Following the Old Path, oil, 15 x 30.
By Myrna Zanetell
A timeless aura pervades the prairies of West Texas, and although the region is part of the vast Chihuahuan Desert, there is a richness to the land that is most apparent in early summer when wildflowers cover the green, gently rolling hillsides. This panorama, which spreads as far as the eye can see and is broken only by the Davis Mountains, has changed little in hundreds of years.
This is the heart of Texas ranch country, and it’s easy to understand why western artist Wayne Baize has put down roots here. As one of the newer members of the Cowboy Artists of America—he was invited to join in 1995—he paints a way of life that he inherited from generations of ancestors who lived close to the land.
A Good Lickin’, oil, 28 x 32.
Born in 1943 in the small town of Stamford in north-central Texas, Baize is the son of a farmer who raised livestock and grew wheat and cotton. During his childhood he lived in similarly rural Texas settings near Abilene and in tiny Bayard. It was from his father, a hard-working man more comfortable with a horse-drawn plow than a tractor, that Baize inherited not only a strong work ethic but also his love of animals and the people who care for them.
Baize had an affinity for art at an early age. “My favorite toy was al-ways a coloring book,” he says. “By the time I was 12, my parents realized how important art was to me and arranged for private lessons.” After graduating from high school, Baize spent his days working in an Abilene lumberyard and feed store and his nights refining his artistic talents. His dedication eventually paid off, and he began earning money painting commissioned portraits. These paintings often featured a local rancher astride his favorite horse, working his cattle. Baize further individualized each piece by adding the rancher’s barn, corral, or other familiar landmarks to the scene.
A Long Walk Home, oil, 16 x 20.
Words of praise for Baize’s work soon spread along the local grapevine, prompting Brad Thompson to offer Baize his first one-man show at his gallery in nearby Stephenville. “When nearly all my paintings sold, I knew I could make a living as an artist,” Baize says.
By the late 1960s the artist’s work was on display in Tommy Lewis’ Taos Art Gallery alongside that of such notable painters as William Moyers and George Phippen. In 1968 Baize met Tom Ryan, a CAA artist who invited him to attend the group’s annual art show, then held at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City, OK. It was also Ryan who invited Baize to exhibit in the yearly OS Ranch show, a fund-raiser for the West Texas Boys’ Ranch that drew collectors from all over the nation. Even today, when Baize needs artistic advice, he turns to Ryan, who has been his friend and mentor for 30 years.
A turning point in Baize’s life occurred in 1977 when he moved to the Fort Davis area of West Texas. While purchasing land from the Largent family, Baize met and eventually married Ellen Largent. The combination of West Texas and a happy marriage seemed to inspire him to produce his best work.
“There are so many ranches out here that I never run out of subject matter,” Baize says. “I work right alongside the other hands—branding, inoculating, or helping them move cattle. That’s how I find inspiration for pieces like Following the Old Path, in which we’re driving the ranch’s remuda of spare horses along an old rock-reinforced road on the O6 Ranch. These spreads are so vast and the terrain so rough that the horse is still an essential part of ranching—vehicles just don’t make it out here.
Long, Bumpy Trails, oil, 42 x 50.
“What I like to portray is the everyday routine of the working cowboy, both as it is now and as it was a century ago. I prefer to show men working on the open range rather than in pens, and I don’t include power lines, pickups, or other modern-day conveniences. I guess I’m a romantic for leaving those things out, but I think it gives the paintings a stronger sense of the past.”
The close-knit Baize family lives mostly off their land. They are nearly self-sufficient, making the 17-mile drive into Fort Davis only to attend church, 4-H meetings, and other social gatherings. Although their comfortable ranch-style house, which Baize designed himself, has modern conveniences, there are no televisions, computers, or answering machines in sight. Instead, a spinning wheel dominates the living room. It’s not a decoration—Ellen uses it to spin yarn for her weaving projects. She is also weaving a saddle blanket on a full-size loom that occupies a corner of their barn. The structure serves as a storehouse for hay and grain, a cider press, and miscellaneous farm equipment, but it also houses a full-size chuck wagon, numerous saddles, and other vintage paraphernalia that Baize uses as props for his paintings.
The four Baize children—Elizabeth, 14, William, 12, Jonathan, 10, and Charles, 7—are reserved and well-mannered but still exhibit the spontaneity of youngsters who are encouraged to live life to its fullest. Ellen schools them at home, and it is obvious that they are eager students: Discretely tucked into various corners of their home are glass cases filled with neatly categorized and labeled seashells, arrowheads, and other collections, obviously the result of research projects.
Baize’s studio, which adjoins the house, is as informal and relaxed as its owner. A large, high window allows north light to spill over several canvases in progress as well as onto piles of reference books and magazines. The ledge of a massive stone fireplace holds replicas of several wagons, including a miniature version of the one housed in Baize’s barn. He used it as a model for The Long, Bumpy Trail, which hangs on an adjoining wall. As often as not, at least one of Baize’s children shares the space with him, working on his or her own art project.
In this home, daily life and art are inseparable, for the 1,300-acre spread is also a working ranch to which every member of the family contributes. “My wife’s family has been raising registered Herefords for about five generations now, and I guess I’d be kicked out of the family if I tried to raise any other breed,” Baize says, laughing. Generally there are about 30 head of cattle on the ranch. “There are parts of Texas where you can run more cows per acre, but that’s about as much as this land will support,” he says. “Some people wonder why we chose to ranch in this area. During some of the dry years, the rain stopped right at our fence line. It’s hard not to take it personally,” he says with a grin. “But when it does rain out here, the grass comes back fast and the cattle do well—as long as you don’t abuse the land by overgrazing.”
Baize has always en-joyed painting Herefords. “I was painting this breed even before I married Ellen,” he says. “Their red coats bring interesting colors to a painting, and their large eyes and white faces are surprisingly expressive.” Many of Baize’s paintings are about relationships such as those between a cowboy and his horse, a mare and a foal, or a cow and calf. A Good Lickin’, for example, reveals the care with which a mother grooms her week-old calf.
For years Baize was best-known for his mixed-media work. “I began my career working in colored pencil,” he says, “but eventually I added acrylic for greater depth of color. About five years ago I began experimenting with oils to achieve even richer colors. It felt awkward at first, but I just jumped right in, and now I’m comfortable with them.”
Indeed, persistence has been a lifelong attribute of Baize’s. “Back in high school, lots of other kids could draw better than I could, but I just kept at it until I became a professional artist,” he says. His persistence has continued to serve him: When he was not selected as a CAA member on his first try, he just kept on applying. “I didn’t get discouraged when I was turned down,” he says. “Rejection only inspired me to try harder.
“Being a member of the CAA is the fulfillment of a dream, but it’s also a challenge.” Baize says. “The artists in this group will show you up real quick if you’re not careful. Once you have the CAA letters after your name, you want to produce your best work, not only personally but for the group as well.” He seems to be doing just that, as his drawing Mountain Trails won a silver medal in the 1997 CAA show.
Perhaps Baize has chosen working cowboys as his subject matter because they mirror the qualities most apparent in the artist himself—persistence and dedication. In this isolated place where he has chosen to live and work, success often depends upon endurance. It is apparent that Baize has what it takes to survive and succeed.
Photos courtesy the artist and Pierce Fine Art, Scottsdale, AZ; Trailside Galleries, Jackson, WY; Fenton’s Art Gallery, Ruidoso, NM; and Midland Gallery, Midland, TX.
Featured in September 1998