Cowboy Heroes

“Fred & Deborah Fellows – Cowboy Artists” 

A large metal sign bearing the brand “backward F, forward F” welcomes you to a ranch outside of Sonoita, Arizona. It is a beautiful place. Reminds you more of upper central California or the country north and east of Marfa, Texas in the Davis Mountains; large oak trees, rolling grassland hills,

an elevation of around 5,000, it is definitely one of the more beautiful spots in the Southwest. You have a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. This area is home to many fine ranches, cowboys and cowgirls.

She was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame (the second lady from Arizona behind Sandra Day O’Connor). She is a lifetime member of the National Sculpture Society. Her monumental sculptures appear in about two dozen locales across the country including places like: The Hall of Champions in Colorado Springs, Colorado; The Horseshoe and South Point Casino’s in Las Vegas, Nevada; several Boy Scout of America Monuments; several Vietnam Veteran War Hero Monuments; numerous museums; the full list is long and impressive. Her name is Deborah Copenhaver Fellows (Deb to those who know her).

He is the longest living member of the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA). He has served three different terms as the CAA president and at the time of this writing is the current director. His art adorns places like: The Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Cody, Wyoming; The Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona; The Desert Caballeros Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona, to name a few. His art has graced the cover of over two-dozen magazines and also had honorable mention in articles in dozens more. A current work of his named “We Pointed Them North” has become the “logo,” if you will, for the Cowboy Artists of America and the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association’s annual sale and exhibition held October 14-15, 2011 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. His name is Fred Fellows.

Many great accomplishments of these two famous artists are well documented. A simple Internet search will turn up a multitude of information on the art of this talented duo. When you visit with them however, they prefer to tell you about team roping, ranching or raising horses. They are quick to point out that their art is, “Art from experience.” Drawing and sculpting what they know and love is their passion.

First and foremost, the Fellows are true westerners. Fred is a lifelong team roper (header) with an eye for a good head horse. Deb is the heeler of the team and she has a family rodeo history which includes her dad (Deb Copenhaver) and brother (Jeff Copenhaver) both being world champion cowboys in their respective generations. Both Fellows have competed in rodeo events most of their lives.

Deb, once Miss Rodeo Washington and runner-up to Miss Rodeo America, looks like you would expect a former rodeo queen to look like. Once you get past the good looks, however, upon closer inspection, you see a gal tough as any man, while sporting a much nicer exterior. Roping, cowboying and many long hours with sculpturing tools have made her as tough as her male counterparts. Deb is quite an impressive lady.

Fred is the quintessential cowboy. Rugged good looks on a 6-foot-plus frame, a large cowboy hat, there is no question this is one who has spent much time outdoors, a-horseback.

Fred likes to talk roping horses and is quick to mention a horse he once owned which was a brother to the great horse “Walt” owned by professional roper, Travis Tryan. Both horses were raised by a mutual friend in Montana, Walt Vermendahl. One day Fred decided his horse was not being put to it’s full potential, turned out in a pasture on the Fellows ranch, so he decided to sell the horse, where it wound up back in the Tryan rope heard. The horse has been a winner of many things at the professional level since.

Fred is an avid history buff. He is an expert on just about anything cowboy or Indian. His collection of Old West memorabilia is one of the most extensive private collections you will find anywhere. He knows the history of each and every piece, how they were used and where they came from. This knowledge comes in handy when working on art. If one of them is working on a piece depicting the 1800s, early 1900s or contemporary, they pay attention to every minor detail such as getting the clothing, tack and accessories correct for the period.

Deb says, “In my opinion, it takes away from a piece if it’s supposed to be late 1800s and the horse is wearing a hackamore that wasn’t even invented until the 1940s.”

Deborah also has a passion for good running horses. At the time of this writing, the couple has 14 head of horses on their Sonoita ranch. Each has a couple of roping horses; everything else is for racehorse breeding. The ones who don’t pan out on the track are then used as barrel racing and rope horse prospects. Deb is passionate about the bloodlines of the horses and laughs as she says, “I often trade art for stud fees.” That comment has gotten her more than one strange look formal gatherings, but eventually she lets folks off the hook by explaining what paying “stud fees” means to someone in the horse business. Some of their more notable horses are Corona Cartel, Streaking La Jolla and Treis Seis, all of which have had their share of success on “the track.”

The couple mentions the fact they have been on, and worked with, several of the Wests most famous ranches. This is an important factor, which carries over to the authenticity of their artwork. The Parker Ranch in Hawaii; Haythorn Ranch, Nebraska; Padlock and I X Ranches, Montana; JA, 6666 and 06 Ranches, Texas and the Y7 Ranch of New Mexico are but a few of the ranches they have been around.

After 21-plus years of marriage, the two still act more like newly-weds than a couple approaching the milestone “silver” anniversary. They spend each day working side by side in their luxurious art studio on the ranch. Fred says, “A typical day is to go out to the studio after breakfast and we each work on our respective projects. After lunch together, we go back out and work till late afternoon. Then we might saddle up some horses and run a few steers, coming back in the evening to go over our projects together. It is much better to have four sets of eyes critiquing our work than two. Sometimes I will see little things Deb has over looked and visa-versa.” The two spend most of their time together, truly enjoying each other’s company.

Whether traveling the West, gaining experience on some of the famous ranches, or working with their own animals at the home ranch, Fred and Deborah Fellows take pride in transferring the real West into their highly acclaimed artwork. ­­ n