“Tucson 7″ videography presentation at FWA’s May 3, 2022, First Tuesday at the MO Club.
In 1997, Friends of Western Art videotaped conversations with these renowned local artists discussing their art and lives. Join FWA for a viewing of this recently remastered, historic recording.
About the Tucson 7: Realizing a common need to promote their work, six former illustrators led by Joseph Henry Sharp and Bert Phillips founded the Taos Society of Artists in New Mexico in 1912. They established outside markets for their paintings by organizing traveling art shows around the country. Since then, artists have formed similar groups for support and promotional purposes, among them the Cowboy Artists of America, established in 1965.
The Tucson 7, whose name was coined by artist Duane (“friends call me Dick”) Bryers, was formed for entirely different purposes. Combining talent, experience and camaraderie, this unstructured bunch got together for one reason—fun. Harley Brown, Dick Bryers, Don Crowley, Tom Hill, Bob Kuhn, Ken Riley, Howard Terpning and their wives mingled simply because they liked one another. These successful painters migrated to southern Arizona from Canada, Michigan, California, Texas, New York, Missouri and Illinois and socialized at the drop of a Stetson. Breakfasts, dinners, birthdays, holidays, a lizard crossing the road—any excuse was sufficient to bring them together to laugh or commiserate. They even journeyed to foreign countries together, including Russia, for sketching, painting, visiting museums and raising cain.
While camaraderie was the main reason the Tucson 7 got together, there were also similarities in the artists’ backgrounds and shared influences that caught the eye of Bob Yassin, then-director of the Tucson Art Museum, and Jack Goodman, Friends of Western Art’s Chairman Emeritus. Accordingly, TMA’s exhibition “Tucson 7” was organized to showcase not only great art but also a group of artists who represent the generation of painters who left the world of East Coast illustration in the 1970’s for new careers painting subjects in the American West and around the world.
Duane Bryers, the elder statesman of the group, was the first to migrate to Tucson from Connecticut in 1958. With a background in commercial art, Bryers came West after a stint creating a syndicated cartoon strip for the U.S. Air Force. Between 1978 and 1980 he and wife Dee purchased land in Sonoita, about 40 miles south of Tucson, where Dick designed and built a home of adobe bricks made from mud that he dug up in their front yard. “I was the first to come here, and they all tagged along,” says Bryers.
Tom Hill and his artist wife Barbara live in a home in the hills above the historic little town of Tubac. Hill was raised in California and attended Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA, and the Art Institute of Chicago, IL, before embarking on jobs as a storyboard and set-design artist, newspaper artist/reporter and freelance illustrator.
“I guess our common bond is that we are all artists who made our own way,” says Hill. “We believe in the old idea that you learn the basics how to draw and don’t do any pretending. We feel like we’ve paid our dues and know what we’re talking about in an academic sense. We’ve worked our way up from the bottom. Dick Bryers and I have been friends since the 1950s, when we shared studio space in New York City. We’re like brothers. I’ve known Harley and Carol Brown for about 20 years. Harley’s a fabulous talent, but we also enjoy him because he’s kind of like Peter Pan—he’ll never grow up. Carol guides him through life’s pitfalls. Crowley has the driest sense of humor you can imagine. In the hubbub of a big party, he’ll nail the spirit of the evening in five words that just knock everyone over. Howard couldn’t be a sweeter, more gracious guy. With all his talent and success, he’s never had a big head. In fact, we’re all proud of each other’s successes.”
Howard Terpning studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art, then spent 25 years as an illustrator working for all the leading publications and the movie industry before moving to Tucson in 1977. “I knew Ken Riley and Don Crowley when I was working back East,” Terpning stated. “I met the other guys out here—we’ve known each other for nearly 20 years now. Many things have contributed to our closeness: We have mutual respect for each other’s work. Our personalities are compatible, and we like to joke about everything. No one sets himself apart, and there’s no big ego thing among us. We also learn from each other. I’m influenced by the freshness of Tom’s watercolors, the sensitivity of Don’s precision and Ken’s great sense of design and color. Harley’s enthusiasm, humor and spontaneity come out in his work; you can’t help being drawn to what he does. Dick is so solid in his love of conveying humanity. And Bob Kuhn is the greatest wildlife painter there is—he brings such integrity to everything he does.”
