‘On the Rita Blanca’ painting gifted to alma mater WT
Glenn Lyles was alone in the meadow of Rita Blanca northeast of Dalhart on a sunny day. He was looking for something without knowing what he was looking for. Then he saw it – a herd of Hereford cattle moving past him along the fence. Lyles always had his camera in his truck just in case.
Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap.
“I knew that one day I would paint this,” he said. “I’ve had that in the back of my mind for so long.”
That was 25 years ago, so long ago these photos were taken with a real camera rather than a cell phone. What was on the back of his mind eventually got his hands on a painting that took about nine months to complete in the 2020 pandemic year. But he did it completely.
“On the Rita Blanca” is unusual in its dimensions and points of view. The size is 6 feet by 20 inches and the painting is such that it will make those who see it feel like they are in the herd surrounded by cattle.
Completed in December, the painting was handed over to West Texas A&M University in January. “On the Rita Blanca” hangs in the hallway entrance on the second floor of the research and academic building of the Happy State Bank at Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Science.
“It’s wonderful when a talented alumnus gives back to our college,” said Dr. Kevin Pond, dean of the college. “It’s such a beautiful piece. We placed it in a prominent position so that students, teachers and visitors can always see it. “
For Lyles, who graduated from WT with an animal science degree in 1973, it seemed like a logical home for his work. It is Lyles’ second painting for his alma mater. In 2010, the year of the 100th anniversary of WT, his “Legacy of the Southern Herd” hangs in the building of the Alumni Association.
“This one was revealed,” said Lyles. “I had never revealed one before. It was a wonderful experience. “
In 2020, Lyles started his artwork after a sizeable layoff to take care of his mother, Christine Lyles. The dimensions for this painting would not fit a house. He thought it would go with WT’s new Engler building. In WT, Lyles had “perhaps the best four years of my life,” including traveling the country in cattle judging and lifelong friends.
“We were very excited about it. We knew the quality of the artist that Glenn is and we knew what he was painting at the alumni center, ”said Pond. “We walked through the halls looking for a place where the dimensions he was talking about would work. This illuminates him and the cattle, and the painting and style of cattle in our area fit right in with our heritage. “
Lyles, who grew up at the Hale Center, was an artist long before he was a farmer. He was born clubfoot and, at the age of 5, spent most of the year in a wheelchair. He started seeing artist Jon Gnagy and his “You Are an Artist” show on NBC. The show offered an art kit, and Christine Lyles bought one for her son.
That was the beginning. It was cared for by Ruth Barnett, a woman at the Hale Center who Lyles took art classes from for six years until he was in ninth grade. He had a talent for drawing and that talent ran in the family. A sister and aunt painted, as did Devi Barker, a great aunt from Floydada.
“When I was five years old,” Lyles said, “she bent down and looked at me.” Artists see things differently from everyone else. “
Quit farming to focus on painting
Lyles joined the Amarillo Art Association and he and his sister had their jobs on shows in Amarillo. They then got one of the last two places in a night class taught by well-known Western artist Jack Sorenson.
“This man changed my life,” said Lyles. “I didn’t know I had such an affinity for color and light. I had been exposed to this through Ruth Barnett, but this was taken to the next level. “
After 3 ½ years with Sorensen, he followed him to a one-week workshop in Kansas every year for 10 years. Lyles eventually took Sorensen’s place and taught the same workshop for another 10 years, so he returned to art class.
This eventually led to oil painting classes at the Western Art Academy in Kerrville, a month-long workshop for grantees at the San Antonio and Houston cattle show.
All of this would be difficult if Lyles were still farming, the calling he wanted to pursue after leaving WT. John Lyles, his father, bought additional land near the Hale Center and told his son he really needed his help and they could farm together.
Lyles did it until he was 40 years old. In the early 1990s, the arthritis in his foot was so painful that farming became difficult. Between all of this and his love of Western art, he gave up and decided to turn an artist into a full-time occupation.
“There were about three years that I was making $ 9,000 a year,” he said. “I didn’t starve, but I didn’t get fat either.”
But Lyles made a name for himself in art circles across the state. His work has been an integral part of galleries in Fredericksburg and other galleries in the hill country. Since most of his art consisted of cattle, he was known as “Cow Man,” a nickname he was happy to accept. There was also a “Bluebonnet Lady” and a “Cloud Guy”.
Lyles never numbered his paintings, but averaged 30 to 35 a year for about 25 years, that’s more than 800. He painted 5 x 7 canvases of cow faces, which one of them named his “Cover Girl” series after one of them became Cover Girl, his sister’s favorite teen magazine. He sold 250 of them.
“They sold like hot cakes,” he said. “I have arrived where I could paint the face of a cow with my eyes closed.”
Until 2020, Lyles had a four-year hiatus from the arts. Most of the time he spent looking after the parents and later becoming the head of the family. A little over a year ago, his mother was taken to a care facility near Waco where the family was.
That gave Lyles a little more time to get back to art. He wasn’t interested in commercial art. He wanted to paint to please himself. Then he turned to WT to put his 25 year old photo on an oddly shaped canvas.
“There is a 1911 painting by E. Martin Hennings,” Cattle on the Move, “which was a herd and whose angle was almost like a drone,” Lyles said. “It was over the herd and you can see over it. That influenced me. But I wanted my picture to have you in the herd, not above or behind. “
Lyles placed a young calf in the middle of the herd, a focal point where the eyes would be drawn. Typically, a focused Lyles could be ready in about six weeks. But with trips to his ailing mother – she died in October at the age of 98 – and other chores, it took them about nine months to finish.
“Life gets in the way of art sometimes,” he said.
“On the Rita Blanca” is one of his trademarks, but in no way a farewell song. As it approaches 70, there are no plans to slow down. Lyles has a painting over his fireplace that his first teacher, Ruth Barnett, made of the Lower Falls in Yellowstone. He thought it was her best work. She was 87 when she painted this.
“I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said, “and I continue to have a wonderful life because I can do what I love.”
Editor’s Note: This column was originally published on the WT website.
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