Out of the Vault: W. Herbert Dunton’s “Fernando Roped One of the Bears and His Brother Caught Another”

Posted on May 17, 2021 by Tim in

Welcome to “Out of the Vault.” This is our blog series where we take you behind-the-scenes to show off our newest acquisitions and why we think they are an important addition to the Museum’s mission to tell you the diverse stories of the West.

Today Michael Grauer, McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture/Curator of Cowboy Collections and Western Art, talks to us about the influential artist W. Herbert Dunton.

WHAT IS THIS?

This is a painting! 😉 It’s by William Herbert Dunton, oil on board circa 1910. “Fernando Roped One of the Bears and his Brother Caught Another.” Dunton always went by “W. Herbert Dunton,” even though William was his given name. His family called him “Bert,” his friends called him “Buck,” and the cowboys in Montana where he cowboyed for a while, called him “Four Eyes” because he wore glasses. He even had a saddle stamped “IIII” (four I’s).

WHERE DID WE GET IT?

We purchased it from a South Texas ranching family where the family had had it hanging in the ranch house for over a hundred years. Just hanging there.

WHY DID WE ACQUIRE IT?

Dunton was an influential artist depicting vaqueros fairly often, even before he visited Mexico in person. He painted in northern Mexico in 1909 and on Phoebe Apperson Hearst’s Babicora Ranch in Chihuahua in 1910. His vaqueros appeared on the covers of The Cavalier magazine in March 1909, The Popular Magazine in March 1911, and in Collier’s Magazine in May 1911. This painting appeared in color in Scribner’s Magazine with F. Warner Robinson’s “The New Cattle Country” in February 1912 and was part of a series of vaquero paintings reproduced with the article. He went on to found the Taos Society of Artists which helped create the foundation for the Taos art community with Oscar Berninghaus, Elmer Blumenschein, E. I. Couse, Bert G. Phillips, Joseph Henry Sharp. That community is still thriving today.

And check out those bears. Vaqueros and cowboys regularly roped apex predators like grizzlies as it was a more effective way to kill them. Firearms often simply wounded grizzlies and made them even more dangerous. Charles M. Russell even titled one of his grizzly roping scenes “Loops and Swift Horses Are Surer than Lead.”

CAN I SEE IT?

Yes. I really want you to! It is currently on display in the Atherton Gallery accompanied by an exhibit case next to the painting which contains a “re-creation” of a vaquero’s rig, based on the vaquero in the foreground of the painting. All the artifacts in the exhibit case were in the Museum’s collection prior to the acquisition of the Dunton painting.

The Western Heritage Fund helps make acquisitions like this possible. The West is full of different cultures, peoples and stories, and you can help us share those stories.

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