Theodore Waddell: My Montana—Paintings and Sculpture, 1959-2016


Montana native Theodore Waddell’s works have been said to have “immense, poetic dignity.” A new volume, Theodore Waddell: My Montana—Paintings and Sculpture, 1959-2016 from the University of Oklahoma Press looks at the life and experience that informs his work. Rick Newby relies on letters, journals, and interviews to profile the artist and his craft in this eminently readable work.

It’s not possible to label Waddell’s style, beyond “modern.” Large, impressionistic, abstract, full-yet-minimalist-inspired landscapes dominate his painting. In a foreword, former Montana Congressman Pat Williams writes, “The sparsity of his painting, what he leaves out as well as what he puts in, restores the memories of our visions.” The artist is quoted, “The traditional artists don’t like me because I am not realistic enough, and the contemporary artists don’t like me because I am too realistic.”

A number of essays by critics and friends are included in the book, and rodeo poet and lyricist Paul Zarzyski is one of those friends. In a piece titled “From Captain Woodrow Call to Captain Kirk to Captain Teddy-Bob Waddell of the Wild Cowpoke Wild Brushstroke Wild Cosmos West,” he celebrates Waddell’s contribution to “…what’s left of the iconoclastic un-cloned cowboy West…”

Zaryski appreciates the scale and sense of the work, and comments that “…landscape rules the Western roost for me as a poet, especially as a ‘cowboy poet.'” He describes the impact of the first time he saw the 10’x5’ “Sun River Horses.” He writes, “Instead of my drinking ‘it’ in, the painting swallowed me into its being like a T. Rex ingesting a no-see-um.” An image of the painting later appeared as one of Zarzyski’s book covers.

Waddell’s family history as well as his artistic influences are explored. A generous chapter, “The Ranching and Painting Years,” is a candid look at twenty years of ranching near Molt, Montana. An understanding of the artist’s use of space, texture and color, and the influence of weather come to fore from its pages.

The book is lavishly filled with glorious color images and photographs. The reader is left with a satisfying sense of what drives this unique artist and why his canvases and sculptures are impressive and important.

The book’s many-page index of publications by and about Theodore Waddell follow his career and its reception by the art world. An impressive exhibition history is included, which also lists the numerous permanent collections that hold his art.

Theodore Waddell’s painting, “Sheep #12,” was selected as the poster art for the Western Folklife Center’s 2018 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.


Find more about Theodore Waddell at There’s more on the book and order information at the University of Oklahoma Press and other booksellers.

“Ordinary Skin” by Amy Hale Auker

ordinary skin.jpg


From writer, poet, and working cowboy Amy Hale Auker’s new collection of creative nonfiction, Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs:

Icons only work if there is something of substance to back them up. The cowboy as icon only works if we keep the bedrock, the substance behind him. He is not some model of character or ethics or integrity, but a husband of the land, a grower of food. He is not an actor getting his share of the corporate take by reciting the words of scriptwriters and asking his horse to rear in time to the music. The cowboy is not a nostalgic touchstone from Saturday matinees, but a present-day reality, saddling his horse and getting greasy in the shop and building a fence. Six-guns and wooly chaps and parades and rodeos aside, the cowboy is a steward of precious resources, a caretaker of animals.

Amy Hale Auker’s Ordinary Skin is a deeply personal and original view from today’s working West.  “Thoughtful” would be too passive a description for the writing; she is anything but passive. She is startlingly present, exquisitely and equally attuned to mud bugs and cows and horses with attitude and the heart of an aged grandfather. It’s an outstanding collection of narrative nonfiction, brave in its honesty and vast in its themes.

And the narrative is the thing. She is a deft storyteller. Her transition from ranch wife to working cowboy was hard won and she writes about it candidly, in descriptions both tough and tender. Hers is not your grandfather’s cowboy life. Or is it? She offers up plenty of cowboy tales, with all the failures and successes of ranch work. It is the “romance of ranching life,” both in its ironic sense and its sense of deep fulfillment.

There are rich, often sensuous, passages, especially when she writes of her ranch manager partner and lover and their labor together in Arizona’s remote and rugged Santa Maria mountains. One moving piece begins, “…We rode out early of a morning after a big fight the night before. Working together means no time-out after hurtful words in the dark …” The long ride to their destination helps to heal, “As we stepped off to air our horses’ backs before dropping down into the deep crease in the earth, a heavy late-spring snow began to fall all around us, one of the most beautiful moments of my life…” You’ll want to read about what happened next.

She observes others, especially her family, with clarity and compassion, even when their style may be contrary to her own. In one anecdote, her father’s anger has the family sitting at the dinner table in “stiff silence,” no one wanting to become the focus of his attention. She writes, “My mother, always and forever trying to make peace, looked out the plate glass window and said, ‘My, aren’t the birds pretty.'” There’s no judgment in the telling of the story. She tells it like it was, and you find yourself as relieved as the rest of the family must have been when the comment breaks the tension and leads her father to respond with a roar of laughter. Next, you may find yourself reflecting on the lessons there. Once again Amy Hale Auker shows you something, and leaves any conclusions to the reader.

