Painting the Cowboy Life


The story of a young Tim Cox makes a hand at the easel and in the saddle. 

By Stella Hughes, written September 1981

artistatworkThe artist at work in his new studio at Eagle Creek.

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.”

shoesyoungfillyTim shoes the young filly he is training for team roping. 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.”


Leave a Comment