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Lon Megargee

Arizona's Cowboy Artist by Cindy Winkelman

 

Chapter 1
Growing up In Philadelphia

Alonzo (Lon) Megargee III was born in 1883 to a wealthy family in Philadelphia. He was a descendent of an adventurer named Patrick Megargee, who emigrated from Belfast in the 1700's. Lon's father was a sophisticate of a Scottish and English family, inheritors of a land grant from William Penn. His father obtained a law degree to satisfy his parents, but his real passion was reading, studying art and traveling. While in his 50's, his father traveled to Latin America where he met a beautiful young Cuban girl. They fell in love and had Lon, their only child.

While Lon was growing up, his father spent much of his time away from home, but when he was in town, he shaped Lon's dreams and interests by taking him to operas, museums and galleries. Like his father, Lon's determination, independent and gregarious spirit was evident at an early age. When still in grade school, he built himself a compact little log hut in the woods near Norristown, Pennsylvania and saved enough allowance to stock his hut for an extended stay.

Then, for three wondrous months, he really lived! Instead of going to school, he spent his days drawing horses, cattle and Indians with a pencil or piece of charcoal. He excelled in caricatures, especially those of old maid schoolteachers.

For a time, Lon escaped the suspicions of his father by faking his report card, but in the end, his father discovered his son's disobedience. The next year, Lon's father sent him to a private school that he despised. He hated that people conformed to rules just for the sake of conformity.

His only out was to get himself expelled, so he started breaking private school rules like roaming alone until midnight, even when yearning for sleep. When that didn't work, he convinced a classmate to help him tie a janitor to a post in the schoolyard. This effectively ended Lon's formal education; and his father was unable to find another school to admit him.

Then, in 1896, when Lon was just 13, his father was killed while traveling in Cuba by a jealous husband in a "love fracas". The details of the incident and the mysterious demise of Lon's mother may never be known.

 

Chapter 2
Moving to Arizona

Upon the death of his father, Lon, free to go where he pleased, dreamt of fulfilling his boyhood dream of being a cowboy, so he headed to Arizona. He had two relatives living in the Phoenix area. His Aunt Rebecca Phillips owned the Phillips House, a pioneer hotel. His other aunt, Elizabeth, was married to Cornelius Borton, who owned the Borton Dairy Ranch on what is now Indian School Road.

In Philadelphia, Lon boarded the train to Arizona with nothing more than an old canvas knapsack that a servant had discarded. At the train station, he had just enough money to buy a bunch of bananas from a street vender. He ate them all over the length of the trip, and as long as he lived, he said, he never touched another banana!

Lon worked for his Uncle Borton for several years as a chore boy, milking cows, cleaning ditches, mending fences and performing monotonous ranch chores. He gained a thorough knowledge of ranch operations - the hard way. One of few privileges his Uncle granted him after a 16-hour day was driving a team of spirited horses to the creamery. He loved to see and to feel those horses run!

For fun, Lon made a cape from an old discarded blanket and carved a wooden sword so that he could practice being a toreador with the Holsteins. His games did not amuse his uncle, however, who Lon eventually found too stifling. To escape his uncle's authority, he bought a neighbor's old antiquated saddle and an unmanageable horse for $10. Even though he was thrown three times before getting out of town, he never looked back.

 

Chapter 3
Becoming a Real Cowboy

Over the ensuing period of his life, Lon became a successful cowboy, with a passion for ranch life and a love for horses. The spellbinding beauty of the deserts and mountains of Arizona became his inspiration.

Life as an Arizona cowboy was not easy; the winters were freezing and the summers were hot. During sleepless roundups and cow drives, cowboys braved rocky terrain, heavy brush and treacherous cactus. In some areas, the brush was so dense they rode in leggings and stovepipe chaps. Lon had his own share of life threatening stories and bore the scars to boot: spilling over sheer canyon walls, narrowly escaping charging wild steer, breaking colts with an injured arm bound at his side.

For the most part, Lon's good work ethic gave him plenty of opportunity, allowing him to stay employed for as long as he wanted. After leaving his uncle's ranch, he headed to Wickenburg, arriving at the old Bull Ranch headquarters where they were kind enough to let him stay and work for food.

At the Bull Ranch, Lon met Tex Singleton, a champion bronc buster and two-gun man. Tex taught Lon how to rope and ride, to bulldog, to roll his own ad to swagger. He also taught Lon how to negotiate deals over drinks.

One night at a local saloon, Lon begged Tex to let him count the notches on his gun. In an attempt at teasing, Tex fired his gun right past Lon's ear. Startled, Lon grabbed the gun right out of Tex's hand. Amazed at his own boldness, he then meekly handed it back. Tex was impressed. Later that same night, Lon challenged Tex and the saloon bartender to a roping contest and beat them both. He admitted it was an accident, but his ego was nonetheless boosted by the victory.

At 17, Lon went to Tonto Basin and got a job breaking horses for Three Bar Ranch. There he dealt with an incorrigible horse that threw him several times, fracturing his arm. His pain did not stop him, however; he continued to ride, getting other cowboys to help him with his boots. He didn't blame the horse that threw him though. He had utmost respect for horses. To him, they were magnificent beasts, full of life and ginger.

From Three Bar, Lon moseyed onto the land of the Graham-Tewksbury feud, where the clannish ranchers from Texas regarded everyone else as "furriners." Lon met a man in the area named Dave Peters who eventually hired him and warned him that others in the area might not take kindly to his presence. But Lon had confidence. He was a strong, husky man, too young and ignorant to be afraid.

