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Earl Basom: Master Sculptor and The Cowboy of Cowboy Artists

Art Heritage

Master Sculptor, Hall of Fame Cowboy



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Art Heritage
Early Art Training
Rodeo's First Collegiate Cowboy
Last of the Cowboy Artists

Art Heritage

Earl W. Bascom with his first sculpture: Riding No. 17 Art seems to be a prominent trait of Earl's heritage. Frederic Remington, Charles Russell and Toulouse-Lautrec are among several renowned artists related to Earl Bascom. Others include George Catlin, illustrator of American Indian life in the early 19th century, and Daniel French, the monumental sculptor who created the Lincoln Memorial; Ruth Bascom, one of New England's most prolific portrait artists of the early 1800's; Andrew Jackson Bascom, a prominent portrait painter and miniaturist in Boston in the mid 1800's; Frederick Olmstead, one of America's greatest landscape designers and Father of American Landscape Architecture, who designed New York City's Central Park, the U.S. Capitol grounds in Washington, D.C., Chicago's World Fair, the grounds of Stanford University, Montreal's Mt. Royal Park, and the entire park system of Boston; and Robert Ingersoll, designer and maker of some of America's finest stagecoaches and wagons of the 1800's.

"No amount of imagination can take the place of real cowboy experience....And no other artist has ever had such a wide variety of cowboy experiences as Earl Bascom."
~ Gene Autry

Earl W. Bascom, sculpted by yet another artistic cousin. Another portrait artist related to Earl Bascom is Samuel F. B. Morse. As an artist, he was founder and first president of the National Academy of Design in New York, before becoming even more renowned for inventing the "Morse Code". Samuel Morse and Earl Bascom are the only two fine artists, who gained world fame as inventors, to be listed among the world's great excogitators of all time.


Early Art Training

With all this cultural heritage flowing in his veins, it is no wonder that Earl showed an early interest and talent in art. But art training in the one-room school out on the prairie was as rare as his attendance. In 1919, while working for the 5H Ranch, he got into trouble with the Canadian Mounted Police for truancy. Earl hadn't been back to school for a couple of years. He felt that his going all the way through grade three was good enough. Besides, he could read the weekly newspaper - what more was there to learn? Even though Earl thought he was finished with his schooling, the Mountie marched him back to the classroom.

Earl W. Bascom in workshop He felt better about the whole deal when he got the job of driving an old stagecoach to and from school. It was used as a school bus by the local school district and his job was to pick up the kids at the various ranches in the area between Lethbridge and Iron Springs. Earl was 13 years old at the time and already a well experienced teamster.

Earl's first job as a teamster was in 1916 driving a four-horse team for several months for the Bar N outfit, and he was only nine years old. Later he worked with up to ten horses pulling on one hitch.

"...[T]he only instructions I ever received in western art were from Russell and Remington."

All these experiences entered in Earl's art work. The first time Earl's natural talent was recognized was in a contest at the one-room school. There was a contest for the best penmanship and Earl's was voted unanimously as the worst in the whole school. Then the teacher brought in a live duck for a contest to draw the best duck. Earl was voted the best artist.

The second time Earl's talent was recognized was when he drew an almost masterpiece on the papered wall of the family home. "No picture I ever painted has kicked up as much fuss as did that one," he recalls of the starting of his art career back in 1915.

Having strong artistic desire, he filled the pages of his school books and other pieces of paper with scenes of roundups and cowboys. Seeing the art work of C.M. Russell helped inspire Earl to be an artist. "Charlie Russell and my father were about the same age and both cowboyed at the Kirkaldy Ranch. Several times when I was working there on the ranch, Charlie was there," Earl explains. "He was painting a picture of Ray Knight. This painting of Russell's hung in Ray Knight's front room and showed Ray busting a steer on his favorite horse, Blue Bird. It was dated 1918. The horse bridle shown in the painting was silver-mounted. Ray gave that same bridle to me as payment for breaking several horses for him. "

Earl W. Bascom in workshop mending "rider"
"About this time I got real fired up with the idea of being an artist and with a few extra bucks in my pocket from breaking some colts, I sent away for a correspondence art course from back East," Earl states. Within this course, western artists C.M. Russell and Frederic Remington gave instructions on their drawing techniques. "Through these art lessons, Russell and Remington were my first art teachers," Earl recalls. "In fact the only instructions I ever received in western art were from Russell and Remington."

