Western Artist Dan Deuter paints “the old west”
[Montrose, Colorado, 2010.] IN 1970 HE RECEIVED his first set of paints as a Christmas present. When he was 24 he sold his first paintings in an art show. “I knew early on that I wanted to be an artist,” Deuter says. “When we were little, our parents bought us kids reams of paper instead of coloring books. I had a big advantage. I didn’t have to stay inside of the lines.”
He still doesn’t. The man defies description. Dan Deuter is a modern-day pathfinder, a pioneer of the past. In life and on canvas, he seamlessly combines the best (and sometimes the worst) of the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries—a pretty impressive feat, even for a paradigm. He is one of the fortunate few who has created a life for himself that he loves, one that encompasses his unique background and interests.
Deuter grew up on a ranch in South Dakota. Along with three brothers and two sisters (and his parents), he chased cattle, mended fences, hunted and fished. “My brother Casey runs the ranch now and Jim, who is also an artist (as is his wife Pati Deuter), still works it some.” (The other brother is a state trooper as well as a cowboy.) “Jim’s most like me,” Deuter adds. “He’s artistic and likes to quill and bead, and he does some painting. He’s interested in old stuff and he likes to model for the artists in our photoshoots.” (That’s Jim in Deuter’s painting ‘September Ride,’ with the pack horse.)
Deuter started the artists’ shoots back in South Dakota, and continued them in Colorado when he moved here in 1988 to be closer to Santa Fe and the the artists’ markets. Most all of them are within a day’s drive of his home: part studio, part living quarters and part prop for the photo shoots.
Over time Deuter has reconstructed several 1880s cabins from the original materials, using square nails and an authentic broadaxe “to square up big cottonwood logs.” “I learn mostly by doing,” he notes. And he does it all. In addition to painting—Deuter is one of the best-known American western (cowboy and Indian) artists in the world, he rebuilds historic cabins and repairs old equipment, traps beaver, hunts buffalo, hand-tans hides, makes buckskin clothing and quivers decorated with beading. That’s why his art is unquestionably authentic. The man lives the life as well as paints it.
For twelve years, Deuter ran Fort Uncompahgre in Delta, Colo., where, using many of the things he created himself, he helped build the Fort’s reputation as the most authentic, living history museum in the country. Today, many such “props,” including tepees, bows and arrows, trade materials and hundreds of tanned beaver hides reside at his home “trading post” and appear in countless paintings by western artists. “People would come down [to the Fort] to find out about trapping and tanning hides and to find out how to make wooden buckets the old way. Ed [Maddox, who also worked with him there] and I went out in the morning, trapping beaver right there on the river.” No longer with the Fort, Deuter now works a few days a week at Scenic Mesa Ranch in Hotchkiss, leading buffalo hunts and helping restore old cabins on the property.
He’s still in his buckskins, often as not wielding a broadax or a Sharps rifle. Some days he’s on his horse, Rio, guiding a hunt. On other days, he might be up at the lodge or telling a tale. And, when he’s not out living the old life, he’s painting it, sitting in his studio, surrounded by things he collected and made, like his wife Ellie’s buckskin wedding dress. “We got married at the Fort,” he explains. “Our first date, we went to a Ute Sun Dance. I figured if she’d go out on a date like that, she’d go anywhere. Then, in September of 1994, we rode from Fort Vernal in Utah down to the Fort in Delta. It was part of a string of them [forts] from Taos and Santa Fe and up into the Uintas owned by Antoine Robidoux. You might say he was the first ‘chain store operator’ here. He sold guns and whiskey to the Indians. It was sort of like a ‘fur trade Mafia,’ but Robidoux and others like him helped open up the west. If it weren’t for them, we might still be living in Mexico!”
Dan Deuter’s work may be seen at galleries around the world and throughout the Southwest (e-mail him for locations, ) and by appointment at his studio. “A lot of people like to come to the studio,” he said. “Buyers like to know about the artist, see what sets him apart from other artists.”
Visiting Deuter’s studio, there’s no doubt what sets him apart. Buffalo hunter, beaver trapper, cabin builder . . . artist; Dan Deuter is still living outside of the lines. He is living an adventure, one that he’s painted for himself.
Photography. All images © Kathryn R. Burke
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