The 2017 award recipients are Curtis Fort, Jim Harris and Rosemary Wilkie. The award is named after The Rounders, a classic western novel written by New Mexican Max Evans. Created in 1990 by former New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Frank DuBois, the purpose of the award is to honor those who live, promote and articulate the western way of life. This year's recipients join 20 previous honorees, including Max Evans as the inaugural award recipient.
"We are pleased to honor three individuals with such a wide range of talents," said New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte. "Curtis Fort, Jim Harris and Rosemary Wilkie contribute to our state in unique ways, and we are pleased to recognize each one of them for living and preserving the western way of life."
From Tatum, Fort began working with clay sculpture while attending New Mexico State University. He continued his western bronze sculpture work while working as a cowboy on ranches after college. His love of sculpture evolved into over 40 years as an artist, and he continues to create artwork today. Fort recently completed a life-size horse monument at Sul Ross State University dedicated to Big Bend law officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
"Not only has Curtis been a cowboy and rancher for a number of years, but he has made a name for himself as a talented western bronze sculptor," Witte said.
Harris is the author and editor of 12 books and has published poems, short stories, reviews and literary criticism in dozens of magazines and anthologies. He taught literature and writing classes at New Mexico Junior College from 1974 to 2000. Harris, who lives in Hobbs, was designated the 1989 Eminent Scholar in New Mexico and awarded the 2008 Hewett Award from the New Mexico Association of Museums. He writes columns in two Lea County newspapers each week and has been the director of the Lea County Museum in Lovington for 15 years.
"Through his numerous writings, Jim has epitomized the western way of life," Witte said. "He continues to preserve this particular culture in his capacity as Lea County Museum Director."
Wilkie is a nationally-known master saddle maker who has lived in Carlsbad since she was 9 years old. She has trained several others in saddle making, including her daughter-in-law and granddaughter. She was a recipient of the 1994 National Endowment for the Arts' folk art apprenticeship program for which Billy Cogsdil served as her master artist. Wilkie continues her saddle-making today, and she is currently taking part in a boot-making apprenticeship under Deana McGuffin. She hopes to be a full-fledged boot maker soon.
"Rosemary has taken saddle making to a whole new level," Witte said. "Her creative eye and attention to detail are what have made her designs so unique. And she has taken the time to teach the next two generations of Wilkies the specific skills behind her style of saddle making."
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