WICHITA COUNTY (KFDX/KJTL) — The Arts Council is reaching out with a plea to Texomans who were touched personally by a written gift from one of our cherished hometown heroes.
Letters were written by the late Jack Stevens, a true cowboy, to go with the sculptures, paintings, and drawings he created. And, so many are treasured, almost, as much as the art itself.
23 years before Jack and Jackie Stevens married in Henrietta, Jack was born in Thornberry in 1934. Jack always thanked God for helping him survive his early years.
When Cindy Dean was a child, Jack worked for her grandfather on the same ranch land between Henrietta and Jolly she lives on today.
“What I remember, sitting right over there at a dining table, so I asked him if his mother ever made birthday cakes for him. He said, ‘no ma’am, she didn’t. She couldn’t for two reasons. One is I never really knew when my birthday was. So, I never really knew exactly how old I was. The other is that we all lived in a tent and my mom didn’t have a kitchen’,” Jack’s friend for many years Cindy Dean said.
Jack had 13 brothers and sisters.
“I just couldn’t believe that. I said you mean 14 people and your parents lived in a tent on the river, and he said ‘yes, ma’am. We did’,” Dean said.
After Jack’s mother passed away, Jack and his brother, Bob, lived along Holliday Creek until he was around 12 when he started working on ranches.
“Jack might as well have been born in the early 1800s. He was alone and pretty much by himself, with his brother, but alone at 6!” Jack’s friend Roby Christie said. “Searched out his first job at a ranch, where he had to walk, pretty much to archer city to get that job.”
Jack was a working cowboy and then a rodeo cowboy who could ride anything before joining the U.S. Army. All of these things Jack did, while always expressing himself through his incredible artistic gift.
“While we were waiting for lunch, he would draw on napkins or whatever paper I could as a child scrounge up. And my mother noticed those and asked him if he’d ever had any experience with oil paints. He, of course, had not. So, she was an art major at TCU and recognized his talent and bought him a set of oil paints, and there was history after that,” Dean said.
Jack and Jackie would later go into the cattle business themselves until 1970.
“Everything. No rain, green bugs hit, so we decided we’re going to do something else. He was casting a few of these sculptures and he would trade them for fertilizer for the farm,” Jackie Stevens said.
And that’s about the time Jack thought, ‘why can’t we make a living doing the same thing?’
“His farming and cattle weren’t bringing anything, and he’d ask me, ‘Roger, do you think I can make it with my artwork?’ I’d say, ‘Jack, man, I believe you could make a living doing this’,” Jack’s friend and minister Roger Deerinwater said.
“Then I build it up with newspaper, and then I start putting the wax on it,” Jack Stevens said describing one of his pieces in an interview with KFDX in 2007.
After opening his studio in 1970, Jack created many more drawings and paintings.
“You can tell he experienced this,” Stevens said.
And many more sculptures. From the Wee Chi Ta sculpture, beautifully displayed high above the Wichita River, to the Sunwatcher at MSU, along with Bicyclists, to the Mustangs Jack was working on here in 2007 before they made it to their final destination outside D.L. Ligon Coliseum.
“It’s a God-given talent. You cannot teach anybody. He would just start sculpting something and then 15 minutes later, like this one here, it would start looking like this. Holy cow how did he do that,” Jack’s son Jim Stevens said.
And not only did each of Jack’s sculptures come with a letter explaining why and how he built it, Jim said that letter helped bring his father’s creation to life.
“He wrote about that old cowboy that came in out of the rain and poured him a cup of coffee, and look at that detail in that old stove. Isn’t that amazing?” Jim said.
“The people who bought his stuff, they’d say, ‘Jack, be sure and send me the letter’,” Jackie said.
“It’s not just any sculpture, it’s from memory. That’s probably Jack on there,” Dean said.
Jack’s works of art are proudly on display in the Iowa Park History Museum and really all over the world. Jack Stevens will always be known for being an incredible talent, but also, for being an incredible man.
“Proverbs 3, 5 and 6 say ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your paths.’ Jack memorized that scripture and those verses and he took it to heart,” Deerinwater said.
“He was really a good, Christian man. He loved God above all. He was hard-working, and everybody liked him. I never heard anybody say anything bad about him ever, and we were married 62 years,” Jackie said.
“What you saw with Jack was the truth, and it was real, and it is a kind of a big one thing. You don’t see people like that too much anymore. But, he was the real deal,” Dean said.
Jack Stevens learned much about animal muscles, bones and joints at a young age after assembling an entire bull’s skeleton he found on a ranch.
“It’s just like rubbing a horse. When you rub a horse, you know, you feel their muscles. Just remember where you rubbed him,” Jack Stevens said in an interview with KFDX in 2007.
Jack Stevens was a humble and Godly man who brought happiness to many with his cowboy way. He will continue to bring happiness for generations through his immense legacy of cherished art.
If you were blessed with one of Jack Stevens’ creations, or know someone who was, the Arts Council hopes to begin displaying the letter or a copy of the letter that accompanied your masterpiece. They hope to start doing that during the upcoming two-day Cowboy True Festival at the end of March.
You can call the Arts Council at 940-767-2787 ext. 111. You also visit the Arts Council website for more information on the Cowboy True Festival.
Click here to learn more about the Iowa Park History Museum.