Gallery Artists > Gary Morton Biography :

Gary Morton (b. 1951)  Artworks >>

Morton, 67, has earned his share of calluses, rope burns and accolades over the years. He started as a green cowboy at the Bell just out of high school, hired on at various other ranches over the years, worked his way up to jobs such as Bell Ranch wagon boss and manager of the CR Ranch near Las Vegas and ran his own stock on leased grazing. He has served as chairman of the New Mexico Arts Commission and director of the state’s Office of Cultural Affairs. In 2015, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture recognized Morton with the Rounders Award, presented to people who “live, promote and articulate the Western way of life.” And his painting, The Simple Pleasures of New Mexico, which depicts a mounted cowboy taking a break to soak in the beauties of a river valley landscape, hangs in New Mexico’s Capitol Building, and everyone knew they were cowboys from the Bell.” Morton remembers his first glimpses of the Bell Ranch. “My dad, a brilliant mechanic, owned a farm implement dealership there in Tucumcari and would cut people’s hay,” he said. “I started going with him as a kid. He was doing some custom farming at the Clabber Hill farm, which was part of the Bell Ranch, and I can still remember seeing that gate, a simple iron gate, locked, with the Bell brand on the overhead. I could see through the gate, the road running through a 20-section pasture, rolling over hill after hill. It was a great source of curiosity for me even as a kid.” Figuring he was a sure-enough cowboy, Morton applied for a job at the Bell after finishing high school in 1969. He got an interview with ranch manager George Ellis. “I told him I had been riding broncs,” Morton said. “I didn’t know there was a big difference between rodeo broncs and ranch broncs.” Rodeo contestants need only stay on a bronc for eight seconds to get a score. But if a ranch horse breaks in two, the cowboy has to stay with it until it stops kicking or face a long walk home and the razzing of the other hired hands. Morton said that during his first summer, the other hands, including Fort, spent a lot of time chasing his horses. Morton never had any formal art training, but he and Fort shared their artistic interests, working and learning together. And Morton credits Western painters Robert Lougheed, whose art illustrates George Ellis’ book Bell Ranch As I Knew It, and Tom Ryan with demonstrating their techniques, giving him tips and offering encouragement. Even after he began making a living as a painter, Morton would do spring and fall work on ranches, taking his camera with him to record experiences he later translated into paintings. He did his last ranch stint in 2010-11 at the Bell, where it all started. For the last six years, Morton, the divorced father of two and the grandfather of three, has been the caretaker for the 300-acre Sapello spread. He looks after the land, the landowner’s four horses and two horses of his own and paints in what time he has left over, building up an inventory for a one-man show down the line. “I still visit ranches in order to get new ideas and reference material for my painting,” he said. “You never dream you are painting history. But if you are in it long enough, you actually are.” Source

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