"Painting The Cowboy Life" by Stella Hughes - Western Horseman Flashback-Sept 1981
The story of a young Tim Cox makes a hand at the easel and in the saddle.
By Stella Hughes, written September 1981
Arizona’s Greenlee County is long and lean in shape and short on people. Highway 666 snakes its way the full length of the county, north and south, and most of the way travelers can see hundreds of miles into New Mexico.
In this high country there’s little flat land, and what there is stands on end. This is cow country, suited for stock raising and nothing else. The range is rough and rugged, slashed with canyons so deep it’s rumored the natives import their sunshine in wheelbarrows. Mountain lion, bear, deer, and elk abound and no one has, as yet, screamed “endangered Species” on any of them. They’re at home here, along with the bobcats, javelinas; and beaver.
Eagle Creek also snakes its course the length of the county, and it too is wild and rugged as well as unpolluted, and provides precious water for the cattle ranches along its way. This is the home of eagles, who inspired the early explorers in naming the watercourse. This, too, is the home of Tim Cox, his wife Suzie, and their short-two-year-old son, Jake.
Tim Cox was raised in Duncan, a small farming and ranching community in the southeastern tip of the county; he grew up working on neighboring ranches during summer vacations and holidays. Cowboying is in his blood, and his mother says he was drawing horses and cows even before he entered kindergarten. Tim admits he can never remember a time when he wasn’t drawing, and during his high school years he was allowed to paint the full two hours of his arts and crafts class each day. Tim credits his understanding teachers for directing him towards a career in painting. He did learn some leather tooling along the way in order to pass the crafts class.
After graduating as salutatorian, class of ’75, at Duncan high school, Tim and Suzie Newby were married. Suzie contrasts the tall, blonde, almost painfully shy Tim in that she is a vivacious brunette, has an outgoing personality, and doesn’t mind doing the family bookkeeping and correspondence, chores Tim despises. They share equally their love of horses and ranch life.
Suzie, as a 12-year-old, won her first trophy saddle in competition in the American Junior Rodeo Association finals in Odessa, Texas. Later she won another trophy saddle as a champion barrel racer in the Arizona Rodeo Association finals. Currently Suzie and Tim have three young Quarter Horses they are training for ranch work and team roping. Tim remembers the first years of marriage as anything but ideal in producing salable paintings. By burning much midnight oil, Tim turned out at most one painting a month. Daytimes he worked as a service station attendant, cut and sold mesquite wood, and ran a trap line.
“I smelled more of coyote bait and gasoline than I did of oil paint,” Tim admits. “Lots of times I found a skunk in the traps instead of a coyote and Suzie threatened to run me out when I came home smelling like a pole cat.”
Painting at night wasn’t new to Tim. “Mom used to come to my room after midnight and switch off the light and tell me to go to bed and get some sleep. I’d wait until all was quiet, get up, and sneak back to my easel,” Tim confesses with a grin. “It was a way of life with me. If I couldn’t paint in the daytime I had to do it at night.”
“This night painting caused a near disaster,” Tim remembers, and the incident was anything but funny at the time, but he can laugh about it now.
“I was invited to participate in the George Phippen Memorial Art Show and Sale at Prescott, Arizona. I was crowded for time, as usual, and painted all night before the show. I finished at dawn, then slept a few hours. When I started to pack the painting I found hundreds of tiny gnats had stuck to the fresh paint. It was awful. I spent another hour pulling off gnat heads with tweezers. This left thousands of microscopic gnat legs which, fortunately, ended up looking like grass among the rocks. We got to Prescott just in the nick of time.”
It was during this period of working at odd jobs during the day and painting at night that Tim met Grant Speed, then serving his first term as president of the Cowboy Artists of America. There’s little doubt this meeting was a turning point in the young artist’s career. .
Grant Speed, one of the nation’s top western sculptors, was in Phoenix attending a CAA board of directors meeting. He went out to Bob Fulkerson’s place in Mesa to look at a horse he hoped to buy. Fulkerson was a friend of Tim’s and he was so sold on Tim’s cowboy art that he kept insisting Grant go to see Tim in Duncan and look at some of his paintings. Grant had a meeting that evening, but he did telephone Tim and asked if he could come to Phoenix the next day and bring a sample of his work. Tim assured him he could and would, and next day drove the almost 200 miles with his latest paintings in his pickup.
“Grant and I talked for two hours,;’ Tim says, shaking his head in disbelief, “even though he should have been at a meeting.”
Grant Speed, who is low key, soft spoken, and reticent, talked half the afternoon with Tim Cox, who is also low key, soft spoken, and reticent; so a person wonders how they came to an agreement that Tim should attend Brigham Young University at Provo, Utah, and take the courses offered by William Whitaker, one of the West’s finest art teachers.
This did come about, and it speaks well of Grant Speed, who, after seeing only one of Tim Cox’s paintings, took time from a demanding schedule to give advice and encouragement to an almost complete stranger.
“I was impressed with Tim as a person and as an artist at our first meeting,” Grant says, “And I believed he had exactly what it took to become a good artist. Tim is painstaking with his work and is a perfectionist to the smallest detail.”
The year Tim and Suzie lived in Springville, Utah, Tim drove the eight miles to class each day. Tim went back to painting at night in order to make money to stay in school. By this time his paintings were showing at Trailside Galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona, and he managed to supply them with enough of his work to get by.
