Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February 11, 2009
Last Saturday I met my daughter Deena Bean and her boyfriend Frank at the Matador, deep inside the Beast. We had the huevos rancheros and hot flour tortillas and coffee and talked about old times in the famed restaurant. We have been going there since Deena was a little bitty baby and in fact, she broke the first glass in the new location, prompting the Greek owner to exclaim, "It is good luck! Thankyou!" So, to this day, Deena is known as the girl who broke the first glass at the Matador.

Apparently, their luck is holding out because they are still there serving the best huevos rancheros I've ever had.

After breakfast I walked over to the High Noon Auction at the Civic Plaza (built on the spot—The Deuce—where the old Matador stood). Ran into Peter Sherako (of Tombstone fame), Barry Friedman (of KDKB's Buck & Berry's Bunkhouse fame), artist Buckeye Blake, Dave Daiss, Cowboy Artist Davy Powell and a gaggle of other Westerners. I wasn't planning on buying anything, but I saw a booth with fine paintings by Ed Borein, and I just had to have a book of his etchings. There was only one problem: it was $30 and I only had a twenty and he didn't take a credit card. I looked over and there was Ed Mell eyeballing an etching, and, so I bummed $10 off him and got the book.

Came home and did some sketches, studying Borein's impeccable line work:

Meanwhile, when I watched The Wonderful Country on the Westerns Channel last weekend, and I was marveling at the fantastic sugarloaf sombreros and authentic vaquero gear, I noticed in the credits that the movie is based on a book by the same name, written and illustrated by Tom Lea.

When I Googled Lea, I found out that he is from El Paso. Fifteen minutes ago, cowboy photographer Jay Dusard called me to tell me about Sheila Varian, who is the foremost proponent of Californio bridle training and that I should contact her for our big vaquero package coming next fall.

Out of the blue, Jay mentioned shooting a portrait of Tom Lea back in 1985. I asked Jay all about Mr. Lea and how big his studio was, and where was it, in El Paso. According to Jay, Tom Lea did so well, he dropped his gallery and had a waiting list for his paintings (must be nice!). From there Jay mentioned that Tom Lea also authored and illustrated another excellent book called "The Hands of Cantu" ($225 online!) about a Spanish horse trainer and how the Indians got horses.

Got this off a Tom Lea website:

How The Hands of Cantu started is kind of interesting. One winter’s day in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, we passed a little, funny bookshop and in the window was a copy of Horses of the Conquest by Cunninghame Graham. Well, I went in and bought the book and I read it with a kind of super interest. …It was a story about horses, about the nineteen horses..that Cortès brought onto the continent. I began to think about how the fine Mexican horses had originated…and I read all I could read…And I then began to think about where the Indians first got their horses. You know, all of the experts say that it was from the Coronado expedition, when they let some of the horses loose or traded them to Indians…And I sort of thought that maybe the Indians had had something to do with horses before Coronado…

I suppose I had just pure fun writing The Hands of Cantu…The main character is Don Vito Cantù, a great horseman and breeder of horses, who established a hacienda in the state of Durango in the early days of the Spanish Viceroy Mendoza…I did these illustrations, which were a new departure for me. My previous illustrations had been pen and ink line drawings, and these used half tones. And they were beautifully reproduced.

You know, [The Hands of Cantu] didn’t have a wide [audience]…but it got a very warm response from people who were interested in the subject. I’ve had people comment, “How do you write Spanish in English? You do it so that I feel like I’m reading Spanish but it’s in English.”

It’s a book I’m very glad I did because I got letters from old horse people that said, “Oh, I’m glad you wrote the book because I want to have my boy read how a horse should be trained.” …And the people in South America liked it very much. But it was never translated in Mexico. It was about Mexico, but I think it’s very interesting that Mexico would have no part of it because it was about one of those dirty Spaniards, the conquistadors. That’s really what my agent told me.”

Tom Lea talking to Adair Margo in Tom Lea, An Oral History, El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1995, pps. 121 – 122.

Of course, Kathy and I attended a marriage workshop in Cloudcroft, New Mexico last October, so the intersections of all these artists, movies and vaquero related information falling into my lap is just way beyond coincidental.

"When in doubt, shuttup and listen, because the universe is subtly trying to help you."
—Old Vaquero Saying

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