Ordinary Skin is much worth savoring and contemplating. The writing is polished to a sheen: “First came glassy jewels of hail the size of juniper berries and just as blue. Then came driving sideways rain and the ground began to run and move and designate its low places and its high.”

Amy Hale Auker fearlessly makes her own way through a challenging and rewarding life, paying attention. There’s no hubris in these essays, just keen observation, respect and love for friends and family, and a humble reverence for and curiosity about the natural world. Like the best poetry—and her prose often approaches poetry—the writing is filled with metaphor, the sort that might make you gaze up from the book and stop to consider, for example, what you and those mudbugs might have in common.

With well-received books to her credit (a previous book of essays and two novels) her steady voice has become an important voice. In Ordinary Skin, that voice soars.

Ordinary Skin is published by Texas Tech University Press, under the wise and guiding hand of  Senior Editor Andy Wilkinson, as a part of the “Voice in the American West” series.

Find more at




THE OLD DOUBLE DIAMOND lyrics by Gary McMahan



lyrics by Gary McMahan

The old Double Diamond lay out east of Dubois
in the land of the buffalo
And the auctioneer’s gavel rapped and it rattled,
as I watched the old Double Diamond go.
Won’t you listen to the wind
Mother Nature’s violin.

When I first hired on the old Double Diamond
I was a dammed poor excuse for a man
Never learned how to aim,
well my spirit was tame
couldn’t see all the cards in my hand.
And the wind whipped the granite above me
and blew the tumbleweeds clean through my soul.

I fought her winters, busted her horses
I took more than I thought I could stand,
but the battle with the mountains and cattle
seems to bring out the best in a man.
I guess a sailor, he needs an ocean
and a mama, her babies to hold.

And I need the hills of Wyoming
in the land of the buffalo
Now shes sellin’ out, and I’m movin’ on
But I’m leavin’ with more than I came
‘Cause I got this saddle and it ain’t for sale,
and I got this song to sing

I got this a new range to find
and new knots to tie
in a country where cowboys are kings
I turned my tail to the wind,
and the old Double Diamond
disappeared into the sage.

Yay ee o-del o-hoo – dee

© 1975, words and music by Gary McMahan, used with permission

Gary McMahan’s widely loved song has been cited as one of today’s top cowboy songs by Western Horseman. It has been recorded by Chris LeDoux, Ian Tyson, and dozens of other artists. Gary tells about writing the song:

My dad was a cattle trucker and had hauled lots of cattle out of Dubois, Wyoming, for a fella named Ab Cross. Ab owned the grand old Cross Ranch outside of Dubois. Dad and Ab were good friends, and I became a friend of the Crosses as well.

I believe it was 1973 when Dad and I were up there in Dubois on a fishing trip. We stayed with the Crosses, and as we were getting ready to head out, Ab said, “You’re not leaving today, are you? The Double Diamond Ranch is going on the auction block today, and it’s kind of a big deal around these parts.” So Ab talked us into staying an extra day.

We all went to the sale and saw the fine old ranch go. There were a bunch of cowboys there who had just lost their jobs and were loadin’ up and moving out, all heading to what they hoped would be another cowboyin’ job somewhere. It struck my heart, and I thought this was kind of typical of what was going on in the West.

That next day on the drive back to Colorado, I wrote the basics of the song ‘The Old Double Diamond.’ I was living in Nashville at the time and over the next…I don’t know…nine months or so, I refined the song into the song you hear today.

It’s been cut I don’t know how many times by big names and small alike. I never tried to control who sang the song. I just let it have its head…I rarely meet a cowboy who doesn’t know the words to that song.

Listen to Gary McMahan’s rendition at his web site and see a video here.

Find an Ian Tyson version on YouTube and one by Chris LeDoux here.

Find more about Gary McMahan at; visit his site (where there are full-length versions of all tracks on all of his albums); and find him on Facebook.

Gary McMahan is portrayed on the cover of the new Real Singing Cowboys by Charlie Seemann, in a painting, “A Fine Old Martin,” by William Matthews. (Matthews has created designs for two Martin cowboy guitars. See a recent article here.)

Folklorist Seemann, executive director emeritus of the Western Folklife Center, comments in his preface, “I once asked the late Glenn Ohrlin what he thought made a good cowboy singer. He answered, ‘First, you gotta see how good they can ride.’ That is the premise on which I have based this book.”

The insightful volume celebrates the depth and breadth of talent of many top singers and songwriters from today’s real working West.

