Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Cowboy Who Played in Clay: Confirmed

In the first article about a rare ceramic painting by Western artist John Wade Hampton, I carefully analyzed the item. After listing all of its artifacts, and comparing with his print ink work, I set forth my personal opinion about the identity of the subject.

Ceramic plate painted/glazed by John Wade Hampton.

This theory was in direct conflict with established Hampton contemporaries, who believed the plate to be Red Ryder:

I personally think the plate cowboy looks like Hampton's own character that he drew of himself, in the strip shown at the beginning of this article. It would make sense that the hip brand is the same as his own first initial signature, if it is a self-portrait. Also, the hair and costume colors are wrong for it to be the Red Ryder. I leave it to the reader to decide which fellow they think is on the plate.

 Left: Hampton's self-portrait in red Ryder strip.

I had resigned myself to accept that no proof of identity, one way or the other, was likely to surface. After all, this is JWH's only known ceramic original art, and there is no way to ask him about it. Recently, friend Teresa Rogers sent me a scan of a 1957 Western Horseman magazine article. This was about the "11th Trek of the Desert Caballeros", a group of entertainers, artists, businessmen, and stock breeders who made an annual 150-mile trail ride through the Arizona desert, complete with campfires and musical accompaniment. On the first page of the article, there is this image (provided by Teresa as a scan):

© Western Horseman magazine 1957

That's JWH, posing for the camera, astride a horse that looks very much like the one on my plate. The angle of neck, croup, dark color, and most of Johnny's gear even synced up with the plate.

Note also how the plate has a ghost-line drawn for slack rein or lead, like those in the photograph, yet the rider is painted raising his arm in greeting, so the reins were strongly painted taught and raised. It may be a hint at the artist copying the photograph's rope cowboy halter and lead (white on the horse's head in photo). The spade bit bridle has no noseband, and yet, there is the "invisible" halter's noseband in the painting. I like that he even indicated the stripes on his saddlepad.

Hats off to you, Mr. Hampton!

This makes me wonder if Johnny had posed for more than one photo, and used a print of himself in the leaning back/greeting pose for this plate painting? Or, did he just take some artistic license with his pose in the Western Horseman image? Interestingly, the date of publication, 1957, puts the plate smack dab in the middle of my estimate of creation. My article said between 1947 and 1965, and that is 1956-7. 

I'm touched to have played a part in discovering a long-lost JWH self-portrait, in his rarest of media, to share with the collecting world. I hope this inspires other collectors to take chances on the unusual, and chase the stories these artworks have to tell.

Thank you, Teresa Rogers, for providing the historic photo resource that confirms the plate is a self-portrait by John Wade Hampton.


Author unidentified. "11th Trek of the Desert Caballeros." Western Horseman magazine. August 1957: pp. 10-11.

Francis, Kristina Lucas. "When The Cowboy Played In Clay." January 2017. Muddy Hoofprints blog. Online.

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