“Mountain men are hard to sell,” remarks former “Newlywed Game” host Bob Eubanks, indicating a painting hung at the Rolland Gallery of Fine Art. This one is not part of the $178,000 collection donated by Eubanks, but a piece on loan from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. In it, a pensive face under a fur cap gazes skyward at something far out of our view, like a politician on a campaign poster.
Through Sept. 15, paintings and sculptures of horses, cowboys, native Americans, rodeo clowns, sheepdogs, landscapes and lonely houses from the Eubanks, Reagan and Rolland art collections are on exhibit in the gallery, under the winking title “Western Salon,” as in not a saloon. The paintings are displayed salon-style, closely next to and atop one another, and the curator has planned a series of informal salon gatherings around the exhibit.
Back at the Eubanks family cattle ranch in Santa Ynez, before it was sold, the late Irma Eubanks and later their son Trace hosted the Peppertree Art Show for 33 years, amassing and helping to market Western American art. That’s how Bob Eubanks learned about the glut of painted mountain men and the strict requirements of Western people who collect art.
For one thing, if you want to sell a horse – a painted or a sculpted one, that is, which in certain cases will set the buyer back as much as a live one – you’d better make sure that you have the bone structure and the musculature right, and that you know horses. Thomas Lorimer shows this kind of horse sense in “Distant Thunder,” says Eubanks, commenting on one of the paintings he donated.
“If you’re a horse person, you understand that you tell a horse’s emotions by their ears. If they’re paying attention, they do like this,” he says, holding up cupped palms. “If they’re mad or determined, they put them back. If they’re scared, they go up and their nostrils widen. So he’s hearing thunder off in the distance.”
In short, says Eubanks, cowboy art succeeds not because it is romanticized, but because it’s authentic. The sole exception in his family collection is a whimsical Kent Butler painting of a cowboy drinking tea, which cowboys don’t do, according to Eubanks.
However, cowboys do make cowboy art. Maybe that’s why the big association for Western American art is called the Cowboy Artists of America. You can’t tell from the name who the cowhands are, the painters or the painted.
“That’s Martin Grelle,” Eubanks says of the rider depicted in “Workin’ Buddies,” by Martin Grelle. “He gets up every morning with that dog and he goes out and he
rounds up cattle, and checks the cattle. That’s what he does.”
Another well-known Western painter, Donald “Putt” Putman, sold the Eubanks family a watercolor depicting Cotton Gray, the “roper and rough old cowboy” who ran the cattle ranch for perhaps 30 years. Eubanks has kept a few paintings in his Westlake Village home, including two “of my boys roping,” but did not have display space for the rest after selling the Santa Ynez property. He donated four sculptures and 26 paintings through his friend Rick Lemmo, a CLU regent and parent of a current student.
All of the donated works are by contemporary artists featured at the Peppertree show, according to Eubanks.
“[Irma] was so sensitive to the artists’ feelings that if an artist would come to the show and bring some pretty good stuff and not sell anything, she felt so bad about it that sometimes she’d just buy a piece,” Eubanks said. “So a lot of this art came along that way.”