Cowboy Artist of America Bruce Greene enjoys exceptional run of awards, recognitions and prestigious commissions
NORSE – For those without a creative mind, it is hard to imagine transforming mere paint into an exquisite piece of art that evokes emotion, or taking a humble building material like clay and create a three-dimensional figure that translates strength and movement.
For Bosque County’s Cowboy Artist of America Bruce Greene, doing that is all in a day’s work – just like us mere mortals go our jobs on a daily basis.
Showing his incredible versatility, Greene – the 2020 judge of the Bosque Arts Center’s 35th Annual Bosque Art Classic – enjoys going back and forth between two-dimensional and three-dimensional work. And even in his painting, he will switch from oils to charcoal to using water color, switching from more controllable studio work to the quick capture of plein air painting – just to get in the groove.
“It keeps me from getting bored,” Greene said in his studio behind his home in Norse, wearing his signature jeans tucked in his boots, a red fleece vest, plaid shirt and white cowboy hat. “It gives me the opportunity to keep the excitement fresh.”
Both in his realistic paintings and sculptures, Green’s impressionistic style gives the piece a lightness, a vibrancy, a fluidity – but also strength, clear and pure emotion.
The last couple of years have been exceptional for Greene, with several very special recognitions, awards and a few prestigious commissions. In Oct. 2017, he was inducted into the Texas Trail of Fame with his star located next to artist, Charles M. Russell. In Jan. 2018, he received the Texas Cowboy Hall of fame Rick Smith “Spirit of Texas” award.
In addition, Green received two huge – literally, in size and in importance – commissions in 2018. One for a larger-than-life Sarah Dickenson sculpture for the new multi-million dollar Alamo Park in San Antonio, and another in a life-size buffalo for a bank in Fort Worth across from AT&T Stadium.
Greene had done a study of pioneer women many years ago, which included Dickenson. According to his research findings, Sarah was not a talkative woman. In one of the rare instances she revealed her thoughts, she recalled Davy Crockett running into the baptistery, dropping to his knees, making his peace with God and going back into battle to die. As she stepped across the rivers of blood, she saw Crockett’s coon skin cap in the dirt.
Greene’s Dickenson depicts her as she leaves the Alamo – released by General Santa Anna – carrying a letter of warning intended for Sam Houston. She is holding her child Angelina to her chest, protecting her head, walking over battle field debris, the wind whipping her wrap and dress out, looking back at the spot her husband lost his life.
“I have her walking,” Greene said, maybe remembering her account of stepping across the rivers of blood. “But in real life, she probably would have gotten a horse.”
Sarah has become a part of a sculpture walk with 20 other sculptures. Before the renovations were done, she patiently waited in a spot in the garden behind the chapel.
The clay sculpture left for the foundry just weeks before Greene finished the life-sized, six-foot tall, 10-foot long mighty buffalo, exuding majestic strength and power of the Monarch of the plains.
That massive undertaking – starting with visits to the Diamond Tail Ranch in North Colorado for measurements and research material on buffalo, and ending in a 3,000 pound sculpture – took about four months to complete. It all started with someone that forgot to inform him of the commission. He had just 48 hours to come up the preliminary sketch and quote for the bank’s board to consider.
“I can’t imagine giving up painting,” Greene said. “Sculpting these large pieces is physically hard. But they are the real release of my abilities and passion though.”
He compares working with clay, trying to get the most motion into the piece, kneading the clay, smoothing out a curve, touching up a wisp of hair, just creating, “like eating ice cream.”
Greene’s first life-size sculpture can be admired near his home in Clifton, the cowboy on horseback at Heritage Plaza called “On the Banks of the Bosque.”
As he started doing more life-size and larger than life statues, Greene and his apprentice/helper Jeff Gottfried have developed a “crazy good system” for the first armature and the spray foam for the foundation.
“If you don’t lay a good foundation, and get the proportions right in the foam, you keep fighting the piece,” Greene said. “And that is a time-consuming mess.”