Tim’s first semester at BYU was almost like having a private tutor; in the beginning there were but six students with two dropping the class early in the year and only four finishing the course. “With classes four hours a day, five days a week, I sure didn’t have much time off,” Tim explains. “But, I had so much to learn, especially as this was my first experience sketching from live models. Up to this time the only anatomy I’d studied was that of horses and cows.”
Looking back on the first meeting with Grant Speed, it had to be a red letter day in more ways than one, because it was Grant who introduced Tim to Candice Bedner, who was associated with the Texas Art Gallery of Dallas. In 1977 Candy became Tim’s agent and has handled all his work since that date.
The Texas Art Gallery has made limited editions of seven of Tim Cox’s paintings, and signed and numbered prints sell year after year, with Last of the Herd being by far the best seller. This painting of two cowboys crowding five head of mixed Herefords through a gate was made while Tim was living on the Mallet ranch in the White Mountains between Clifton and Alpine.
The old Mallet outfit is in about as primitive an area as you’ll find in Arizona. The nearest town is 50 crooked miles away. The ranch house was old and drafty with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no telephone, no rural mail delivery. The rocky trail leading from the highway dead-ended at their door. In spite of its drawbacks, or perhaps because of them, Tim began turning out his best work, painting as usual during the nighttime hours.
“There was just too much to do during the day,” Tim explains. “One of my chores was trying to keep an old plastic pipeline running from a spring in repair. I bet I used a million miles of innertube cut into strips trying to mend leaks,” Tim laughs. “Yet, there were things to compensate,” he admits. “Such as the days I worked with the cowboys branding and gathering cattle in that rough country.”
Tim relates some of the exciting times they had in hunting bears that had cultivated a taste for prime beef. Riding after the hounds in that rough country is not for the faint-hearted or novice rider. Mountain lions also preyed on Mallet beef, and Tim and Suzie went on several lion hunts with the owner. Ranchers in this primitive area suffer heavy losses from predators each year.
In the spring of 1979 Tim and Suzie moved to Eagle Creek and made arrangements to refurbish the old Double Circle ranch house which had been unoccupied for a number of years. There were several advantages to this new location in that there was a weekly mail delivery from Clifton. Then, too, Tim would have the lodge as a studio, as well as their living quarters while they made the ranch house livable. The lodge was a large, log building used by the Greenlee County Cattle Growers for dances and meetings. Tim set up his easel in one end and Suzie set up housekeeping in another.
“Trying to carry on a conversation across that half-empty dance hall was like hollering down a rain barrel,” Tim says. “And, like most bargains, the lodge turned out to be hotter than a furnace in summer and cold as an iceberg in winter.”
Suzie, along with helpful neighbors, spent days and weeks that eventually ran into months in cleaning and painting the rat-infested old house. Tim overhauled a wornout propane generator for electricity; then he had to replace most of the old wiring throughout the house. He had to clean the well before the water could be used for drinking, and most of the plumbing had to be replaced, along with a new sewer line. Suzie was expecting their first child in November and was anxious to move into the house with its “new” second-hand wall-to-wall carpeting, second-hand draperies, along with some really good antique furniture donated by both sets of parents. Many necessities would have to wait until after the Texas Art Gallery sale the first week of December. Tim had four paintings to sell that year and prints were to be made from two of them.
Tim and Suzie had barely gotten settled in the house when Jake arrived on November 20th. Suzie was home with the 9½-pound boy for Thanksgiving. Then on
December first, Tim flew alone to Dallas. The show and sale were his most successful ever.
Back home Tim and Suzie splurged for the first time in five years of marriage. They purchased a new washing machine and dryer (Suzie’s first). They bought the new heir a baby bed, highchair, and swing. Tim got a new chain saw so he could cut a winter’s supply of wood for the fireplace and wood-burning heater. He bought Suzie a Baldwin organ, and they got each other expensive Christmas gifts, as well as gifts for their families. It was going to be the best Christmas in years.
Sometime after midnight on December 12th, the historical old Double Circle ranch house burned to the ground. When Tim woke, the roar of the flames in the ceiling sounded like a tornado. Snatching the sleeping baby from his crib, Tim and Suzie ran into the cold winter night, wearing only their night clothes.
Suzie can barely keep tears from her brown eyes when telling of the fire . “That’s when we found how wonderfully kind people can be,” she said, her voice breaking.
Last fall Tim and Suzie were able to purchase several acres on Eagle Creek and Tim moved in a trailer for a studio. He set it on the highest point of their property which affords a grand view of mountains and valley in all directions. Tim, adjusting himself to daytime painting for the first time in years, finds he spends long moments just gazing at the magnificent scenery. The slant of the sun’s rays on the cottonwood trees lining Eagle Creek can hold him spellbound for long periods of time.
“I’m getting better in not letting every little thing distract me,” Tim admits, swiveling around in his studio chair and facing the large picture windows, “but, when I see a rider in the distance or hear a cow bawl, it’s hard to concentrate on my work.”
At Easter time this year Tim and Suzie moved into their new double-wide trailer home, and after fencing their land, were able to turn the horses on their own grass for the first time.
“Suzie and I both love Eagle Creek,” Tim says, “and we plan to make this our permanent home, even though there’s no school for Jake – we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Cowboys for hire, on Eagle Creek or elsewhere, are scarce. Tim’s help is eagerly sought after by neighboring ranchers during the spring branding and fall works. Tim tries to ration, equally, his time painting and time spent in riding for his neighbors. In this way, he gathers the subject matter for his contemporary paintings of real ranch life, and makes a hand at the same time.