By Lee Sutter
Special to The Tribune
Studios on the Park rounded up dozens of local artists for its invitational show, "A Wild Past: Celebrating the Pioneer Spirit."
Exhibit curator Tim Anderson has assembled such artists as Denise Schryver, Tom Peck, Ginger Toomer and Bruce Everett and many others whose work complements the Western artists.
Famous Western artists in the show are Phil Tognazzini, Sparky Moore, Vel Miller and Ernest Morris. According to Studios on the Park president Anne Laddon, these artists' works are collected internationally by historians, horsemen and art aficionados, and seldom exhibit locally.
While none of these four is getting top billing, Morris stands out as the most versatile, working in pencil, charcoal, pen and ink, watercolor, oil, acrylic, bronze and wood. Plus, Morris is basically self taught. "I had a correspondence course," he said, but that was it.
It's been so many years since he sold his first drawing, Morris can't recall the occasion, noting that he's been doing art for a living since 1964.
Art had been just a jobby since he was a young man working on cattle ranches, but even then people were buying his work. In his mid-40s, he decided to go pro.
"I was selling everything I would scratch on or paint on, so we decided to give it a whirl," Morris said. "We've done pretty well over the years." The "we" he refers to is Blanche, his wife of 55 years. The two of them have made the rounds of art shows throughout the West, exhibiting and selling Morris's art.
"I've sold to a lot of dignitaries, he said, but takes more pride in his lesser known collectors. "The ones I crow about the most are the little people who ate cheese and crackers a week before buying my work."
Old enough to have served in World War II, Morris continues to produce his art, some of which is very time intensive. He recently spent six months carving a stagecoach and horses, which is among his offerings in the current exhibit.
As a rancher and a fifth-generation California cattleman, on both sides of his family, Morris is part of the area's Western history being honored. He spent his childhood on a ranch in Kern County, and after a move at age 12 to the Paso Robles area, worked on cattle ranches in high school, and hasn't stopped.
With what time Morris has to spare from his art, he remains active in the cattle business, breaking horses, and braiding lariats and other horse-related gear from rawhide.
His rawhide braiding in itself is a work of art, following traditional methods of vaqueros, which he learned from his grandfather.
While discussing his media during a recent interview, in spite of an exhausting eight-hour drive, Morris still showed the sense of humor he is known for.
"I'll take a stick and draw a horse in the dirt if you pay me enough," he said.
It seems that ephemeral art is in his repertoire as well.
IF YOU GO
What: "A Wild Past: Celebrating the Pioneer Spirit"
When: Through Oct. 11
Where: Studios on the Park, 1130 Pine St., Paso Robles
Hours: Noon to 6 p.m. Thursday and Sunday; noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday