Sonora, Sedona, and Since
By Don Hedgpeth
Honorary CAA Member
Sunup crept slowly into the cold shadowed canyons of old Sonora. The vaqueros huddled close by a campfire to ease the bone-deep chill left behind by the November night. Three gringo cowboys stood with the vaqueros, sharing tin cups of strong camp coffee and warming their bridle bits at the fire as they listened for the sound of horses coming in. The three cowboys did not seem out of place in the primitive Mexican cow camp. Borders are not barriers for cowboys. The commonality of their calling transcends such difficulties as different languages and the like, as is also the way with artists and with art.
Those three cowboys who stood at the vaqueros' fire on that frosty fall morning in 1964 were Charlie Dye, John Hampton, and Joe Beeler - each one adept as a painter of Western subjects and wise in the ways of open country and cattle. And there, in the crucible of a cow camp, the spark was struck that would fuse together the pure elemental essences of cowboys and art. Crossing back over the border into Arizona when the roundup was over, those three men brought with them the vivid impressions of their adventure, along with a strong shared sense of friendship and the origins of an idea, which, when fully fleshed out, would become the Cowboy Artists of America.
These were the heirs to a cowboy artist tradition that traced back to others, like Charlie Russell and Will James, and to the lean legacy of a scant handful of artists who brought to their paintings and sculpture an air of authenticity achieved through a hands-on and horseback perspective. Western art, and particularly that portraying cowpunchers, had always been the province of solitary types who prowled, like old coyotes, alone at the ragged edge of the cultural mainstream. But it is the nature of all of God's creatures, even cowboy artists and coyotes, to crave the comfort and company of their own kind.