More often than not, local friends, family, acquaintances and his own livestock become his models. Two high school seniors, Emma Guillory and Bailey Barrett, stood model for “The Lady of the Alamo.” Tom Fry had approximately the same build as the Texas Ranger baseball fan sculpture at the home base entrance of Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Greene had the honor of creating the sculpture of the Brownwood firefighter who fell to his death at the ball park. Shannon Stone died less than an hour after he fell about 20 feet from the left field stands while trying to catch a ball tossed his direction by outfielder Josh Hamilton. Stone's six-year-old son, Cooper, was seated next to his father when the accident occurred July 7, 2011.
Knowing the Greene’s had suffered the loss of a grandson – coincidentally also named Cooper – former Texas Ranger Nolan Ryan felt the Greene’s would have a heart for this family and make the statue the best it could be.
The finished work is pretty much like the first sketch Greene drew, except the calves were toned down after a comment from Stone’s widow. Greene wanted to honor the relationship between father and son and their love for baseball. He hoped to capture their “play-by-play” talk after a game, smiling, enjoying each other.
And as with all his pieces, Greene has a touching story to tell about it.
When Cooper came to see the completed clay figure a year after the incident, Greene felt he had to put the young boy at ease, and chatted with him about the biggest, most beautiful buck he had recently seen. When the two glanced out the window, there it was in the middle of the day, very close to the house. Remarkably, the buck had never been spotted during the day before. Furthermore, it never moved as Cooper went out to get a closer look at it.
“That was just a God thing,” Greene said.
When Cooper was ready to see the statue, he wanted Greene to accompany him. Together, they put his thumb print in the clay over his dad’s heart, and Cooper signed his name underneath the arm.
The greatest question is, of course, whether the ball is in the glove Shannon is holding. It’s there, tucked away. And all this was talked through with the family.
This represented at least the second time Greene has been chosen to create a work commemorating a sport-related tragedy. His 2007 sculpture ”Immortal Ten” was installed on the Baylor University campus on the 80th anniversary of a bus crashed that killed 10 people, including fans, coaches and members of the university men's basketball team.
Showing his quality of work and diversity, Greene is a regular award winner at the annual Cowboy Artists of America show at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, in all three categories – painting, sculpture and drawing. Beginning with a Silver medal for sculpture in 1996, Greene most recently received a Gold medal in sculpture at the 2019 Cowboy Artists of America Show in Fort Worth.
Demonstrating his versatility, Greene received a Gold medal for his drawing “Calgary Mud” and the Buyers Choice Award for “Old Friends and Fine Horses,” an oil on canvas in 2017.
The Ray Swanson Memorial Award honors longtime CAA member, Ray Swanson. The award is given for a work of art that best communicates a moment in time and captures the emotion of that moment. Greene received that illustrious award in 2007, then again in 2012 for ”In the Brazos de Dios,” a depiction of a cowboy baptism.
A piece close to Greene’s heart, it has a special story attached to it. A Cowboy Artists of America father-son spring gathering at the 4-F Ranch in Palo Pinto culminated in a Sunday church service under a tree, as the gatherings always do. This particular day, a young man with a limp walked up and began to sing.
“It was staggering to hear,” Greene said. “He was like Andrea Bocelli.”
Following the vocal tribute to God, the congregation decided to go to the river to baptize three generations – the ranch foreman, his son and his grandson. As the young man sang again, “How Great Thou Art,” filled the air and three Canadian geese flew over really low.
Greene turned to his dear friend Red Steagall and said, “That’s a painting,” and so it became one.
But that’s not all of the story. A fourth man, a stranger, happened to be at the river and came forth, also to be baptized. Greene later heard Will was a young man who suffered greatly because of his role in his nephew’s death during a hunting accident near the river. Greene had not intended to add Will to the painting, but it just did not work without him.
For Greene, a man of faith, a believer, a Christian, the painting shows that “God is still with us in tragic, hard times,” and he never tires of telling the story of how God has his hand in the biggest and smallest of moments.
The impressive – in size and impact it has on viewers – painting now adorns the big hall at the Bosque Museum. It became part of the museum’s celebration of the Bosque 7. The permanent exhibit has paintings of all Bosque 7 painters – James Boren, George Boutwell, Tony Eubanks, Martin Grelle, George Hallmark, and Melvin Warren.
