Don Crowley, CA
Known for his realistic and meticulous depiction of Indian figures, Don Crowley’s work had a photographic quality to it. As a child in southern California, Crowley showed a talent for art. As a young man, Crowley was inspired by Frederic Remington’s book, Done in the Open and a book of English painters, titled World Famous Paintings.
Crowley spent four years in the Navy and Merchant Marines and used the G.I. Bill to finance his way through The Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. He married a fellow art student, BJ (Betty Jean), whom he credited as his most discerning critic.
After art school, his career began when he was hired as a commercial illustrator by a New York firm. For the next 20 years he worked at almost every conceivable form of illustration in the advertising field. He illustrated for Reader’s Digest, Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries and children’s books. The nature of his work placed many demands and deadlines on his time as well as constraints on his creativity.
In 1974, wanting more creative freedom, Crowley decided he and his family would move to Arizona. The move from commercial to fine art had a loosening effect on his style and it became more colorful. He also began to paint the subjects of his choosing, the Paiute and Apache Indians. He was fascinated with the inner dignity of the Native American and strove to impart the serenity of the people and their surroundings. He said, “Their dress, their bearing, their fascination with color. The Native Americans in this region are absolutely charismatic!”
In 1994, Crowley was elected to membership in the Cowboy Artists of America, which he considered his finest moment. In 1996, he swept the winnings at the annual exhibition when he received both gold and silver medals for oil, Best Overall Show and the prestigious Kieckhefer Award. In 1998, Friends of Western Art named him Artist of the Year.
Don was also a member of the “Tucson 7,” an informal group of artists who began their careers in commercial art and illustration and made the successful transition to Western fine art. Crowley was represented by some of the most prestigious western art galleries in the country including Settlers West (Tucson, AZ), Trailside (Scottsdale, AZ; Jackson Hole, WY) and Altermann (Santa Fe, NM).
Don once said, “This is a calling. It’s very fortunate to know what you want out of life. It’s the searching and doing of it that’s important. The gift is having the goal.”
Black Powder Primer
Artist: Don Crowley, CA (1926 -2019)Description: Pencil on Paper (2005) | Image Size: 23” h x 29” w; Framed Size: 28 1/8”h x 34 1/8”w
Emeritus Member of the Cowboy Artists of America Don Crowley occasionally ventures into non-Native American subjects. In this pencil drawing he shows a man preparing to fire a black powder rifle. The man is shown in profile and dressed in buckskins with a hat pulled low on his head. He is loading the powder into the rifle and a small powder keg hangs from his shoulder. Since the man’s face is hidden, we are drawn to the details of clothing, the rifle, and what appears to be a low, split rail fence with a wagon wheel leaning against it. Whether this is a scene from a historical period, or a modern day revisiting of that era, Crowley has captured it with his characteristic precision.
Mandan with Buffalo Totem
Artist: Don Crowley, CA (1926 -2019)Description: Oil (2001) | Image Size: 40”h x 30”w; Framed Size: 49 7/8”h x 39 7/8”w
Reminiscent of paintings done by such explorer artists as Karl Bodmer and George Catlin, this historic period piece by Don Crowley is characteristic of his style and approach. He effectively gives his subject a gravity and seriousness appropriate for someone bearing an item of great power and significance, the buffalo skull. The Mandan, like all Plains Indian tribes, were largely dependent upon buffalo for food, clothing, housing and tools. Accordingly, they treated the animals with great respect. In this painting, Crowley focuses all of the viewer’s attention on the figure wearing a buffalo robe and holding a skull and presents him against a flat, vacant background.
The Butterfly Saddle
Artist: Don Crowley, CA (1926 -2019)Description: Watercolor (1975) | Image Size: 11”h x 14”w; Framed Size: 23”h x 27”w
A Man of Honor
Artist: Don Crowley, CA (1926 -2019)