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Where all the cowboys have gone

"Some people use the word ‘cowboy’ to describe a rogue cop in New York. But that’s not the cowboy I paint," Don Weller writes. His book, "Watercolor Cowboys," contains paintings and stories of real cowboys the rope-totin’, chap-wearin’, rough-and-tumble variety that has become a symbol of the American West.

Weller developed a fascination with cowboy culture at an early age. "I have been searching my earliest memories and although I can’t find a time I ever believed in Santa Claus, I’m sure I’ve always believed in cowboys," he once told friend and colleague Bill Reynolds, who penned the foreward to the book.

"Watercolor Cowboys" is Weller’s first collection of paintings. It contains 134 watercolor images as well as about 16 short essays about painting, being on horseback and exploring the West.

A former Park City resident who has since relocated to Oakley, Weller was once a cowboy himself. Arguably, he still is.

He roped cattle in high school and college rodeos before moving to Los Angeles for a 25-year stint as an illustrator and graphic designer. In 1984, he moved to Park City, reigniting a passion for the cowboy lifestyle that manifested itself in cutting horses, a sport that tests a rider’s ability to separate a single animal away from the herd.

"I knew what to do in the winter you go skiing, but I didn’t know what to do in the summer," he says.

Weller got a few horses of his own and helped create a book of photographs and stories for the National Cutting Horse Association. "That book led me to discover cowboys again after all those years and I became kind of hooked," he says.

Meanwhile, he designed posters for the Egyptian Theatre, created a series of recreational sports-themed stamps for the U.S. Post Office, illustrated several children’s books and produced a couple books of Park City photos, illustrations and stories.

He and his wife, Chikako "Cha Cha" Weller, served as art directors for Park City Magazine for 25 years. They supplied the graphics and illustrations for approximately 50 issues before the magazine was sold to a group in Portland, Ore. "The look of it was pretty much ours," Weller says.

When "Park City started to look like a city" in the mid-90s, the couple decided to seek greener pastures and settled in Oakley. That’s when Weller dusted off his paintbrushes and returned to watercolors.

He continued to accompany cowboy friends on their wild Western adventures, sketching and taking pictures that he later translated onto canvas.

Like any cowboy, Weller has found himself in his fair share of sticky situations. There was a night, he recalls, when he was hauling a horse trailer on unpaved roads in the canyons south of Escalante. The rain was coming down and the terrain had morphed into a slippery bog. Next thing he knew, "the trailer is on the left side instead of behind us, the headlights are shining on the rock wall, and I know there’s a cliff on the other side," he says.

The stories in "Watercolor Cowboys" are drawn from such adventures. "They’re little tales and vignettes pieces of the story that you can’t paint," he says.

Weller still paints cowboys and horses as well as the occasional mountain scene. He occasionally cuts horses and invites friends over during long summer days for a little friendly competition.

"In this century, with the range all chopped up by barbed wire, there are still plenty of people that wear cowboy hats," he writes. "And, surprise, somewhere over those sagebrush hills and out of sight, there are still a few men and women that spend most of their waking hours working in a Wade saddle, with a 60-foot rope hanging by the horn, doing cow work in all kinds of weather, for low wages. That kind of cowboy hasn’t changed much."

That is the kind of cowboy that Weller prefers to keep company with.

He doesn’t have another book in the works, but says there’s a possibility of adding to his published repertoire. "If I live long enough I’ll probably do another one someday," he says.

It’s safe to say that Weller’s love for riding, painting and adventuring will keep him young for years to come.

"Watercolor Cowboys" is available in hardback at Dolly’s Bookstore and Montgomery-Lee Fine Art on Main Street. The book can also be ordered by sending a check for $68 (includes tax, shipping and handling) to The Weller Institute, P.O. Box 518, Oakley, UT 84055. A paperback version is available at Amazon.com. For more information about the artist, visit http://donweller.com.


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