Friday, January 27, 2012

Cowboy Up

When the boys outgrew the babyish nursery decorations, I really wanted to upgrade their surroundings to a cowboy theme.  A vintage 50's one that proved to be a challenge finding fabrics and what-not, it turned out, they weren't so keen on the idea.

We take our cowboyin' seriously 'round here, ma'am.
None of that artsy-fartsy stuff, thank you very much.

I did manage, though, when my parents still had their own place, to notice an old photo of my brother (a really old photo) sliding down in its frame, and the teensiest bit of a cowboy hat peeking from behind it.  I took down the frame from the wall and tried to carefully pry it apart to see what lay beneath.  It was an ink and colored pencil drawing of a bronco-busting cowboy on a stiff piece of cardstock that my mom had used as the backing for the photo frame.  Strapping tape held it in place.

1950's art on garbage scraps didn't account
for sizing of modern scanner equipment.
I asked her if I might have it to reframe for the kids' bedroom if I promised to take good care of it.  She ripped the strapping tape from its years' long resting place, taking chunks of paper with it as she asked my dad to recall the name of his friend.

"Who's that guy that drew this picture for you?"

"Bill Swan."

"That's right.  Bill Swan.  He drew that for Dad.  They worked together at the mill."

"Really Dad?  That's pretty good."

"Oh yeah.  He was quite the artist.  That old bar downtown, the Silver Spur, it had some great big murals on the wall that he done, and some rich guy from Montana come and told him he'd pay him to come paint stuff in his house.  Said he'd pay all his wages just to come paint pictures on his walls.  Rich people do funny stuff like that.  He just loved to draw, he'd draw on anything he could get his hands on, just for fun he loved it so much."
I told my dad the plans I had for the picture, and he seemed pretty pleased.  I got the impression that he liked that old picture a whole lot more than my mom did, and could imagine the squabble they may have had at one time over its place as home decor.  She had clearly won since it had lived out its years until now as a backer to my brother's black and white toothy grin.

Esten had overheard the story of Grandpa's friend, and as I repeated the tale of my curious find on the phone he called out his name, "Bill Swan!  It was Bill Swan who made that picture for Grandpa!"  I can always count on Esten to have been eavesdropping on 'grownup' conversations otherwise deemed too boring for little ears.

I put the artwork in a safe place, reminding myself to try and find an odd-size frame to accommodate it soon.  Its image, though, stayed burned in my mind.  It was oddly enthusiastic and drawn with a familiar confidence.  I became a bit obsessed with it.

I Googled Bill Swan.  Ten minutes later I was on the phone with my mother.

"Uhhh, yeah, so you and Dad left out a little something about his little friend Bill, you know....the artist...Bill Swan?"

"Why?  What?"

"About the work he did after he left the Valley?"

"I don't have any idea what he did or where he went after he left the Valley."

"Oh, well it turns out he focused on sculpture a little more, did some work for an amusement park in San Diego, then, uh, yeah, then did the logo for TACO BELL and did a little horse that Henry Ford put on the MUSTANG."

"Hmmm.  I'll be darned.  Good for him."

[*Disclaimer here...when PepsiCo bought out TACO BELL, they found the original depiction of a man lazing under a sombrero too....unmainstream.  So they changed it to what it is more recognized today.  The guy whose family claims he designed the Mustang CAR and shopped it around unsuccessfully to GM before Ford did have some drawings similar to what we see today of the horse in his personal effects after his death.  Personally, I thought it to be disproportionate and looked like it was getting ready to let loose of a meadow muffin.]

Stereotypical or not, I'd still eat here today. (

This horse looks like it needs to be somewhere. (

This one looks spooked and bloated.
I would not ride it.
 There's very little info out there that remains about this man today.  His family doesn't spout about his accomplishments.  He returned to Asotin to retire and he passed away in the 80's.  There was, at one point, a non-relative's website selling some black and white reprints of his artwork, all of them unsigned like the one we have, for an ungodly price.  Apparently they could fetch this on an unsigned work of his because his style is so unique, so readily identifiable among the cowboy artist community that he helped to inspire and grow that exists even today.  He rarely signed anything because he didn't see himself as an artist.  He just drew for fun, it pleased him.  He knew my dad had ridden in the rodeo for fun (or folly) and wanted to give him that picture, maybe how he saw my dad through his own eyes, not to show off his talents but to share and delight and hold that moment with him.

I will treasure that picture, but I'm more hesitant than ever to entrust my children with it.  Don't be looking for me on Antiques Roadshow anytime soon, however.

My first car, ironically, a Mustang, was still a pile of crap.  Those ass wipes only paid him fifty bucks for his efforts.  Think about that next time you see one.  He busted out an almost life-sized sculpture of that mother-hoofer for them.  That is loving what you do.  Really, really loving what you do.

Clayton changes his mind daily about his choice of bedroom decor.  Last I heard he wanted Star Wars and Raiders Football and Toy Story characters.  That's just not going to happen.  We currently have World/US wall maps, one photo of the boys together, and a clock.  Brown curtains, blue flowery quilts, red flowery flannel sheets, and a pink lava lamp.  We may compromise, but I will win.  I really really love doing that.  I suspect I may hang a single lonely cowboy picture up, way up, up a bit too high where little dirty fingers may not veto my decisions nor appreciate the individual pencil strokes of the red boots with the green tops.  Until they're older.  Like forty.

No comments:

Post a Comment