- Created on Monday, 15 February 2010
- Written by Sonny Williams
- Hits: 1903
Buchholz should know the West Texas terrain and the best horses to travel upon it. She has always lived and ranched on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country, raising cattle, goats, sheep and Quarter Horses. Both her mother and father were from pioneering ranching families who settled here.
“My dad’s [Joe David Ross] family homesteaded in the late 1800s in Sutton County. One of the ranches we operate is in Crockett County, where my mother, Frances Childress Ross, grew up,” Buchholz said.
Mary, 40, was raised in Sonora, Texas, and now lives on the ranch that her great-grandfather bought in the 1920s near Eldorado, Texas. Her great-grandfather, Jess Koy, was a foundation horse breeder. He bred and owned 1968 NCHA Futurity Open Champion Uno Princess, ridden by James Kenney.
Her husband, Bob, 55, also descends from a ranching heritage. His family homesteaded near Castell, Texas. Bob grew up ranching, and he broke horses for about 15 years before he married Mary. He is also related to historical figure Herman Lehmann. In 1870, when he was 11, Lehmann was captured by the Apaches and spent nine years living among the Apaches and Comanches. In 1927, he wrote a book about his time among the Indians called Nine Years With the Indians.
The varying landscape of rough terrain and rich grassland requires the Buchholz family to diversify their ranching operation, which consists of ranchland in several counties – Schleicher, Sutton and Crockett.
“We mainly ranch cattle, sheep and goats,” Mary said. “We ranch in several counties. The farther west you go, the rockier the terrain is. Eldorado in Schleicher County has grass and farmland on the divide, then moving east toward Menard, Texas, where we live, has lots of live oak trees with good grazing and various species to browse. My mother rode many of Daddy Jess’ great Quarter Horses in our flats. Next to having good conformation, a good foot and a lot of bone are a few of the traits that we look for in our horses.”
Though Buchholz has always drawn and had natural ability as a child, sketching the horses and scenes with which she was surrounded, an art degree never crossed her mind when she went to college. She graduated in 1994 with a degree in animal science from Texas A&M University, where she was a member of the wool and mohair judging team. She had married Bob in 1991, and they moved to a ranch near Dripping Springs, Texas. They then moved to Schleicher County. Mary had plenty to do as a full-time mother and ranch wife. But she needed a creative outlet.
“I’ve always loved cooking in the kitchen, creating something, like homemade breads,” she said. “But I needed something else to do to feel like I was productive.”
So in 1997, she and her mother, an accomplished artist herself, took some art classes. Mary’s talent blossomed.“It was my yoga in a way. It was just gratifying. Then I started getting commissions. I thought, I could make a living doing this. I started showing my work around, and someone would say, ‘Oh wow, would you do a painting of that animal for me,’ or ‘Would you draw my children,’ and it just evolved from there. I was very fortunate that I had the local people’s support. It’s kind of been word of mouth,” she said.
“I painted more classically and did more portaiture, at first – certainly a lot of ranch family children. I’ve always enjoyed showcasing our livelihood.”
The livelihood of ranching has always been rewarding, as well as challenging. Yet modern America has become an increasingly difficult place to maintain a viable family ranch. A difference that Mary sees now from when she was a child is how the ever-changing economy has affected agriculture and small towns. These challenges have forced ranches to diversify their operations, varying the livestock they raise, and often supplementing their income with recreation and hunting.
“Goats are pretty much our bread and butter,” Mary said. “The market has been really good for them. However, our government seems to import and knock our prices down, and I’m concerned the market prices aren’t any better than they were decades ago. It can be depressing. More and more ranch families have to be diversified. Our ranch has to make it on its own.”
Her concern for the future of her family’s ranching enterprise is even more pressing, as she hopes to pass the ranch operation down to her children, sons Robert, 17, Dalton, 13, and Franklin, 11.
“Our boys will certainly face challenges in the future, and we are hoping to teach them as much about animal husbandry and conservation as possible,” Mary said. “Not to mention that they need to be spokespersons for our industry (this is why all of our 4-H judging and livestock showing are such valuable experiences). We are seeing so many ranches fragmented these days, and it will be difficult to ranch the same way as our parents and grandparents did. Being able to operate and keep our ranch country from being divided is certainly a priority.
“Our nation’s livestock numbers have drastically decreased (because of families selling and dividing ranches), and that is a major factor as to why many agricultural workers have changed occupations,” she said. “For instance, there aren’t many sheep and goat shearers around. I have fond memories of shearing time and working alongside the Ramirez and Franco families. These are hardworking people, and they have had to diversify also by working in the oil and gas industry, or they may now be fence contractors and such.”
Buchholz’s art arises from the family ranch. The terrain, the wide-open landscape, and the animals and the people who inhabit it all contribute to the authentic way of life she wishes to portray. Her portraits of horses have been of their own roping horses, and the children she’s drawn have been her own, as well. In all cases, her drawings possess a meditative quality, softly rendered and with subtle details, that express the character of her subjects. The settings often show the stark West Texas landscape with but a scattering of trees.
“My art does not romanticize our way of life; it simply and honestly portrays the people, the animals and the environment of the West,” she said. “I hope my art conveys to the viewer the authenticity of our way of life.”Mary’s choice to draw with pencils was a practical one. All you need is pencil and paper, which makes it easier to tend to other things.
“I can just stop and tend to the children or change laundry. I can put it down easily and pick it up easily. I do love to paint, but I don’t like to be interrupted while painting,” she said laughing.
Mary uses different types of pencils, graphite and charcoal on a hot-pressed white watercolor paper. She prefers portraiture, one of the more intimate genres of art, one that expresses not only a likeness but also the personality and mood of an individual, the inner essence of a subject.
On her drawing “North Breeze,” for instance, Mary said, “Spanky is getting older and is a son of Doc’s Prescription. I think that is where his occasional cantankerous attitude comes from, and he has Poco Bueno as his great-grandsire on the bottom. My youngest heads steers on him. Many people comment on how Spanky’s looks reminds them of Jess Koy’s horses way back when.
“I have just always loved portraits – people, animals,” she said. “I love the eye; that’s the focus on a lot of my pieces. I want it to not just look real, I want it to feel real. When I do a drawing, I start on the eye, normally. And it just evolves from there. I get excited. I enjoy seeing what the end result is.”
Like most artists who portray the American West, Mary has been influenced by legendary artists Charles Russell and Frederic Remington, but she also admires Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939), another painter of the American West. She also has a love for the old masters, in particular Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), a Dutch Baroque painter well-known for his portraits.
Some living artists she admires are cowboy artists Bill Anton and Martin Greele. She feels an affinity with Mikel Donahue for his use with colored pencils and Sherry Harrington for her Western art portraits.
Mary’s own art show schedule is picking up. She has been invited to Round Up! and the Museum of Western Art in Kerrville, Texas, in April; the AQHA: America’s Horse in Art in Amarillo, Texas, in August; and the American Plains Artist show this fall. Mary is a signature member of the American Plains Artists. She also plans to enter the Bosque Art Classic in Clifton, Texas, and is hopeful to be accepted into the all-girl show, The Heart of the West, at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.