and thinking of the cost, all the people in the room and staying by myself in town literally made me shake as I sat before my easel. Bob’s easygoing nature really put me at ease.”
Shawn also credits successful artists Joe Beeler and Bill Owen for her success. Owen critiqued her early images, offering “just enough information to help me grow and encourage me.” Beeler had an open-door policy for Shawn, caring not only about her career but also her life as a mother and rancher’s wife.
Selecting an artistic genre was never a conscious decision for Shawn. She credits a divine hand and her life experiences for leading her down the path. Her family bred Quarter Horses that excelled in roping competition, and her family all rodeoed. Horses and ranch life naturally became intertwined in her artwork, because it was what she saw every day and what was most important to her.
“I’ve never grown tired of horses,” she says. “There’s something about the way they smell and feel when I touch them that makes me feel as though I’m where I belong at that moment. It’s a familiarity I’ve known all my life.”
Choosing a medium was a little more complicated. The artist started with pencil, but was attracted to the challenge of oil. She’s also experimented with pastels, watercolor and clay, casting her first bronze in 1996. Titled Tail to the Wind, the sculpture depicts a horse turning its back to the wind. In 2006, the piece nearly sold out within one year.
“I’ve watched so many horses weather bad storms by simply turning their faces away and waiting for the storm to pass,” Shawn says. “To many people this sculpture is just a horse standing in the wind, but to me it represents much of our life. If we turn our face toward our faith and away from the storm, we’ll still be standing when the storm passes.”
In her oils, Cameron relies on a simple color palatte of primary colors, from which she mixes. Black is never one of her choices.
“I realized it’s the bending of light in the prism of a water drop that enables us to see the colors in the rainbow,” she explains. “There are just a few colors, and how they’re used depends on the light in the painting.”
Cameron’s paintings come from her soul, each depicting a theme or message to which she hopes someone relates. Dean and son Brooks often serve as models, and the reverent bond between the cowboy, his horse, the land and the situation at hand is strikingly apparent.
“When people look at my work, I hope they feel that the person who created it knew what she was looking at and had actually been there,” Shawn says. “I hope to give the viewer a feeling of something genuine.”
Rancher and Western art collector Mike Ingram has collected Cameron’s work for more than six years and says he can identify one of her pieces the moment he walks into a gallery.
“She really exemplifies our Western heritage, and has a unique way of showing the horse and cowboy in motion,” he says. “Because she’s lived the life, she can paint with impeccable authenticity.”
A mother, grandmother of six and devoted wife, Cameron gracefully manages the demands of family, artist and rancher. She and Dean reside on a 50-acre property outside Prescott, Arizona, where she rides regularly and paints from her three-story studio that’s a converted water tower. Dean operates ranches in Arizona, Montana and New Mexico, but always finds time to nurture his wife’s art career, whether it’s critiquing a piece or standing by her side at a show. Their children all continue to be involved with cattle and horses.
Throughout her 18-year career as a professional artist, Shawn discovered that painting, like ranching, is full of challenges that require the same pioneer spirit that led her ancestors through life.
“It takes a lot of fortitude to keep going in both professions,” she says. “If you’re easily discouraged or not willing to start over, you won’t last long.”
Cameron’s quiet, unassuming nature and her talent have endeared her to gallery owners, collectors and peers alike. This past March, she joined Martin Grelle as a featured artist at the C.M. Russell Auction in Great Falls, Montana.
“Artists can’t say enough about Shawn as a person and how her art keeps improving,” says Mike Ingram.
He and his wife, Sheila, served as chairpersons of the C.M. Russell Auction.
“When I mentioned that she was going to be one of the featured artists at the C.M. Russell Show,” he says, “the artists were very supportive of her.”
Other honors Cameron has received include the Artists’ Choice award at the 2007 Cowgirl Up! event for her painting Fading Light. In 1992, her second year exhibiting at the Phippen Show, she won the drawing category and received the Phippen Family Award, given to the piece of art that most authentically represents cowboy life.
Maryvonne Leshe says that Shawn’s “painterly realism” is reminiscent of the loose, impressionistic works by Bill Anton and Jim Reynolds. The gallery owner also notes that Shawn is becoming well known in Western art circles, but adds that the quality of her work, not necessarily the name recognition, sells her pieces.
“She’s been in a lot of shows with some heavy hitters, and I’ve watched her ask questions, study the other artists and analyze their brush strokes,” Leshe says. “As a result, her work has improved and matured over time. She’s an artist I know will continue to advance.”
Every artist defines success differently. Some measure it in accolades, fame and money, but Cameron reflects on her main motivation—to share what she’s seen on the ranch.
“When people react to my work and share that they’re seeing what I felt, I feel as though I’ve succeeded,” she says. “I’ve seen people who were drawn to my work cry. To think I was able to speak to someone’s heart like that is the biggest reward to me.”
Dean, who enjoys watching people react to his wife’s work, recalls a past Prix de West show in which one of Shawn’s paintings stirred the emotions of a hopeful patron.
“A man sat down in front of her work the night of the sale,” he recalls. “Many ballots had been submitted for the painting he wanted, and he was sure his name wouldn’t be fortunate enough to be drawn. He told me, ‘I’m just going to sit here and enjoy it while I can, because I’m sure someone else will get to take it home.’ When his name was drawn, tears came to his eyes.”
The power of Shawn’s work, combined with her relentless dedication, is priming her to become one of today’s most influential Western artists, a hefty honor for a woman. But the artist still strives to reach her ultimate goal.
“I’m still hoping to create something profound and meaningful,” she says, “that I’ll look back on and say, ‘Thank the Lord I was able to share that before I set down my brush.’ “
Jennifer Denison is a Western Horseman senior editor. View Shawn Cameron’s work at the following shows this fall: Heart of the West, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth; Trailside Galleries, Jackson, Wyoming, and Scottsdale, Arizona; Texas Art Gallery Set Price Sale, Dallas; Small Works, Great Wonders, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City; Mountain Oyster Club Contemporary Art Show & Sale, Tucson, Arizona. For more information, visit shawncameron.com.
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