In mid-December 1996, the Tucson 7 took a time-trip back to the western frontier. Standing, left to right, are Bob Kuhn, Harley Brown, Howard Terpning, Tom Hill and Don Crowley. Seated are Ken Riley (left) and Duane Bryers.
By Jim Willoughby
The exhibition Tucson 7, comprising approximately 65 artworks, is on view at the Tucson Museum of Art from March 21 to May 18
Realizing a common need to promote their work, six former illustrators led by Joseph Henry Sharp and Bert Phillips founded the Taos Society of Artists in New Mexico in 1912. They established outside markets for their paintings by organizing traveling art shows around the country. Since then, artists have formed similar groups for support and promotional purposes, among them the Cowboy Artists of America, established in 1965, and a number of women’s organizations featured in the November 1996 issue of this publication.
The Tucson 7, whose name was coined by artist Duane (“friends call me Dick”) Bryers, was formed for entirely different purposes. Combining talent, experience and camaraderie, this unstructured bunch gets together for one reason—fun. Harley Brown, Dick Bryers, Don Crowley, Tom Hill, Bob Kuhn, Ken Riley, Howard Terpning and their wives mingle simply because they like one another. These successful painters migrated to southern Arizona from Canada, Michigan, California, Texas, New York, Missouri and Illinois and will socialize at the drop of a Stetson. Breakfasts, dinners, birthdays, holidays, a lizard crossing the road—any excuse is sufficient to bring them together to laugh or commiserate. They even journey to foreign countries together, most recently to Russia for sketching, painting, visiting museums and raising cain.
Lady of Central Park, pastel, 24 x 20. Photos courtesy the artist, Vanier and Roberts Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; Settlers West Galleries, Tucson, AZ; Jones Gallery, La Jolla, CA; Gateway Gallery, Albuquerque, NM; and Wilcox Gallery, Jackson, WY.
While camaraderie is the main reason the Tucson 7 hangs to-gether, there are also similarities in the artists’ backgrounds and shared influences that caught the eye of Bob Yassin, director of the Tucson Art Museum, and Jack Goodman, after whom the museum’s western gallery is named. Accordingly, the exhibition Tucson 7 was organized to showcase not only great art but also a group of artists who represent the generation of painters who left the world of East Coast illustration in the 1970s for new careers painting subjects in the American West and around the world.
We recently visited the artists in their studios, exploring the relationships that exist among them. We started with Duane Bryers [Swa Aug 86], the elder statesman of the group, who was the first to migrate to Tucson from Connecticut in 1958. With a background in commercial art, Bryers came West after a stint creating a syndicated cartoon strip for the U.S. Air Force. Between 1978 and 1980 he and wife Dee purchased land in Sonoita, about 40 miles south of Tucson, where Dick designed and built a home of adobe bricks made from mud that he dug up in their front yard. “I was the first to come here, and they all tagged along,” says Bryers. His observations about the artists he calls friends and colleagues are reflected in the caricatures and commentary throughout this article.
The Circle, pastel, 22 x 16.
Next we drove west to visit Tom Hill [Swa Mar 87] and his artist wife Barbara [Swa Feb 85], who recently moved into a new home in the hills above the historic little town of Tubac. Hill was raised in California and attended Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA, and the Art Institute of Chicago, IL, before embarking on jobs as a storyboard and set-design artist, newspaper artist/reporter and freelance illustrator.
“I guess our common bond is that we are all artists who made our own way,” says Hill. “We believe in the old idea that you learn the basics how to draw and don’t do any pretending. We feel like we’ve paid our dues and know what we’re talking about in an academic sense. We’ve worked our way up from the bottom.
“Dick Bryers and I have been friends since the 1950s, when we shared studio space in New York City. We’re like brothers. I’ve known Harley and Carol Brown for about 20 years. Harley’s a fabulous talent, but we also enjoy him because he’s kind of like Peter Pan—he’ll never grow up. Carol guides him through life’s pitfalls. Crowley has the driest sense of humor you can imagine. In the hubbub of a big party, he’ll nail the spirit of the evening in five words that just knock everyone over. Howard couldn’t be a sweeter, more gracious guy. With all his talent and success, he’s never had a big head. In fact, we’re all proud of each other’s successes.”
New Arrivals Old Pueblo , oil, 30 x 40.
Next morning we were up early and on our way to Howard Terp-ning’s hacienda in the Santa Catalina foothills. Terpning [Swa Sep 89] studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art, then spent 25 years as an illustrator working for all the leading publications and the movie industry before moving to Tucson in 1977.