Earl holds a great affinity for these two men, their art and their lives. "I cowboyed where Charlie Russell cowboyed, along the Milk River in Canada and Montana, and Frederic Remington is my blood relative." Earl has cousins on his father's side and also his mother's side who are Remingtons. Earl's mother went to school as a young girl on the Remington Ranch and her teacher was Roxanna Remington.


Rodeo's First Collegiate Cowboy

But punching cows from dawn to dark didn't leave much room for art lessons, until an almost-serious horseback riding incident helped Earl restructure his art goals. While riding towards town, his horse spooked. jumped a mud puddle, slipped and keeled completely over. "I thought every bone in my body was broken," he painfully recalls. But only bruised and dazed, he made his way to the Hicken's place to recuperate. One of the Hicken boys had recently returned from Utah where he was attending the Brigham Young University. He encouraged Earl to pursue art training at BYU and further develop his talents in the fine arts.

"Art is what I wanted, and with a successful summer of rodeoing, I had enough money to give it a try." So Earl quit punching cows and traded his rawhide lariat for a chance at a college baccalaureate. "College wasn't easy for me, I didn't even graduate from high school," he confesses. "There I was a 27 year old freshman and I hadn't been to school in years. I felt like a wild horse in a pen. My mind was as unruly and tough as a horsehide."

"In order to finance my tuition, board and room, and art supplies, I rodeoed all summer between school years. All contests were professional, no amateur rodeos. You had to be good to win and you had to win to keep going."

It took seven years with a few interruptions and a lot of persistence to finally graduate. One year, he quit, 1934, in the middle of the semester to go to England. He was one of the top 12 Canadian cowboys chosen to enter a World Championship Rodeo in London, but he missed the boat ride. But his brother Weldon made it over there. Also, the three rodeos in Mississippi interrupted his schooling for a while.

He wanted to be an artist and eventually took every art class available at the university. He studied painting and drawing under E. H. Eastmond and B. F. Larsen, and sculpture under Torlief Knaphus. His efforts paid off as in his freshman year he won the Studio Guild Award for the best art work of the year.

"In order to finance my tuition, board and room, and art supplies, I rodeoed all summer between school years. All contests were professional, no amateur rodeos. You had to be good to win and you had to win to keep going." Earl Bascom earned the title "Rodeo's First Collegiate Cowboy" being the first man and perhaps the only man to finance his way through college solely by riding in professional rodeos.

Noted for his accomplishments in the rodeo and art fields, he is listed in "Who's Who in American Art, " "Who's Who in the West," and "Who's Who in California," "Who's Who in Western Writers of America," "Who's Who in America" and "Who's Who in the World."


Last of the Cowboy Artists

Earl W. Bascom was the last living cowboy artist that was alive when western artists Charlie Russell and Frederic Remington were still alive and producing their art work.

Earl took pride in the fact that he knew his subject well. As he stated: "The life of a cowboy and the West, I know. I rodeoed for 23 season. I've cowboyed most of my life. I've associated with Indians and Indian fighters, miners and gunslingers, homesteaders and squatters, lawmen and reformed outlaws. I've chased wild horses along the Wyoming, Colorado border near Baggs, Wyoming and in the badlands of Utah, Montana and Canada. I've been on cattle drives out of the Rockies. I've trailed horses over the Tetons into Jackson Hole. I've broken hundreds of horses to work and ride. I've ridden on horse roundups and cattle roundups and branded hundreds of calves. I've made saddles, stirrups, chaps, spurs, bridles and bits, ropes and hackamores, and patched my own old boots."

"No amount of imagination can take the place of real cowboy experience," states Gene Autry, cowboy celebrity and collector of Bascom's art work. "And no other artist has ever had such a wide variety of cowboy experiences as Earl Bascom."

Earl W. Bascom was the last of a rare breed - The Cowboy of Cowboy Artists.


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