An Arizona Cowboy’s Dream

The following is an excerpt from my book Shadows on the Mesa-Artists of the Painted Desert and Beyond.     

                   

Lon Megargee Longhorns

“Longhorns” . Oil on Board.

 

Considered Arizona’s First Cowboy Artist, it was said Alonzo Megargee III once aspired “to be an arty artist, complete with smock and beret. But there were two obstacles: his own nature and that of the Arizona Sonoran Desert.”

 After his first trip to the Grand Canyon State at the age of thirteen, Philadelphia native Megargee returned to Arizona again in 1899 determined to become a cowboy. He worked at various ranches over the next several years before founding his own spread in New River, which he dubbed Rancho 51. After a brutal three year drought forced him to cease the operation, he decided to pursue a full time art career. He returned first to the East where he attended the Pennsylvania Academy, then the West where he studied at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design.

 

Lon Megargee Mexican Field workers
“Mexican Field Workers”.  Oil on Board.

 

During the next two decades Megargee was in and out of Arizona while traveling extensively throughout the United States, Mexico and Europe, working at various times as an exhibition roper, bronco buster, cowboy, fireman, poker dealer, Art Director for Paramount Studios, and newspaper sketch artist. But the lure of the desert never abated and by the late 1920s he had returned to Arizona permanently.

 

Lon Megargee Arrival of the Automobile II
The Sentinel. Center: The original oil painting featured an automobile in the far center-right of the painting. The car can be seen kicking up dust in both of the magazine covers on the left and right. Sometime later either Megargee or someone else painted over the auto.

 

 Although Megargee’s personal life was largely one of an itinerant adventurer who could count numerous occupations, wives and homes, as an artist he was a dedicated perfectionist who was continually raising the bar. His versatility and desire to move in new directions resulted in quality works done in a range of styles, including illustrative, impressionistic, and expressionistic.

 

Lon Megargee Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain.

 

In 1913 Megargee persuaded Governor George Hunt and the state legislature to approve a commission that would inextricably link his name with Arizona history.

 

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Lon Megargee block print

 

 On February 5, 1913, almost exactly one year after Arizona had become the 48th state in the Union, Megargee sent a letter to Hunt which included some proposed sketches for a series of murals to adorn the newly built State Capitol Building in Phoenix. In the letter he stated “I’m confident I could do it better than anyone because I know Arizona. Have lived in the big out of doors –in her mountains and her deserts nearly all of my life.”

 In his formal recommendation for Megargee as the muralist, Hunt noted with some exaggeration, “Mr. Megargee…is a native Arizonan who has passed his life in the deserts and mountains of our state, making a study of those landscapes and topographical features by virtue of which he is able to make his work peculiarly distinctive and true to nature in her Arizona phases.”

 

Lon Megargee Navajo courtship

Navajo Courtship

 

His work and artistic legacy clearly identified with the state he loved most, Megargee lived out the last two decades of his life in Cave Creek, Phoenix and Sedona. He died in Cottonwood, Arizona in 1960.

 

Although I wrote the above several years ago one conclusion I held remains the same: Arizona’s first Cowboy Artist loved the state of Arizona. So of course it would only be fitting and proper the most extensive collection of Lon Megargree’s art work is in… Texas?

That’s right, Texas. Not just anywhere in the Lone Star State, but waaaay down south on the Rio Grande (well almost.)  We’re talking Lonesome Dove Country (well almost again), which makes the existence of a large Lon Megargee collection somewhere other than Arizona slightly more understandable.

 

Lon Megargee Two Horses
“Horsing Around.” This is one of several paintings in which Megargee created many versions of the same theme. Other canvasses have cowboy and cowgirl clothing draped over a rock on the left side of the painting, which explains what has captured the horses’ attention.

(I know at least one of you might be thinking, “Hey wait a minute, what about the Hermosa Inn’s Collection?”  Good point. But keep watching.)

I first made the acquaintance of Byron Jay Lewis circa 2006, during the real estate go-go days prior to the 08 meltdown.  Both Byron and his wife, Keely, are native born Texans with an affinity for works of Western artists considered highly collectible, yet still underappreciated given the quality of their oeuvre.  In addition to Megargee, the collection features works by Lew Davis, Tom Lea, Marjorie Reed, Ed Mell and Mark McDowell, among others.

Earlier this year my wife, Barbara, and I were fortunate enough to finally make a long overdue visit to the Lewis’s ranch “somewhere north” of McAllen, Texas and see their collection in person.

 

Byron Lewis by studies for Arizona State Capitol Murals
Byron Lewis by Megargee’s 1937 mural proposals for the Phoenix Post Office, also shown below. Although Megargee’s competition entries were not chosen to adorn the building at 522 North Central Avenue (the winning proposal was submitted by Taos Artist Oscar Berninghaus) these were some of my favorite pieces in the collection.

 


Needless to say it was an enjoyable and educational experience for both Barbara and me. It truly was an Arizona cowboy’s and cowgirl’s dream.

Speaking of a Cowboy’s Dream, that’s the title of the painting shown below. At least four different original versions are known to exist. This one was reproduced as one of five advertising posters for Phoenix based A-1 Beer in the late 1940s. The posters are still sought after by collectors today.

 

Lon Megargee The Cowboys Dream

 

Lon Megargee Cave Creek 24x30 Oil on canvas Circa 1945
Cave Creek. 24 x 30. Oil on canvas. Circa 1945.

 

Lon Megargee The Texan 17x15 gouache on paper circa 1918
The Texan. 17 x 15. gouache on paper. circa 1918.

 

Lon Megargee Ranch Days 30x26 Oil on canvas Circa 1936
Ranch Days. 30×26. Oil on canvas. Circa 1936.

 

Lon Megargee Cowboy 10x13 Oil on canvas Circa 1920
Cowboy. 10×13. Oil on canvas. Circa 1920.

 

Lon Megargee Grand Canyon Holiday 16x16 OIl on canvas Circa 1916
Grand Canyon Holiday. 16×16. Oil on canvas.  Circa 1916.

 

Below: “The Critics”…one of my all time favorites

The Art Critics by Lon Megargee

 

Below left: Sedona.  Below Right: San Francisco Peaks Ghost Tree.

 

Lon Megargee San Francisco Peaks Ghost Tree

Lon Megargee Sedona

 

 

 

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