|Witte, Morton and Evans|
(SANTA FE, N.M.) – A New Mexico painter whose work depicts contemporary cowboy life was honored by the state this week for his longtime contributions to the rich culture of the West.
Gary Morton of Sapello, north of Las Vegas, N.M., accepted the 2015 Rounders Award on October 22 during an afternoon presentation hosted at the Governor’s Residence in Santa Fe.
New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte presented the award, along with New Mexican writer Max Evans, whose classic western novel and subsequent Hollywood movie The Rounders is the award’s namesake. Created in 1990 at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the Rounders Award honors those who “live, promote, and articulate the western way of life.”
“Anyone who’s ever walked around the fourth floor of New Mexico’s Capitol Building in Santa Fe will know Gary’s work,” Witte said. “His painting outside the Governor’s Office will take your breath away – not only because of its enormity, but also because of Gary’s detail in showing a cowboy and his horse high upon a ridge, looking out over a beautiful piece of New Mexico countryside.”
Witte refers to Morton’s 1991 painting “The Simple Pleasures of New Mexico”. It’s one of Morton’s many paintings depicting present-day cowboys perfectly content – at home – working among and caring for the land, cattle, and horses.
Morton’s art is informed by his own experience in ranching. He worked as a cowboy on different ranches as a teenager, ending up at the state’s historic Bell Ranch. He then spent 25 years as a full-time artist before ranch life called him back. He’s cared for cattle on picturesque pieces of the New Mexico landscape, including 2,000 yearling calves on the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the northern part of the state, and nearly 5,000 yearling calves on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in the southern part.
A few years ago, Morton’s life came full circle when he returned to the Bell Division of Silver Spur Ranches in northeastern New Mexico. Life also brought Morton back to the easel.
Morton has served four New Mexico governors in various appointments, including chairman of the New Mexico Arts Commission, director of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and director of the Equestrian Facility Design Task Force. He’s also one of the founding directors of the Working Ranch Cowboys Association.
Gathered for the presentation were members of Morton’s family, as well as a crowd of approximately 100 New Mexico farmers, ranchers, and others who, in their own small way, have helped secure the culture of the West for future generations.
I'm proud to have created this award during my tenure, and that Witte has continued the tradition, and that my friend Gary Morton is a recipient. Just wish I could have been there for the presentation.