“I knew Ken Riley and Don Crowley when I was working back East,” Terp-ning tells us. “I met the other guys out here—we’ve known each other for nearly 20 years now. Many things have contributed to our closeness: We have mutual respect for each other’s work. Our personalities are compatible, and we like to joke about everything. No one sets himself apart, and there’s no big ego thing among us.
A Day’s Work Done , oil, 30 x 40.
“We also learn from each other. I’m influenced by the freshness of Tom’s watercolors, the sensitivity of Don’s precision and Ken’s great sense of design and color. Harley’s enthusiasm, humor and spontaneity come out in his work; you can’t help being drawn to what he does. Dick is so solid in his love of conveying humanity. And Bob Kuhn is the greatest wildlife painter there is—he brings such integrity to everything he does.”
Following a snack in one of Tucson’s many fine Mexican cantinas, we drove up a dirt road to the home of the effervescent Canadian Harley Brown [Swa Sep 94]. Unlike his cohorts, Brown was never an illustrator. Rather, after studying in England and in Calgary, Alberta, he spent his early career doing thousands of 50-cent quick sketches of people in restaurants, pubs and town squares. Like Hill, Brown is an inveterate traveler who teaches workshops at home and abroad. He lived part-time in Tucson for many years before permanently moving here in 1994. Brown and his barefoot bride Carol met us at the door, along with six excited dogs all begging for attention.
Ripples, oil, 16 x 20.
“Carol and I came down to visit Stuart Johnson at Settlers West Galleries, and through him we met the Hills,” says Brown. “We also met Don Crowley about that same time. I met Dick Bryers up in Canada—he was 70 at the time and had more energy than I had as a teenager. Ken Riley and Howard Terpning came up to Canada to watch a historical re-enactment, and I met them there. I continue to be impressed with the knowledge these men bring to their work. When Ken Riley paints, all the wonderful years of his artistic development go into each stroke.”
Don Crowley welcomed us next, ushering us into his lovely adobe home, where we met his elegant, raven-haired wife Betty Jane. Like Hill, Crowley studied at the Art Center College of Design before moving to New York, where he created book covers for children’s stories, portraits for Readers Digest and still lifes for a major cruise ship company. In 1973 he saw an exhibit at New York’s Hammer Galleries of western portraits by his friend, former illustrator James Bama, who had moved to Wyoming. A year later, Crowley and B.J. packed their bags for Tucson.
The Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico, watercolor, 21 x 29.
“I’m honored to be showing my work with artists I consider the most talented in the world,” says Crowley. “They all have finely tuned senses of humor and are very knowledgeable. Dick Bryers is so well-educated, as is Harley, who’s as gifted a teacher as a painter. Howard Terpning is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met—in every respect, from technique to ideas. I don’t think there’s a shred of envy in the whole group. That’s one thing that keeps it together.”
Bob Kuhn met us in the driveway wearing sandals and shorts. Trained at Pratt Institute in his hometown of Buffalo, NY, Kuhn [Swa May 94] illustrated for sporting magazines, books and calendars until 1970, when his youngest child graduated from college. He divided his time between Connecticut and Arizona until 1995, when he and wife Libby moved to Tucson permanently.
Medieval Hill Town, Italy, watercolor, 29 x 21.
Leading us into his studio off the garage, Kuhn identified the common thread that binds the group. “We’re all old illustrators,” he says. “Near the end of my tenure, I knew of Howard Terpning because we were rivals. I did most of the art for Remington Arms, and somewhere along the way Howard hooked up with Winchester. I admired his work tremendously. I didn’t get to know him until we began wintering in Arizona. Some of us meet occasionally for breakfast, and the restaurant people think we’re crazy with all the joking and laughing going on. And our wives all like each other that’s pure luck.”
Ken and Maria Riley were in Scottsdale for the weekend, so we talked with Ken by phone. Trained at the Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, MO, and the Art Student’s League, New York, NY, Riley [Swa Jul 93] lived in Connecticut while illustrating for major magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. In 1971 he moved to Tombstone, AZ, and later to Tucson. Like Terpning, Riley is a history painter who moved West and found a niche among the legends of cavalrymen, explorers and the Southwestern and Plains Indians. “As former illustrators we worked in very demanding jobs where doing your homework about facts and details was critical to the success of your work,” Riley says. “Because the job entailed reading and then visualizing a story, it was easy to make the transition to western American art I just picked up diaries by men like Lewis and Clark or George Catlin and interpreted them.”
Coyote and Brittlebrush, acrylic, 16 x 20.
Riley was one of the founding members of the National Academy of Western Art in the early 1970s. Shortly thereafter, other members of the Tucson 7 exposed their work to a broader audience as a part of the annual exhibitions held at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, OK, until 1994.
“NAWA is where the Tucson 7 expanded the audience for their work,” says Stuart Johnson, owner of Settlers West Galleries, which represents all seven artists. Johnson has watched them evolve, some over more than 20 years, and notes that their work has grown in precision, boldness and complexity. “Unlike their illustration days when they were told what to paint, as easel artists they have had to come up with ideas for paintings and reasons to create scenes. Over the years their familiarity with their respective subject matter has allowed them to go beyond storytelling a good example is the symbolism Ken often includes in his work.”
Cats Being Kittenish, Ocelots , acrylic, 14 1/2 x 18 1/2.
Johnson calls the Tucson 7 “the pillars of American art. Without such accomplished painters, American art would be on shaky ground,” he says. And he concedes that he himself has been influenced by the group. “We’ve always operated in a climate of trust. They’ve played a major role in the direction my life has taken.”
Though the Tucson 7 have shown together at Settlers West, they’ve never appeared together in a museum exhibition until now. We’ll see you there!
Our gain was Canada’s loss. Harley has few, if any, equals in the dexterous handling of pastel, and he couples that with super draftsmanship. Along with a love of teaching, he is an obsessive collector of art books—he has millions, it seems, stacked to the ceiling and spilling from every surface. As if that weren’t enough, he’s been a movie buff since childhood and can name the actors in almost any film ever produced. He has an infectious laugh that’s recognizable from three blocks away and is the world’s best audience for any joke. One is not surprised to learn that this enthusiastic lover of life is also an expert honky-tonk piano player. He’s easy to know:
Pisac Market, Peru , acrylic & oil, 24 x 30.
The minute you meet Harley, he’s your friend. —DB
This 1950 caricature of me is by Roy
Nelson, who was a dear friend and one of America’s masters of that craft during his many years with the Chicago Daily News in the 1930s and ’40s. At the time I was doing my nationally syndicated comic strip. Coincidentally, Roy and I share the same hometown and high school—Virginia, MN.—DB
Don’t let Don’s cool, laid-back look mislead you. Behind those tight lips and squinty eyes lies a keen and devastating wit. Avoid, if you possibly can, getting to know him too well. Whether you are the recipient of his well-aimed missiles or not, he is always “falling-down funny.” He’s been particularly hard on me! Always impeccably attired, he moves among us but seems to be from another era. His intriguing home reflects his capriciousness, including his outstanding collections of art deco mementos from the 1920s and ’30s. His messy but fascinating studio is another story. That’s where he’s grim and intensely focused on creating his striking, super-real paintings—mostly of Apache Indians in their colorful beaded garments. His meticulous craftsmanship boggles my mind.—DB
Vietnamese Children, oil, 20 x 30.
Tom and I have been friends since we met in 1951 in Chicago where he was the featured artist for the Chicago Tribune. Our friendship continued throughout our shared-studio days in New York City where we both pursued commercial art careers. Today he enjoys the spectacular new home he designed and built in the foothills overlooking Tubac. Tom is a great architect and has designed and built at least five of his own homes. He is not only one of our most accomplished watercolorists, with workshops around the world and three books to his credit, but a great storyteller as well. He’s a masterly and meticulous painter with a polished taboret and every brush in its place—all of which no doubt contribute to the pristine purity of his colorful scenes of Mexican marketplaces and cathedrals.—DB
The Pipeholder, oil, 30 x 24
After 30 years on their lovely Connecticut farm and a number of years wintering in Tucson, Bob and wife Libby are the most recent to take up permanent residence here. He is considered by many to be America’s finest animal artist. With sketch pad and camera, he has made dozens of research trips to Africa and elsewhere and has developed a distinctive style that can be spotted a mile away. After nearly a lifetime of critical observation he has an uncanny understanding of the habits and attitudes of wild animals, and some authorities believe he actually thinks like one! Bob is easy-going, but strong opinions on art and other subjects lurk behind that smiling face, surfacing only when provoked or when the occasion calls for it. He carries no soapbox.—DB
There’s not one among us who wouldn’t sell his soul for Ken’s magic sense of color and design. In the old New York days, every illustrator eagerly looked forward to Ken’s latest work in the Saturday Evening Post. And so it goes today with his elegant paintings of the Mandan Indians and other historical subjects. Ken is a gentleman through and through, modest to a fault and accepts compliments graciously, then quickly deflects the conversation away from himself. He smiles a lot—the expression on his face in my caricature is pretty standard for Ken Riley. It was only natural that the colorful and historical aspects of Tombstone would lure him away from New York prior to his move to Tucson in 1975. He is now engaged in building a spacious new home in the foothills.
Featured in “Portfolio: Tucson 7″ March 1997