Gene Zesch grew up during the Depression on a hard scrabble central Texas ranch working cattle, shoeing and breaking horses, milking cows and building fence in between riding horseback four miles to school. His experiences with ranching provided the inspiration for his famous carvings which portrayed the witty and rich irony of that life.
Honored by numerous awards and publications, Gene’s long and illustrious career distinguishes him as the nation’s premiere cowboy woodcarving caricaturist.
Gene first received national recognition when President Johnson bought some of his carvings.
Publicity about this event resurfaced in 1993-1994 when the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery included one of Zesch’s carvings.
Then in 1996-1997 he was one of 12 artists used by the National Archives in their show “Tokens and Treasures of 12 Presidents”.
Photos and stories of these pieces were widely distributed by the National Geographic, New York Times, UPI etc.
Gene started carving in 1954. He had just married his high school sweetheart, Patsy, and entered the Army as a pilot.
While on leave they passed through Santa Fe and watched a man on the Plaza carving a likeness of President Eisenhower. He had never seen a sculpture with the bold cuts that gave it character. He was literally smitten by this medium and told his wife “I believe I can do this”.
After his stint as a pilot he returned home to the ranch and started carving, selling first in gift shops then small art galleries and finally to some of the top Western art galleries in the U. S.
His first one man show was at the Witte Museum in San Antonio. He didn’t realize how prestigious it was to have a one man show at such an early age.
His next one man show was in 1988 in the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio. According to Al Lowman, Director, “it is by far the most popular exhibit we’ve ever had”.
He then had a one man show at Texas A&M University, which he says was an “art free zone” when he attended.
By far, his one man show at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum has been his most important show. It was held September 2005 to January 2006. It was one of the best attended one man shows in the history of the Museum. They now have seven pieces in their permanent collection.
Professor and sculptor, Umlaf, advised Gene not to take lessons but to keep developing his own style.
Even though he has flown airplanes, ridden motorcycles all over the world, and skied, his greatest pleasure has been to part time ranch with his sons and grandsons.
Source: Gene Zesch
Jenkins, Let’s Go Out and Raise a Little Hell
Artist: Gene Zesch (b. 1932)
The Rodeo Has Made Me What I Am Today
Artist: Gene Zesch (b. 1932)Description: Wood Carving (1977) | 11"h x 10”w x 6”d
A Reputashun Like Mine Ishn’t Built Overnight
Artist: Gene Zesch (b. 1932)Description: Wood Carving (1977) | 9”h x 13”w x 7”d
In his woodcarvings and bronzes, Gene Zesch presents another side of the West; not the romantic heroism of western movies and novels, but the hard scrabble existence that many cowboys and small ranchers face on a daily basis. Even though he creates obviously exaggerated caricatures in his vignettes, the people he portrays exhibit a true humanity. They face hardships; they barely eke out a living; their finances, at best, are precarious; each day is a struggle. But his characters survive and endure to face a new challenge tomorrow and they do so with a hard bitten and sometimes dark humor. Zesch knows these people and has the talent to bring them life as he did in “A Reputashun Like Mine Ishn’t Built Overnight.”
Down at the Fishin’ Hole
Artist: Gene Zesch (b. 1932)Description: Wood Carving (1976) | 7”h x 12 ½”w x 8”d
Gene Zesch did it again in “Down at the Fishin’ Hole." Life’s foibles just can’t be taken too seriously as Zesch so accurately portrays in his character’s facial resignation of the tangled fishing line below.
Country Gone to Town
Artist: Gene Zesch (b. 1932)Description: Wood Carving (1976) | 15”h x 15”w x 4”d