A Cowboy at Heart: Claggett/Rey Gallery hosts exhibition of Joe Beeler’s Western artwork
There are people who dream about the Wild West, and there are people who live it. Artist Joe Beeler lived it. From July 1 – 21, Claggett/Rey Gallery in Edwards is featuring roughly 50 pieces of Beeler’s work, from major oils to minor pieces, watercolors, pen and ink drawings, pencil, charcoal and, of course, bronzes — from miniature to monumental.
“The three-week exhibition will allow people to enjoy Joe’s world at their own pace,” says Bill Rey, who, with his wife, Maggie, owns Claggett/Rey Gallery. They were very close with the Beeler family.
“Joe Beeler holds a pair of reins as naturally as he does a paintbrush, talks technique while sculpting a clay figure to life as easily as he jokes with pals on a trail ride or spring roundup,” reads the inside cover of a book about the artist, written by author Don Hedgpeth. “He paints and sculpts the world he lives in and he ropes and rides in the world he paints.”
There could not be a more accurate description of this celebrated artist.
Beeler, descending from Cherokee blood, grew up in the Borderlands, where the modern-day boundaries of Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas intersect — where, as a young boy, he attended Quapaw powwows and listened to his grandmother’s tales of traveling west on the Oregon Trail. Beeler was intrigued by talks of medicine men and in the drumming and dancing of his proud people. He learned to rope, ride and hunt and, at an early age, participated in war dances at gatherings, producing memories that would last a lifetime and which are showcased in his entire body of artwork. And he took great care to portray tribes accurately.
As a struggling artist, Beeler sometimes put down his paintbrush to go out and shoot a rabbit for the family dinner. He traded original artworks for goods, once as a down payment for a pick-up truck. Over time, his work sold for thousands of dollars — a far cry from the $35 he earned in 1958.
“Joe was the real deal,” says Rey. “He was one of the four founding members of Cowboy Artists of America, a group of like-minded artists — its intention not to be a huge money-making endeavor for the artists, but rather to have the camaraderie. Maybe to go on an annual branding or trail ride once a year to share insights and the hardships of the life of an artist and a Westerner.”
On April 26, 2006 Beeler was helping friends rope and brand calves when he succumbed to a heart attack.
“Joe had brought in a calf, but when a rope was thrown to him, he just sat on his horse and everyone thought he was just thinking, until his hat fell off,” says, Rey, thoughtfully. “He was really at the top of his game and had done just about everything that an artist can do.”
Beeler’s work certainly epitomized the grit of the West. “I’ve always liked things with character,” he once said. “I don’t know how the dictionary defines it, but to me it is the clothes worn and wrinkled; a weather-beaten face; a good cow horse that would never win a halter class; a gunstock that shows the scars of long use and wear.
“And even the land and sky have character to me.”