Discovering some old stationary with Phippen art takes me back to my childhood fascination with the West and cowboy life.
I can remember on one Christmas morning in the early 1960s getting a little box of stationery that had four different paintings on the sheets of paper, and they were beyond cool. Recently I ran across a couple pieces of that letterhead in the original box while going through some of my childhood mementos. The sheets were a little yellowed but still held memories of a Christmas long ago.
The Phippen Effect
The artwork was paintings by legendary Western artist George Phippen. I never met him, but his work always captured my imagination, especially as a child growing during the era of the television Western.
Ironically, although I had grown up admiring his work, it took another artist to help me fully appreciate Phippen. Joe Beeler was one of the finest Westerners I ever met. He was founder of the Cowboy Artists of America and was not just an artist with paint and clay—he was an artist at life. I have never laughed as much as I did around Joe. He was simply a superb human being with an uncanny sense of humor.
I had met Joe Beeler through our mutual friend, saddlemaker Chas Weldon, at a show in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the early 1980s. We would sit for hours and talk about art, then Joe would tell a joke and we would all fall apart laughing. Then he would talk art again, tell a joke, art, joke—it would go on like that for hours. It was wonderful. And it was during that time that I learned about George Phippen firsthand from Joe and what a big part he played in Joe’s life and career.
Phippen was a self-taught artist who painted classic Western scenes and did a number of illustrations—many for children’s stories—during the late 1940s and 50s. He was also a founding member of the CAA and served as its first president. He lived in Skull Valley, Arizona, on his Lone Bar Ranch. Completely self-taught, he created art for only 20 years, succumbing to cancer at the age of 50 in 1966. In those 20 years, Phippen produced more than 3,000 pieces of art, including several covers for Western Horseman. He was a friend and huge influence to Joe Beeler (1931–2006).
Beeler and Phippen were the “real deals.” They lived their art. Beeler led me to two books—the only books—on George Phippen, both written by Phippen’s wife, Louise. The Life of a Cowboy and George Phippen, The Man, The Artist are two wonderful windows into an artist’s life. Seeing those books brought back so many memories of images that shaped my youthful view of the cowboy world. One painting in particular stood out—its image and quiet message has stuck with me throughout my life. It’s a painting called Dream Ranch. It’s really a very simple image, no action, but it projects such a sense of peace that to this day, it is an image I hold dear.
And that Christmas gift from the 1960s? I didn’t realize the lasting importance of those little sheets of stationery I received so long ago and how the little paintings on them would stick in my brain. When you think about it, I guess that’s what art can do—move the viewer to a better place, or a thoughtful place or, even more wonderfully during the Christmas season, to a place of peace.
The George Phippen Museum
When Phippen died in 1966, his artwork and inspiration encouraged his friends, family and fellow artists to work toward creating a facility in Prescott, Arizona, that would honor his memory and specifically represent artists of the American West.
In 1974, the George Phippen Memorial Foundation was formed to create a venue that supported Western art and honored Phippen’s talent and inspirational character. As a result, the First Annual Memorial Day Western Art Show was presented in 1974 featuring some of the finest Western sculptors and painters from across the nation. Then in the early 1980s, a family who admired Phippen’s work donated a parcel of land to the foundation for the construction of the Phippen Museum. With the financial support generated from a decade of fundraising through art shows and sales, the Phippen Museum opened its doors to the public on October 13, 1984.
Today, the Phippen Museum’s permanent exhibits are the core of the museum with studio replicas, special collection room, and the Arizona Rancher & Cowboy Hall of Fame. Each display features artifacts and memorabilia that bring the past alive for guests illustrating the importance of many of the timeworn items, essential to maintaining life in the West.
The Phippen Museum celebrated George Phippen’s 100th birthday in 2015 with a special presentation of his artwork, and many who visited the museum asked, “Where’s more of Phippen’s art work?” To answer that question the museum has undertaken an effort to locate more of Phippen’s paintings that haven’t been seen in decades. To that end, the museum is scouring the brush and asking friends, volunteers and members to let the museum know if they own or are aware of others who own some of George’s artwork. So if you have or know of someone who has Phippen art, contact the museum and they will give you a free one-year Family Membership to the Phippen Museum. Not a bad deal. To learn more, visit www.phippenartmuseum.org.