Road Stories

Art Addiction

The Life of a Cowboy

Purchasing a book of George Phippen’s art on eBay was irresistible.

By Susan Morrison

The Life of a CowboyGeorge Phippen’s book, The Life of a Cowboy, was published in 1969.

I’m not ashamed to admit I have a problem. When it comes to antiques and books, not necessarily in that order, I’m weak. And when the two cross, let’s just say I’m hopeless. Throw horses and Western Horseman into the mix, along with an artist whose work graced the pages of the magazine for decades and … well, you get my point.

So there was no hesitation when I stumbled upon a book of George Phippen’s art while perusing eBay. Longtime readers of Western Horseman will recognize Phippen’s iconic image of three saddled stock horses, along with the horse and rider illustration that was used in the magazine’s table of contents for years (and still is on its stationery), and his illustrations that punctuated many stories.

When the book arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find that longtime Western Horseman editor Dick Spencer wrote the foreword in The Life of a Cowboy.

“…it might be said that cowboy art is one of the purest American art forms,” Spencer wrote. “Any competent artist can turn out a western painting, but that doesn’t make it cowboy art. To qualify, the artist must have ‘cowboy’ in his blood, and must paint subjects he sees, and feels, and understands, and loves. George Phippen did that.”

Spencer called Phippen a close friend, and said his art—as Charlie Russell’s did—would become a measuring stick for the future.

Published in 1969 by The University of Arizona Press, the book features a collection of art selected by Phippen’s widow, Louise.

Though Phippen’s life was cut short by cancer when he was just 51, he left an incredible collection of work. Oils, bronzes, watercolors, scratchboard—name the medium and Phippen mastered it. His bronze of Wimpy P-1, the first registered American Quarter Horse, was commissioned by the King Ranch, which owned the stallion. His art is on display at several major Western art museums across the United States, and at the museum that bears his name in Prescott, Arizona.

The Phippen Museum is hosting “Happy Birthday George! 100 Years of Inspiration” through July 19 in celebration of what would have been the artist’s 100th birthday. (See the June issue for more information and visit

If you ever run across The Life of a Cowboy, buy it, or at least look through it and get a glimpse of some real “cowboy art,” as Dick Spencer would say.


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