Cowboy Fort honored for sculptures depicting western life
A Tatum man known as the “Storyteller in Bronze” for his realistic sculptures depicting western life has been named as one of the recipients of the 2018 Annual Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts.
Curtis Fort will be among the artists recognized at the Governor’s Arts Awards ceremonies Sept. 14 in Santa Fe.
“Well, I feel good,” Fort said about the award. “It’s nice to be recognized after all these years. You’re grateful, you’re surprised, but the first thing you think of is all of the people who have been loyal and believed in you and supported you and purchased your pieces and spoke about you all these years.”
Fort credited his wife, Carol, for his artistic success.
“It is a team effort,” he said, adding that marketing now takes up about two-thirds of his time.
Fort, 68, has been a working cowboy most of his life. He has been called a “Storyteller in Bronze” for his realistic portrayals of the West, particularly cowboys and ranch life, both contemporary and historical. He has sold hundreds of art pieces over the years, taking the clay works to Texas eight to 10 times a year to be cast in bronze. Art pieces typically cost $1,500 to $3,800 just to be cast in bronze, he said.
A 1967 Tatum High School graduate, Fort catapulted to national fame in the November 1975 issue of the Smithsonian magazine with an article titled “Cowpoke-sculptor rides the range.” A few years later, he was sculpting full time.
“I work on about three or four pieces at a time,” Fort said. “Every year, we do 15 or 20 pieces. A little piece, yeah, that doesn’t take real long. Some years you do more than others. It depends on how involved they are.”
Fort grew up on the Dickinson Cattle Co. ranch in Lea County, which his father, Byron Fort, managed for 30 years. He recently completed a life-size horse monument in Alpine, Texas, which is dedicated to Big Bend law officers who died in the line of duty. The full-size riderless horse installed last year on the campus of Sul Ross State University is the largest piece Fort has ever done.
“I have been following Curtis Fort’s career as a sculptor for many years, and I feel his sculptures represent our state and the West with skill, authenticity and deep feeling,” said author Max Evans, who received a governor’s arts award for literature in 1993.
“There is not a more deserving native New Mexican artist to receive the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, given his lifetime of work and significant contributions to the world of art,” said Don Maddox, director emeritus and general counsel of the J. F Maddox Foundation, which received a governor’s arts award as a major contributor to the arts in 2012. Maddox noted the lobby of the new Center of Recreational Excellence in Hobbs features a wildlife scene and a series of historical plaques by Fort.
Fort’s artwork is also displayed in galleries, museums, private homes and businesses, said Jim Harris, director of the Lea County Museum in Lovington.
“Mr. Fort has established himself as one of the most highly regarded bronze sculpture artists in the nation,” said Frank DuBois, New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture from 1988-2003. “His depictions of cowboys, Native Americans, wildlife, livestock and western landscapes are things of remarkable beauty and faithfully represent the history of the West.”
Fort is credited with pushing the boundaries of his genre.
“It is the subtleties, especially the attention to detail that is most prized in his works,” DuBois said. “If there is a boot, spur, bit, saddle or other cowboy paraphernalia in the piece, you can be assured it is an accurate replica of the original.”
Fort has also written stories of his life as a cowboy that were published in the New Mexico Stockman Magazine from 2010 to 2014. He is currently consolidating those stories into an illustrated book for publication.
Fort is also revered as someone who “happily gives back to his community,” DuBois said.
Fort was one of the founders of the Will James Society, serving as the first president of the group, which is dedicated to preserving the art and books by Will James, as well as to promoting the values shared by working cowboys and their families.
In 2017, Fort received The Rounders Award from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, which honors those who live, promote and articulate the western way of life.
Other artists and arts contributors named for 2018 Annual Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts were famed glass artist Dale Chihuly, who will receive the Special Leadership in the Arts Award, which was last awarded to actor Robert Redford in 2010; jazz musician Bruce Dunlap of Santa Fe, considered a virtuoso on the guitar and as a composer; Jody Naranjo of Albuquerque, who comes from a long tradition of Tewa potters and artists from Santa Clara Pueblo; Jerry R. West of Santa Fe, considered among the most significant contemporary artists rooted in the vast landscape of rural New Mexico; Lucy R. Lippard of Galisteo, a writer, curator and scholar who had already established an international reputation as one of the foremost critics of contemporary art when she moved to New Mexico nearly 30 years ago; Meow Wolf of Santa Fe, an art collective that operates a multimillion dollar enterprise that employs more than 300 people; and Dan and Ashlyn Perry of Santa Fe, who have been committed members of several Opera Gala Committees.
“I’m pleased to pay tribute to these remarkable artists and arts contributors through these lifetime achievement awards,” said Gov. Susana Martinez. “These artists and patrons of the arts help drive our creative economy and ensure our status as the Land of Enchantment.”
This year marks the 45th annual Governor’s Arts Awards, which was established in 1974 to celebrate the extensive role that artists and their work have played in New Mexico. A diverse and noteworthy list of painters, weavers, sculptors, dancers, musicians, storytellers, poets, actors, playwrights and potters have been honored by the Governor’s Arts Awards. Past awardees include Georgia O’Keeffe, George R.R. Martin, Maria Martinez, Tony Abeyta, Glenna Goodacre, Tony Hiller-man, N. Scott Momaday, Tammy Garcia and Catherine Oppenheimer.
This year’s Governor’s Arts Awards Selection Committee was chaired by New Mexico Arts Commissioner John Rohovec of Silver City, and included Arts Commission chair Sherry Davis of Santa Fe; Arts Commissioners Charmay Allred and JoAnn Balzer of Santa Fe, Glenn Cutter of Mesilla, and Terri Salazar of Los Ranchos; as well as Michelle Laflamme-Childs, director of the state public art program for New Mexico Arts. Loie Fecteau, New Mexico Arts executive director, served on the committee in a nonvoting capacity.
Nominations are accepted from arts groups and interested New Mexicans. All nominations are reviewed by a committee of the New Mexico Arts Commission, which sends its recommendations to the full commission and to the governor.
Jeff Tucker can be reached at .