The book includes a deep, informative introduction to cowboy music. There are are profiles, with photographs and discographies, of 50 Western singers, songwriters, and musicians: Jesse Ballantyne, Mike Beck, Adrian Brannan, Dale Burson and Family, Lyle Cunningham, Jay Dalton, Kevin Davis, Stephanie Davis, Geno Delafose, Duane Dickinson, Juni Fisher, Brownie Ford, Ryan Fritz, the Gillette Brothers, DW Groethe, Wylie Gustafson, Kenny Hall, R.W. Hampton, Joni Harms, Kristyn Harris, Don Hedgpeth, Michael Hurwitz, Ken Jones, Walt LaRue, Chris LeDoux, Daron Little, Corb Lund, Gary McMahan, Chuck Milner, Michael and Dawn Moon, Rooster Morris, Glenn Ohrlin, Ken Overcast, Howard Parker, J Parson, Bob Petermann, Jean and Gary Prescott, Buck Ramsey, Luke Reed, Ray Reed, Brigid Reedy, Dave Schildt, Trinity Seely, Clyde Sproat, Dave Stamey, Gail Steiger, T.R. Stewart, Linda Svendsen, Caitlyn Taussig, Rod Taylor, Ian Tyson, Jessie Veeder, Johnny Whelan, and Hub Whitt.

The Real Singing Cowboys is available from booksellers and the publisher, Two Dot Press, an imprint of The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.

(Please respect copyright. You can share these lyrics with this post, but for other uses, please request permission.)

GIVING IN TO LONESOME by Janice Gilbertson


by Janice Gilbertson

Her long legs, bony knees poking
At pantlegs, sunbleached and threadbare
Disappear into his kneehigh boots with
Burlap stuffed toes, and worn beyond repair

Her bare hands no longer noticing the cold
Are bent and fused until they feel no pain
The right rested in its place on her thigh
The left hand’s crooked fingers weave the rein

It is his tattered sheepskin coat she wears
Unbuttoned to the cold, early morning air
And it is his ole blue scarf ’round her throat
Shaped by his sweat and the knot he’d tied there

She quietly sits her beloved bay gelding
Narrow-chested and slightly splayed
He is stoved and gaunt with age
Hipbones wide and back some swayed

They stand for a moment just inside the gate
Both shifting old bodies for comfort’s sake
She legs his ribby side gently and turns
To ride the ancient fence north to the break

‘Neath a cast-iron sky without a glint of star
She rides through the dark before dawn
By the instincts of a thousand rides
They travel by memory of days bygone

There was a time she rode here on snorty colts
Their morning-fresh stride dancing her along
What a grand time she would have then,
Looking for that stray where it didn’t belong

There are no cattle now, not for a decade
But old habits hang on like old barbed wire
His fence pliars still hang in their scabbard
To twist a wire, tap a staple, should she desire

Ghost calves bawl for want of their mamas
Bulls bellow for long gone cows on the lowland
She sees him on his black on the zig zag trail
Where he is sitting his saddle just grand!

Time’s trickery confuses her and she curses
At her old mind where his image lingers
Ghostly fog knuckles over the ridge
Crawls the canyons in cold, grey fingers

A harsh chill shudders her thin body
And sends gooseflesh down her spine
The familiar sounds and images
So cruelly tease her lonesome mind

For the first time she turns back on her trail
Finally…leaving her life as it were
For the very first time in fifty years
She leaves the gate stand open behind her

© Janice Gilbertson, used with permission

Janice Gilbertson is one of the women included in the new She Speaks to Me: Western women’s view of the west through poetry and songs, edited by Jill Charlotte Stanford, with photographs by Robin L. Green.

The book is an enticing collection of works by Amy Hale Auker, Sally Bates, Virginia Bennett, Niki Berg, Teresa Burleson, Doris Daley, Janice Gilbertson, Audrey Hankins, Joni Harms, Linda Hasselstrom, Jessica Hedges, Debra Coppinger Hill, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Stacy Jenne, Dee “Buckshot Dot” Strickland Johnson, Randi Johnson, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, Echo Klaproth, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Renee Meador, Lyn Messersmith, Kathy Moss, Lauralee Northcott, Skye Mesa Ogilvie, Evelyn Roper, Sandy Seaton Sallee, Ann Sochat, Rhonda Stearns, Jody Strand, and Tina Willis. Western Horseman Senior Editor Jennifer Denison provides a foreword.

Janice Gilbertson comments, “What an honor it is to be included in Jill Stanford’s beautiful book of western women’s poetry. My western background is precious to me and being able to grasp the same fine thread as these brave, capable and talented women touches me deeply. Thanks to Jill for bringing us together.”

Find more about Janice Gilbertson, including her two novels, Summer of ’58 and The Canyon House at her web site, at, and on Facebook.

She Speaks to Me is available from booksellers and the publisher, Two Dot Press, a division of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but for other uses, please request the poet’s permission.)