The cowboy in Steve Devenyns comes out on canvas.
Like Charlie Russell and some other notable western artists, the Cody painter also spent time in the saddle, if not as much as he has in front of an easel.
Painters are often told to record what they know and this year Devenyns is conveying to the community some of his thoughts about the Cody Stampede Rodeo.
This year’s poster celebrating the 100th anniversary of the showcase rodeo, is Devenyns’ work. People are buying them and getting them autographed by rodeo figures and businesses are posting them in windows.
There has been a bit of a gap, but this is the seventh time Devenyns has been the Stampede Committee’s chosen artist. His work previously adorned posters and program covers in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1993, 2005 and 2006 previously.
Devenyns, 66, is white-haired, with a mustache not unlike actor Sam Elliott’s, which illustrates his high school rodeo days in Colorado Springs, Colo., are distant in his rearview mirror.
Devenyns planned to become a veterinarian and ended up a western artist. He changed his life during a long recovery from a neck injury suffered while riding a horse.
“I thought I would be back rodeoing again. I was given a god-given gift,” Devenyns said about realizing his art talent in 1973.
He sketched rodeo figures as a hobby and working for a saddle maker. They were so into what they were doing, Devenyns said, when they took coffee breaks the workers rode bucking machines. He’s also been on cattle brandings.
Devenyns’ pencil drawings won him his first recognition in Prescott, Ariz. in 1975 and he learned from prominent artists Ray Swanson, Jim Wilcox, Robert Tommey, Tucker Smith and John Kittelson.
The results have been spectacular, with Devenyns’ work not only coveted in Cody, where in 2006 he won the People’s Choice Award at the Buffalo Bill Art Show, but as a featured artist elsewhere.
He has done rodeo art work for Cheyenne Frontier Days and the El Paso, Texas, rodeo, too. And Devenyns was inducted into the Academy of Western Artists in 2016.
It took time to evolve from pencil to oils (he also dabbles in water colors and acrylics), and Devenyns said he developed his sense of color from tips other artists provided.
Devenyns, who has lived in Cody since 1978, maintains a home with wife Karen, works in a well-lighted studio on the South Fork. When he rides horses he brings a camera to photograph images he might embellish into paintings.
Devenyns’s West does not feature gunfighters or confrontations between cowboys and Indians. He paints working cowboys. A picture may include a ranch hand riding home with a rescued calf slung across the saddle, a rider leading a pack train, a cowboy crossing a river on horseback.
That artwork can be seen all over, including in Big Horn Gallery, which has represented Deveyns’ art for 37 years.
“He’s a great guy and a great artist,” said owner Bob Brown. “He knows his subject matter. That really comes across in his art work. They are not staged works.”
Brown said Devenyns’ paintings are collected around the country.
“He is very popular,” Brown said. “People like his work.”
Surprised to be asked to illustrate a poster-program cover in 1988, Devenyns said Stampede Committee members told him to be patient after the long break without doing them because they were holding out for this year’s special rodeo celebration.
Devenyns said his orders were simple. “Make it look old-timey,” he said he was told.
The 2019 poster is in black and white, not color, a dark-hatted cowboy, right arm flung wide, aboard a muscular white saddle bronc.
“I looked at some of the old photographs,” Devenyns said of how he shaped the picture. “The photograph came to life. Artistic license is a wonderful thing.”
If things had gone otherwise in Steve Devnyns’ life, the one-time saddle bronc and bareback rider might have been the man in the picture rather than the one wielding the brush.
Artists who make pictures of bucking broncos have a much longer professional lifespan than the cowboys who ride them.