Spurs, Saddles, and Indian Ponies


ISN'T this painting exciting? Don't you wonder what is going to happen next? Will the two men be able to rescue their friend? And how did the cowboy happen to fall in the first place? There's a story here. The artist asks us to use our imagination. We can make up our own ending. Frederic Remington did this painting, ``Aiding a Comrade,'' almost 100 years ago. Although he lived in the eastern United States, he loved the West and spent much of his time there ``tramping about over the waste places of the earth with my dinner in my pocket,'' as he put it. He once told a Denver reporter, ``Everything in the West is life and you want life in art. There is a freedom about the West that is inspiring.''

Remington had a great love for horses, too. He knew them so well that he could portray their every movement with accuracy. His father, who was a cavalry officer in the Civil War, later became part-owner of a training stable, so Frederic grew up with horses. He had a colt of his own and learned to ride at an early age. Later, when he became an artist, he was able to sketch horses with such precision and skill that they actually seemed to gallop across paper and canvas. To him a horse meant action. Describing one of his own favorites, a mare the color of gold dust, he said, ``Her stride was like steel springs under me as she swept along.''

Much as he liked horses, though, Remington was even more interested in the men who rode them - cowboys, Indians, and soldiers. The human figure is of primary importance in his paintings. He got along well with people. Big and husky, he played football at Yale and had, in his younger days, the muscular build of an athlete. On his travels West he is described as wearing a great brown hunting coat with ``bulging pockets'' (they probably held food!), a little round hat, tight riding breeches, and Prussian boots. Fair, with light hair and blue eyes, he had the good-natured manner of an overgrown boy and he made friends wherever he went.

``I travel a third or a half of the time,'' he once said. As he rode through the Western plains in search of new subjects, he endured many hardships. Of a Dakota winter he wrote, ``It was cold enough to satisfy a walrus.'' Yet he was willing to put up with primitive conditions in order to bring realism to his work.

Even at his home ``Endion'' (an Indian word meaning ``place where I live'') in New York State, he kept to a rigid schedule. He rose at 6 a.m. and painted in his studio, surrounded by Western clothing, saddles, lariats, and other gear, until 4 in the afternoon. Then he relaxed with a long horseback ride.

Soon after his first trip West, as a young man in his 20s, Remington began to sell his sketches and drawings to Harper's Weekly, Scribner's, Century, and St. Nicholas, a magazine for young people. He became popular and well-known. He was asked to illustrate an edition of Longfellow's ``Song of Hiawatha,'' and also Francis Parkman's ``The Oregon Trail.'' When Theodore Roosevelt wrote a series of articles on the West, he had Remington do the pen and ink sketches for them. The two men had much in common and became good friends. Roosevelt said of him, ``The soldier, the cowboy and rancher, the Indian, the horse, and the cattle of the plains will live in his pictures ... for all time.'' Remington himself wrote a book, ``The Way of an Indian,'' said to be the best novel about Indian life of that period. His oil paintings also were in demand. One of them received the silver medal in 1889 at the Paris Universal Exposition.

Now he turned to sculpture, partly because he enjoyed working with clay (he called it ``mud''!), and partly because he believed this would be more lasting than his paintings. He said, ``I am to endure in bronze - even rust does not touch it. Sculpture is a great art and satisfying to me, for my whole feeling is for form.'' His first bronze, ``The Bronco Buster,'' depicts a cowboy's struggle to break in a horse. As you look at it, you can almost feel that you, too, are in the saddle, straining to be a winner in the contest.

During his life, Frederic Remington produced 3,000 works of art - pen and pencil sketches, oils, watercolors, and bronzes. He wrote two novels and five collections of stories and essays. Almost always his theme was the West - the mystery, adventure, and drama of the open plains and the prairie.

And all that he created had the stamp of his individuality. He followed his own advice to other artists, ``Be always true to yourself, to the way you see things in nature ... don't imitate others.''

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