Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fred and Deborah Fellows

Cowboy Artists

     A large metal sign bearing the brand “backward F, forward F” welcomes you to a ranch outside of Sonoita, Arizona. It is a beautiful place, reminding you more of upper central California or the Davis Mountain country northeast of Marfa, Texas. With its large oak trees and rolling grassland hills at an elevation of around 5,000 feet, it is definitely one of the more beautiful spots in the Southwest. It is the home of many fine ranches, cowboys and cowgirls.
     She was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame (the second lady from Arizona after Sandra Day O’Connor). She is a lifetime member of the National Sculpture Society. Her monumental sculptures appear in about two dozen locations across the country including the Hall of Champions in Colorado Springs, Colorado; the Horseshoe and South Point casinos in Las Vegas; several Boy Scout of America monuments; several Vietnam Veteran War Hero monuments and numerous museums. The full list is long and impressive. Her name is Deborah Copenhaver Fellows. (Deb to those who know her.)
     He is the longest living member of the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA). He has served three different terms as the CAA president and at the time of this writing is the current director. His art adorns places like the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Cody, Wyoming; the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona; and the Desert Caballeros Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona. His art has graced the cover of over two-dozen magazines and has honorable mentions in articles in dozens more. A current work of his entitled “We Pointed Them North” has become the “logo” for the Cowboy Artists of America and the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association’s annual sale and exhibition held at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. His name is Fred Fellows.
     Many great accomplishments of these two famous artists are well documented. A simple Internet search will turn up a multitude of information on the art of this talented duo. When you visit with them, however, they prefer to tell you about team roping, ranching and raising horses. They are quick to point out that their art is, “… art from experience.” Drawing and sculpting what they know and love is their passion.
     First and foremost, the Fellows are true Westerners. Fred is a lifelong team roper (header) with an eye for a good head horse. Deb is the heeler of the team, and she has a family rodeo history, which includes her dad (Deb Copenhaver) and brother (Jeff Copenhaver), both world champion cowboys in their respective generations. The Fellows family has competed in rodeo events most of their lives.
     Deb, once Miss Rodeo Washington and a runner-up to Miss rodeo America, looks like you would expect a former rodeo queen to look like. However, upon closer inspection, you see a gal tough as any man, sporting a much nicer exterior. Roping, cowboying and many long hours with sculpturing tools have made her as tough as her male counterparts. Pretty and proper to look at, yet tough as nails, she is quite an impressive woman.
     Fred is the quintessential cowboy. Rugged good looks on a 6-foot-plus frame with a large cowboy hat leave no question that this is a guy who has spent much time outdoors on the back of a horse.
Fred likes to talk roping horses and is quick to mention a horse he once owned which was a brother to the great horse, Walt, owned by professional roper, Travis Tryan. A mutual friend in Montana, Walt Vermendahl, raised both horses. One day Fred decided that his horse was not being put to its full potential, being turned out in a pasture on the Fellows ranch, so he wound up selling it. The horse then ended up where its brother once was, in the Tryan rope herd. The horse has been a winner at the professional level since.
     Fred is an avid history buff on just about anything cowboy or Indian. His collection of Old West memorabilia is one of the most extensive private collections you will find anywhere. He knows the history of each and every piece, how it was used and where it came from. This knowledge comes in handy when working on art. If one of them is working on a piece depicting the 1800s, early 1900s or contemporary times, they pay attention to minute details such as getting the clothing, tack and accessories correct for the period. Deb says, “In my opinion, it takes away from a piece if it’s supposed to be late 1800s and the horse is wearing a hackamore that wasn’t even invented until the 1940s.”
     Deborah also has a passion for good running horses. At the time of this writing, the couple has 14 head of horses on their ranch near Sonoita. Each has a roping horse or two; everything else is racehorse stock. The ones who don’t pan out on the track are then used as barrel racing and rope horse prospects. Deb is passionate about the bloodlines of the horses and laughs as she says, “I often trade stud fees for art… That comment has gotten me more than one strange look at formal gatherings, but eventually I explain what paying stud fees means to someone in the horse business.” Some of their more notable horses are Corona Cartel, Streaking La Jolla and Treis Seis, all of which have had their share of success on “the track.”
     The couple mentions the fact they have been on and worked with some of the West’s most famous ranches. This is an important factor, which carries over to their artwork. The Parker ranch in Hawaii; Haythorn Ranch in Nebraska; the Padlock and I X ranches in Montana; the JA, 6666 and o6 ranches in Texas and the Y7 ranch of New Mexico are but a few of the ranches they have been around.
     After twenty-one-plus years of marriage, the two still act more like newlyweds than a couple approaching the milestone “silver” anniversary. They spend each day working side by side in their luxurious art studio on the ranch. Fred says, “A typical day is to go out to the studio after breakfast, and we each work on our respective projects. After lunch together, we go back out and work ‘til late afternoon. Then we might saddle up some horses and run a few steers, coming back in the evening to go over our projects together. It is much better to have four sets of eyes critiquing our work than two. Sometimes I will see little things Deb has overlooked and visa-versa.” The two spend most of their time together, truly enjoying each other’s company.
     Whether traveling the West, gaining experience on some of its famous ranches, or working with their own animals at home, Fred and Deborah Fellows take pride in transferring the real West into their highly acclaimed artwork.

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