail ride to the Sunday breakfast, it's about as much fun as a cowgirl artist and friends can have with their boots on!" Coming from artist parents, it's only natural Danielle would become one herself. In her show piece. Cowgirl Dreamin', the Arizona artist inserts an old magazine to suggest a long tradition guilty of romanticizing the West. "But ranch life for a cowgirl, much like that of an artist, can be pretty solitary. So, at day's end, when shadows grow long, a gal's thoughts often turn to romance," adds Danielle.

Arizona artist Judith Moore-Knapp has been painting landscape and figurative works for nearly 35 years. This is her third consecutive year participating in Cowgirl Up!, which she considers an honor. Moore-Knapp enjoys photographing children being themselves, unposed. "If I'm lucky, one will get my attention to begin a composition. In Kids At Play, the little girl was having a great time dancing around. When I saw the photo I knew I had to paint her," says Moore-Knapp. "I hope the viewers can see the playfulness she brought to this painting."

Marti Miller Hubbell is a fifth-generation Californian, raised on the ranch that her great-grandfather homesteaded in 1882. She began a career in art late in life, having raised a family and working as a legal secretary for 36 years. "I am both honored and humbled to be included in the Cowgirl Up! show with all of these tremendously talented women," says Hubbell. "It also means that dreams do come true." For the show she presents Thirst Quenching, a scene she photographed while she and her husband were out gathering cattle. "The heat and dust of that hot California day surely made that drink of water all the more enjoyable for my horse, Taz," says Hubbell. "The oval canvas and painting water were especially challenging for me...but I hope that I was able to convey the 'thirst quenching' relief that cool water seemed to provide."

Last year marked Linda Carter Holman's 40th year of painting, a period she calls her "Third Phase." Southwestern desert landscape settings continue to be a major theme and inspiration for her work. She finds that the landscape provides its own cast of characters to retell any tale, although Latin ladies and cowgirls continue to be her main players. Her allegory paintings include "the perceptible interruption of the laws of nature," she says, "a little miracle like the hibiscus flower on the ear of Return," her recent creation.

A former courtroom artist, Brigitte Woosley returns for her second year exhibiting at Cowgirl Up!. Known mainly for her cowboy, Western, and wildlife subject matter, her show piece, Her Firstborn, represents a slight departure as she rarely paints children or mother-child themes. "Lately I've been intrigued with women as subjects and since I'm doing the Cowgirl Up! show I figure I'm exhibiting in a perfect venue for female subject matter," explains Woosley. "This was the model's first child and she posed for me in pioneer-era costumes positioned behind a canvas lean-to similar to what people of that era would have used as shelter."

Sheila Cottrell's roots can be traced throughout Cochise County, Arizona, where her great-grandmother Sarah homesteaded several ranches and raised 11 of her surviving children. Her grandmother, Del, also homesteaded several ranches in Cochise County while raising her eight surviving children. Upon reflection, Cottrell feels that she represents the pioneer women in her family, the true Women of the West, whose struggles to survive left them no time for art. Her Cowgirl Up! piece, Canyon Light, illustrates this moment of nostalgia. "When I think about how difficult and dangerous life was for these cliff dwelling women, and wonder at the differences in our lives, it hits me that what I have most in common with them is that they loved their children as much as I love mine," says Cottrell. "I can't comprehend the violence today when every person dying is someone's child. Mothers are making a real impact in the most impoverished countries in the world - maybe they are the cement that will bond this country again."