Unlike his cohorts, the effervescent Canadian Harley Brown was never an illustrator. Rather, after studying in England and in Calgary, Alberta, he spent his early career doing thousands of 50-cent quick sketches of people in restaurants, pubs and town squares. Like Hill, Brown is an inveterate traveler who teaches workshops at home and abroad. He lived part-time in Tucson for many years before living in Tucson from 1994 until 2019. “Carol and I came down to visit Stuart Johnson at Settlers West Galleries, and through him we met the Hills,” says Brown. “We also met Don Crowley about that same time. I met Dick Bryers up in Canada—he was 70 at the time and had more energy than I had as a teenager. Ken Riley and Howard Terpning came up to Canada to watch a historical re-enactment, and I met them there. I continued to be impressed with the knowledge these men bring to their work. When Ken Riley painted, all the wonderful years of his artistic development go into each stroke.”
Don Crowley (like Tom Hill) studied at the Art Center College of Design before moving to New York, where he created book covers for children’s stories, portraits for Readers Digest and still lifes for a major cruise ship company. In 1973 he saw an exhibit at New York’s Hammer Galleries of western portraits by his friend, former illustrator James Bama, who had moved to Wyoming. A year later, Crowley and his wife B.J. packed their bags for Tucson.
“I’m honored to be showing my work with artists I consider the most talented in the world,” said Crowley. “They all have finely tuned senses of humor and are very knowledgeable. Dick Bryers is so well-educated, as is Harley, who’s as gifted a teacher as a painter. Howard Terpning is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met—in every respect, from technique to ideas. I don’t think there’s a shred of envy in the whole group. That’s one thing that keeps it together.”
Bob Kuhn trained at Pratt Institute in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. Kuhn illustrated for sporting magazines, books and calendars until 1970, when his youngest child graduated from college. He divided his time between Connecticut and Arizona until 1995, when he and wife Libby moved to Tucson permanently. Kuhn identified the common thread that bound the group. “We’re all old illustrators,” he says. “Near the end of my tenure, I knew of Howard Terpning because we were rivals. I did most of the art for Remington Arms, and somewhere along the way Howard hooked up with Winchester. I admired his work tremendously. I didn’t get to know him until we began wintering in Arizona. Some of us meet occasionally for breakfast, and the restaurant people think we’re crazy with all the joking and laughing going on. And our wives all like each other that’s pure luck.”
Ken Riley trained at the Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, MO, and the Art Student’s League, New York, NY, Riley lived in Connecticut while illustrating for major magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. In 1971 he moved to Tombstone, AZ, and later to Tucson. Like Terpning, Riley was a history painter who moved West and found a niche among the legends of cavalrymen, explorers and the Southwestern and Plains Indians. “As former illustrators we worked in very demanding jobs where doing your homework about facts and details was critical to the success of your work,” Riley says. “Because the job entailed reading and then visualizing a story, it was easy to make the transition to western American art I just picked up diaries by men like Lewis and Clark or George Catlin and interpreted them.”
Riley was one of the founding members of the National Academy of Western Art in the early 1970s. Shortly thereafter, other members of the Tucson 7 exposed their work to a broader audience as a part of the annual exhibitions held at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, OK, until 1994. “NAWA is where the Tucson 7 expanded the audience for their work,” said Stuart Johnson, owner of Settlers West Galleries, which represented all seven artists. Johnson watched them evolve, some over more than 20 years, and noted that their work grew in precision, boldness and complexity. “Unlike their illustration days when they were told what to paint, as easel artists they have had to come up with ideas for paintings and reasons to create scenes. Over the years their familiarity with their respective subject matter has allowed them to go beyond storytelling a good example is the symbolism Ken often includes in his work.”
Johnson called the Tucson 7 “the pillars of American art. Without such accomplished painters, American art would be on shaky ground,” he says. And he concedes that he himself has been influenced by the group. “We’ve always operated in a climate of trust. They’ve played a major role in the direction my life has taken.”