Renowned local artist to be feted Saturday
On Longley Road heading out towards Valley View is a well-groomed homestead for Jack Stevens and his family, the grass well-manicured beneath trimmed mesquites, a small pond featuring a small bridge crossing to an island, assorted old western farm implements and a rogue male cat that Jack hates trying to crawl up his back to nudge his neck. “He knows I hate cats,” Jack says, but with a loving tint in his voice. The 84-year-old walks these days with a slower, more-pronounced limp due to a knee injury suffered years ago working calves.
“I was working calves, and always liked to do it the old-fashioned way,” he remembers. “I flanked one of the calves, and he was a little too big to rope and drag up to the fire. When I come up to him, me and him went down at the same time, and it knocked it out of joint. That was when I was rodeoing, so I never got it fixed.”
The brick ranch house also features a studio, which was originally his hay barn. It is full of history, including Indian artifacts, western decor, and years of paintings, sculptures and drawings done by the acclaimed artist.
It will be here (10957 Longley Road) at noon on Saturday that Jack will host a retirement/open house event open to the public. There will be food and drink, and a chance to view and even purchase much of his work.
Each of the pieces reflect the work of a man deeply embedded in western culture as a cowboy, businessman, family patriarch, and a love of God and the Bible.
There isn’t a single piece of artwork done by Jack that doesn’t carry a story with it. He worked on each not with a model present or a Polaroid to copy, but through observation, experience, and a boundless imagination.
“I did a piece of a bullrider that was bucked off. This one fellow bullrider kept looking and looking at it. Finally I went up to him and said ‘What do you think of that thing?’ And he said ‘I was just looking at this, and I was wondering, how did you manage to do the bull’s belly like you did?’ And I said “Oh gosh, that was easy. ‘Cause they would usually buck me off, and I was always looking up when they went over me. So it was easy to remember that.
“It just worked easy for me.”
Dean Krakel, former Managing Director of Cowboy Hall of Fame said of the Wichita County artist, “Jack Stevens has a fine and real feeling for subjects he sculptures and the West. He has the working cowboy’s outlook on life as well as artistically.”
Jack still carries himself like he had just finished a hard day’s work on the range. He is modest to a fault, soft-spoken and an expert storyteller, but beneath that exterior you sense a man that has worked himself to the bone on many a day, and accepted any and all payment or compliments with sincere gratitude.
He has shared his stories and his faith at a cowboy church on Jacksboro Highway. And he has officiated at a number of funerals for his fellow cowboy friends.
“None of the cowboys never did get tied with the church, so they would get me to do the funerals,” he remembers. “It was kind of special for me. Those old cowboys didn’t go to church fulltime like people think you have to do to go to heaven. And that’s not what the Bible preaches.”
The whole of Jack’s life is worthy of a book, or even a movie.
Born in 1934 on a small ranching community in West Texas, Jack and his brother Bob were orphaned at a young age, and they ended up living best they could on the banks of Holliday Creek near Wichita Falls.
Bob, three years older, was the fisherman, so he caught most of what the two boys ate.
“I hated to fish,” Jack says. “I was not a fisherman. But I knew if you didn’t catch perch, or crawdad tails, you didn’t eat.”
An old, large black lady made friends with the two boys, and brought Bob stinkbait every two weeks or so (Jack eventually did a sculpture of her).
Jack drew, even then. And Bob would pull a cool charcoal from the fire and write “horse” beneath a drawing and an arrow pointing to it ... “So no one would think I was drawing a giraffe,” Jack remembers.
One day, Bob (who was epileptic) drowned in the creek, and Jack was left to fend for himself.
His savior, once Jack went looking for a means of survival, was a rancher named Dub Barnes. “He took me in,” Jack said of the foreman for Seaborne Ranch. “He was one of the best cowboys that I ever definitely knew, and he knew them animals even better than me. He always bragged on me. When you’ve got somebody that brags on you, you get attached to them.”
Jack was eight or nine years old when he met Dub.
He started riding the colts at the time, but had no other skills necessary for a cowboy.
“He called me on the back porch one morning, and I thought he was fixing to run me off. Because I knew I wasn’t earning my keep. I couldn’t crank a tractor, I couldn’t pick up a bale of hay. I wasn’t earning my keep. And I didn’t want to leave that place.
“How could I tell him that I was a better hand than this, but I couldn’t quite get it done.
“But he didn’t say anything about that. Instead, he asked “Would you be afraid to try to ride those colts at two-year-olds instead of four-year-olds? And I said yes, I could do that. And he turned me loose on them. And that’s when I learned to talk horse.”
Jack remembers pulling one colt at a time in the corral, and putting his saddle in the middle. The colts would run out, scared to death, fast as they could until they would eventually tire. “I knew the fear in their eyes, I had felt it myself when I was looking for a job,” he says. “Finally, they would slow down, then start walking ... getting used to me, and then they would stop and turn and look at me ... and I could tell exactly what they were thinking. And Dub asked me what they were saying. And I said, “what’s that stupid kid doing sitting there on your saddle?”
From that time, Dub started carrying Jack around when it came to working calves. “And when Dub would introduce me to the cowboys, he would introduce me as his “bronc stomper” ... and they would shake my hand just like I was like a grown man. And the first man I shook hands with was Dick Schwartz, a world-champion saddle bronc rider in the 40s. He just shook my hands like I was a grown man.
“That’s just the way he (Dub) raised me,” Jack says. He was accepted as a hand, even at events like the big shows at Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston.
Jack continued his cowboy ways, working cattle at ranches from Texas all the way to California, and riding bulls at rodeos.
His life settled a bit when he returned from the army, marrying Dub’s daughter Jackie, and making a life in the Valley View area and eventually at his home on Longley Road, where he began his career as an artist.