In 2018, Greene went on to win the Donald Teague Memorial Award for the best work of art on paper at the 2018 Prix de West show for his drawing “Cowboy Cadillacs,” three saddles horses waiting for their riders to start the daily cowboy commute.
The Prix de West is an exhibition of more than 300 paintings and sculpture by the finest contemporary Western artists in the nation at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. . This premier art exhibition features works ranging from historical pieces that reflect the early days of the West, to more contemporary and impressionistic works of art. Landscapes, wildlife art, and illustrative scenes are always highlighted in the exhibition.
Certainly, some of Greene’s titles of his works paint the picture of his soaring spirit: the saddle remains the best seat in the house either in the soft light of an early morning mount or a dusty evening trail with good friends and fine horses, out on the range, retelling tales as they ride exposed to the elements whatever they may be. And he feels honored and humbled to depict a lifestyle tied hard to tradition.
As his star and spirit soar on his successes, Greene recalls the exact day and situation when his parents realized their son had a God-given, exceptional talent. He was six years old, visiting with a great aunt in San Antonio who was a hobby painter. As the adults conversed, the young boy who had always loved to draw, sat at his aunt’s French easel with paints and canvas and drew a tree in the garden, still bare from the winter.
“The light came on,” Greene said. “That moment took me to a whole other level.”
And his parents enrolled him in art classes at the Children’s Museum of Fine Art in Dallas. After that he took every art class there was in the area, choosing to get an art degree, not really sure if he could make any money with his art. His first commercial success came on an art sale in Rockwall County, selling six paintings, taking home $132.50 to Janie his wife and their one-year-old baby.
There are a few constants in his work – Greene depicts the present day cowboy, their horses and their cattle, the interaction between man and beast or between humans, the beauty of the landscape - , capturing the emotion, the spirit of the moment in time out on the range or after a hard day’s work. Another light came on after visits to the historic Burnett Four Sixes Ranch and Charles Goodnight’s JA Ranch, completely changing his life. As his friend Steagall put it, Greene got the “dust in his nose.”
Now, every year he makes a trip to the state’s large ranches –near the Palo Duro Canyon – spending his time rounding up cattle, soaking in and experiencing the lifestyle of the iconic cowboy fraternity. The trips give him inspiration, subject matter and a hands-on knowledge of the day-to-day difficulties and simple pleasures of a cowboy life.
“I build a box of memories, that are such a treasure for me,” Greene said.
With the Chisholm Trail – the major route out of Texas for longhorn cattle from 1867 to 1884 – the iconic cowboy was born, independent, rugged, hard-working, dependable, proud of their occupation.
“I try to document this segment of society that still goes on today,” Greene said at a lecture at the Bosque Museum commemorating the 150th anniversary of the infamous Chisholm Trail. “There is some mystique involved, an air, an attitude, but not in an ugly fashion. What I see, cowboys and their families have impeccable manners, are courteous and considerate of others.”
Back in the day, cattle driving was an even more grueling and lonely affair. On top of being exposed to the elements, there were hostile settlers, outlaws and native American attacks to be dealt with. Rounding up cattle from the range still holds many dangers of severe weather, prairie fires, predatory animals and stampedes. A river or creek crossing, even at low water levels harbors unseen dangers like quick sand.
And all a cowboy needs, then and now, is a couple of trusty horses, a wide-brimmed hat, boots, spurs, a good saddle, a lasso, the iconic yellow slicker, leather chaps to protect his legs, maybe tampaderos on the stirrups and a rolled mattress. The only thing Greene has that not exist at the time of the Chisholm Trail is a cowboy teepee for some protection from wind and weather in the night.
Greene feels that without the intrinsic experience of the life on the range, a western painting can be pretty, but would lack the depth of feeling he seeks. The harder his experiences, the more real the emotion in his artwork, as he believes the best artwork comes from the deepest depths.
With his depictions of life on the range, Greene hopes to show people 50, 100, 150 years from now what it was like for the families that chose to ranch in remote areas. And his scope of work is his legacy to the next generations of Greenes. They will know him, his spirit through his work.
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS and courtesy of BRUCE GREENE
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