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.



by Paul Zarzyski

After grand entry cavalcade of flags,
Star-Spangled Banner, stagecoach figure 8s
in a jangle of singletrees, after trick riders
sequined in tights, clowns in loud getups,
queens sashed pink or chartreuse
in silk—after the fanfare—the domed
rodeo arena goes lights-out
black: stark silent
prayer for a cowboy crushed by a ton
of crossbred Brahma.

……………………………………What went wrong —
too much heart behind a high kick,
both horns hooking earth, the bull vaulting
a half-somersault to its back—
each witness recounts with the same
gruesome note: the wife
stunned in a bleacher seat
and pregnant with their fourth. In this dark
behind the chutes, I strain to picture,
through the melee of win with loss,
details of a classic ride—body curled
fetal to the riggin’, knees up,
every spur stroke in perfect sync,
chin tucked snug. In this dark,
I rub the thick neck of my bronc, his pulse
rampant in this sudden night
and lull. I know the instant
that bull’s flanks tipped beyond
return, how the child inside
fought with his mother for air
and hope, his heart with hers
pumping in pandemonium—in shock,
how she maundered in the arena
to gather her husband’s bullrope and hat, bells
clanking to the murmur of crowd
and siren’s mewl.

……………………………………The child learned early
through pain the amnion could not protect him from,
through capillaries of the placenta, the sheer
peril of living with a passion
that shatters all at once
from infinitesimal fractures
in time. It’s impossible, when dust
settling to the backs of large animals
makes a racket you can’t think in,
impossible to conceive that pure fear,
whether measured in degrees of cold
or heat, can both freeze
and incinerate so much
in mere seconds. When I nod
and they throw this gate open to the same
gravity, the same 8 ticks
of the clock, number 244 and I
will blow for better or worse
from this chute—flesh and destiny up
for grabs, a bride’s bouquet
pitched blind.

(In Memory of Joe Lear)

© 1996, Paul Zarzyski. Used with permission.
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Iconoclast poet and songwriter Paul Zarzyski tells the sad story that inspired this tribute to his friend, bullrider Joe Lear, in a recent StoryCorps segment recorded at the Western Folklife Center’s recent National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Listen here. Find other stories at that link and learn how to record your own Storycorps piece at the Western Folklife Center.

His book, All This Way for the Short Ride: Roughstock Sonnets, 1971-1996: Poems, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. See the poem on his web site. Read artist and writer Teresa Jordan’s introduction to the book here.

Paul Zarzyski and Tom Russell collaborated on a lyric based on the poem, and you can listen to the popular tune. Find another version here.

Paul’s latest release is Steering With My Knees, an enormously dazzling double CD of music and poetry with an accompanying and likewise engaging “digibook.”

It is described, “Featuring a Veritable Symphony of Esteemed Musicians Playing Electric/ Acoustic / Lap Steel / Bass / Slide Guitars, Alto and Tenor Sax, Piano, Cello, Drums, Trombone, Trumpet, Tuba, Jaw Harp, Didgeridoo, String Bass, Flugelhorn, Fiddle, Flute, Keyboards, Accordion, Pizzicato Viola, Blues Harmonica, Banjo, Mandolin, Theremin… as well as the application of Electric / Foley / Bell Sounds, Voice Impersonations, and, last but not least, The Singing of Poetry and Lyrics.”

Like most things Zarzyski, the entire project is a singular experience.

Find more about Paul Zarzyski at,; at his web site,; and on Facebook.

This is a photo of Paul riding “Whiskey Talks” in Great Falls, Montana.