Captured on Canvas
By Christina Freeman
"The Chief's Flag" by John Fawcett
Stepping into Steamboat Art Museum to view the John Fawcett Retrospective currently
on display is like taking a 200-year-long drive through the West. The artist’s lifelike
depictions of man and beast in their natural surroundings, is uncanny. One could
be forgiven for mistaking his paintings for photographs.
Despite his long list of accolades, including four Watercolor Awards from the Masters of the American West Show at the Autry Museum, Los Angeles, Fawcett only began painting professionally later in life. With no formal training and a penchant for using both watercolor and oil, his road to artistic greatness was unconventional.
Unlike other Western contemporary artists, Fawcett was a veterinarian first, owning his own practice for 20 years. “I often say that veterinary school was the longest anatomy lesson an artist could have,” he says. “The horse’s stance, their eye and ear placement, the turn of a dog’s head, can all play a part in the composition of my paintings and help to tell a story.”
A fateful visit to a Western art show in Arizona during the early ‘90s fueled Fawcett’s slowly burning creative fire. “I had always known of the traditional Western artists, but this show opened my eyes to contemporary Western art. It inspired me so much,” he says.
In 1996 Fawcett sold his veterinarian practice in Pennsylvania to concentrate on painting full-time. During a visit to Steamboat Springs in the ‘90s, Fawcett and his wife, Elizabeth, fell in love with the Yampa Valley, so much so, they bought a ranch in Clark.
The couple divides their time between Pennsylvania and Clark. In his North Routt studio, John Fawcett draws inspiration from the heritage and agricultural life in the Yampa Valley. Much of his work depicts Native American tribes, in particular the Ute, and early settlers from the 19th century against the backdrop of Routt County’s natural beauty.
Locals who visit the retrospective, which runs through Saturday, Sept. 19, will see many familiar faces and places on canvas. Local ranchers and long-time residents, including Travis and Orville Bedell, Bill Montag, Ray Heid of Del’s Triangle 3, Pete and Andy Kurtz of The Kurtz Ranch and Terry Nelson of The Homestead at Big Red Park, are among some of the people Fawcett feels grateful to have painted.
Pulling the show together has been a work in progress for Steamboat Art Museum curator Shirley Stocks. “I have been talking to John about this for years. He is such an incredible artist. It’s so wonderful to display his incredible work at our museum,” she says.
Fawcett says he is equally proud of every piece on display. “I don’t have any real favorites, although there are some pieces from our collection that we kept because my wife said, ‘No way is that painting leaving our home,’ usually because one of our animals was in it. It will be fun to have all the pieces in the exhibit together, as it will hopefully give people a sense of who I am as an artist. We haven’t seen many of them since they became part of the patrons’ collections, and we are very appreciative of their loans to the museum show,” Fawcett says.