BP: Philadelphia, PA
As Arizona’s first cowboy artist, Lon Megargee lived all the great western myths: cowboy, rancher, entrepreneur, artist and friend of politicians and celebrities. Born in Philadelphia, Lon ran away from his cushy home at age 13, heading west for the wild and adventuresome life. He worked as a freelance cowboy, exhibition roper, poker dealer, and broncobuster in Arizona, then returned east to study art in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and to New York at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute. Returning home, he established a reputation as a cowboy painter and illustrator with work frequently associated with Arizona Brewing Company ads. Megargee was a ranch owner who painted oil canvases of the places he loved and the cowboy life he admired. Often characterized as Arizona’s original artist, Megargee’s work links the history and art of the state with which he wanted most to be identified.
Born in Philadelphia, Lon Megargee moved to the southwest in 1896, where he remained until his death. His first works date from 1910, and between 1911 and 1927, the Santa Fe Railroad purchased nearly two dozen of his paintings for their corporate collection. In them the artist portrayed his favorite themes of landscape, Native Americans, and cowboys. With Arizona statehood in 1912, Megargee was commissioned to paint fifteen large canvases to be installed in the State Capital building, works whose themes encompass Arizona’s spectacular landscape and natural wonders, the structures and customs of its indigenous Native American peoples, artifacts of Spanish Colonial settlement, and the agriculture, mining, and ranching which sustained its early settlers. His most notable commercial patron was the Stetson Hat Company, who manufactured one of the best-known articles of cowboy clothing. For them, Megargee produced several images, the most famous of which is The Last Drop from His Stetson, still reproduced inside hats manufactured by the company. The image was first published on the cover of Western Story Magazine in November 1923. During the twenties, he began to do woodblock prints, twenty-eight of which were reproduced inThe Cowboy Builds a Loop (1933). In 1948, Megargee began what has remained his most familiar Arizona commercial commission, a series of four paintings for the Phoenix-based Arizona Brewing Company, whose best brand was A-1 Beer. The best known is the first in the series, Cowboy’s Dream. His former Phoenix area home, constructed in 1934, is now the Hermosa Inn.
Throughout his career Megargee sought to promote his work commercially, often adapting earlier pieces to potential new markets. To this end, he produced a numbered series of eighteen colorful postcards, many based on his paintings, and featuring imagery he had long favored. Home on the Range is the title of several similar works (the artist often did related versions of his paintings, some chronologically widely spaced). It was reproduced as number thirteen of the eighteen post cards, as well as in later versions still commercially available in the late 1980s. Variant titles include Cowboy’s Saturday Night and Home on the Ranch, and they all feature a cowboy cleaning himself. His clothing and gun are hung on a chair, his boots to one side, though he keeps his hat on, smoking as he scrubs off a week’s worth of ranch grime. His horse sticks his head through the bathroom window, and is surprised at the sight of a thirsty cat drinking from the toilet at the left. In March 1954, a 16” x 18” print, whose image is reversed, was advertised for sale in Horse Lover’s Magazine. Several versions entitled Serenade, one dating from 1938, feature a woman in a metal tub set in the middle of a room, with a singing cowboy on his horse visible outside through the window (likely the now-clean man from Home on the Range). All are typical of the Megargee’s broad sense of humor and engagement of western stereotypes.