Young Arizona artist Leann Ashurst paints watercolors and leather accessories reflective of life on Babbitt Ranches.

During Babbitt Ranches’ spring work in northern, Arizona, 21-year-old Leann Ashurst spent a few months behind the stove, creating two to three daily home-cooked meals for a hungry cowboy crew. It’s a job she’s done for three seasons, and she takes meal planning and preparation seriously. She’s the third generation of her family to cook for the Babbitt crew; her grandmother, Jean Ann, and her mother, Leah, both cooked for the ranch. When she’s not in the kitchen, however, the 21-year-old is across the driveway in her house at the Babbitt Ranches’ headquarters, also known as the Spider Web Camp, painting scenes she sees outside her window every day on leather and in watercolor.

Leann Ashurst sketches horses at Babbitt Ranches
Leann Ashurst sketches in the corral at the Babbitt Ranches’ Spider Web Camp.
Photo by David Irvine

“I’ve always been into art and thought I wanted to be an artist, but my dad [Everett Ashurst], being honest, said it’s hard to make a living as an artist,” she says with a laugh. “But he’s always been supportive of me and helped me come up with a different idea.”

When Leann was 15, her dad arranged for her to learn to work with leather from southern Arizona cowboy and saddlemaker Chance Smith.

“I didn’t really start making anything until I was a senior [in high school],” she says. “I made some earrings out of leather for Christmas gifts. Two summers ago, I set up started making things year-around.”

Leann started painting leather patches to put on ball caps and continued making leather earrings and other small accessories. Her small business, Desert Rose Leatherworks, took off and before long she had a website and Facebook and Instagram pages and was taking custom orders.

Through the years, Leann has spent quite a bit of time at Babbitt Ranches. She spent the first three years of her life living there while her father cowboyed there. Then the family moved to southern Arizona to work on her grandfather, Ed Ashurst’s, ranch. Her family, including her sisters Emilee, Cristee and Allison, returned to the Babbitt in July of 2020 and she followed a month later. Emilee is now working on a ranch in Wyoming, while Cristee and Allison continue to be at the Babbitt.

“I was living in Tucson and working, but I wasn’t sold on living in the city,” she says. “There’s nothing like living on a ranch. I’m inspired by the wild openness of it.”

Leann Ashurst paints in watercolor
The fluidity of watercolor appeals to the young artist.
Photo by David Irvine

This summer, she started doing more watercolor paintings using reference photos she takes on the ranch. She would like to do more commissions.

“I want to be the next Bill Owen and capture the cowboy life [in paintings], but I have a long way to get there,” she says.

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