While his own ranch outfit liked him, Lon was not well accepted outside of it. More than once he was accused of things he didn't do and was badly beaten as a result. He learned the hard way that when fighting, anything went: kicking, gouging, even biting. There was no "gentlemen's" agreement.

While working for Dave Peters, Lon met a man named Charlie Edwards, who was the black sheep of a highly respected family in Globe where his father was the judge. One day, Edwards happened upon Lon when he was being harassed by a group of Texans. "Why pick on the kid?" he asked. But when he left, the men began to beat Lon, knocking him to the ground, kicking him and stomping on his injured arm.

If Edwards hadn't returned to the scene, Lon may have been killed. Edwards finally convinced Lon that, for his own sake, he should return to Phoenix for a while. He even introduced Lon to his father's ranch manager who welcomed him to stay as long as he liked, which for Lon, was just two weeks!

After leaving the Edwards Ranch, Lon met a man in Phoenix named Frank Armour who was on parole from the penitentiary at Yuma after serving time for a train robbery. Armour ended up a successful cowboy and taught Lon many things about cowboy life and the ways of the west.

While living in and around the Phoenix area, Lon held a variety of odd jobs; captain of the night police, stud poker dealer at the old Anheuser Saloon, a town fireman, he even drove the fire engine horses to the great Korrick fire and traveled with Arizona Charlie's Wild West Show as an exhibition roper. He also did cartoon work, but nothing that made him famous.

Missing life on the range, Lon eventually returned north and got a job working for Billy Cook as a bronc buster at the famous TT Ranch near New River. In those days, men ate big breakfasts, worked all day without lunch and expected dinner to be waiting for them when they returned at nightfall. One evening, having arrived at headquarters before everyone else, Lon decided to cook himself a steak, so he cut a piece of meat from a carcass hanging from a tree beside the door. Seeming too dry, he threw the first piece to the dog and began to build a fire. Within a few moments he heard the dog moaning loudly, and to his horror, it went into convulsions and died before Lon could do anything to save it. He figured that the Mexican sheepherders, who were opposed to cattle herders, had poisoned the meat. Lon escaped death because they had not anticipated him feeding the dog first.

In 1906, at the age of 23, Lon became foreman for Billy Cook, having earned the reputation of "champion bronc buster" in the New River area. Billy encouraged Lon to invest in his own land and go into business for himself, so he did! He purchased five land sections adjoining the open range and named his ranch: El Rancho Cinco Uno (Rancho 51). He patrolled his land with guns and he prospered, and when he had a herd of 600 cattle, he figured he was set for life.

Chapter 4
Blossoming as an Artist First Contract:
The Arizona State Capitol Building

In 1909, still feeling devastated by the drought, Lon sold his Rancho 51 and took off to Los Angeles to live with his cousin C.F. Borton and seek an education at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design. During his six months of schooling, his only goal was to sketch in black and white; he never attempted color, nor wished to.

As his artistic talent emerged from within him, however, Lon grew into a colorist - a highly skilled characteristic that ultimately helped make him famous as an artist. Using color, his goal became to communicate the magnificence of what he saw in nature to city folk who paid handsomely for his work.

For the first decade or so of his painting career, Lon lived in and out of Arizona, but the rich images of the Arizona landscape that he harbored in his memory remained the primary theme of his work. He never lost his passion for nature, rather, nature inspired his passion.

Early in his career, Lon built a lasting relationship with Arizona's first Governor, George W.P. Hunt. In an excerpt from an undated letter he wrote to the Governor, Lon expressed the relationship he felt with nature: Out here on the desert one is able to concentrate - away from the turmoil of life, the sordid happenings that distract the mind - the petty contentions that breed discord and strife are unknown - one lives in a more wholesome manner, where the struggle for existence is not apparent to the extent of combating with his fellows that the fittest may survive. Sleeping under the stars and seeing the sun rise out of the desert in the morning - a glimpse of distant mountains that always spell great promise to me - the whole expanse of nature as I see her inspires in me the desire to strive for the highest attainment possible with my work, thoughts and actual living. In living with nature I have found means of attaining my ideas - without her, I would perish.

As early as 1911, Lon's paintings were displayed at the Territorial Fair in Phoenix. They were among the most popular and talked about paintings on display. The Hopi Girl, also dated 1911, is an example of his technique and maturing style.

In 1912 he turned 29, and was living in Los Angeles when he married his first wife, Anna, who bore his first and only son, Larry, the following year. Lon's restless spirit did not make him a good husband nor father at that time in his life. The marriage was eventually annulled. Lon stayed in contact with his son, but not regularly. His son became an engineer and spent most of his life in California near his mother.

In March of 1912, Lon came to Phoenix looking for work while displaying his artwork at yet another Arizona exhibition. Local writers endorsed Lon as a promising artist; Sharlot Hall even wrote about him in an October 1912 issue of Arizona.

While visiting Phoenix, Lon decided to approach Governor Hunt about painting some murals for the new State Capitol Building. As his friend, Oren Arnold, described the incident, "Lon was broke flat as a horseshoe one winter, and he did a characteristic thing. He barged into the office of Governor Hunt and said, 'Mr. Hunt I need money. This state needs some good paintings. How about hiring me to do some for the Statehouse?'"

Governor Hunt invited Lon into his office for conversation. Having worked on a cattle ranch himself, he was sympathetic to Lon's story of loosing his property and livestock to the drought. While they chatted and became friends, Lon sketched a picture of the Governor, who was so impressed, he wanted to keep it! He suggested that Lon submit a proposal to paint 15 sketches for the state that collectively captured the expansive and diverse landscape of Arizona.

In a letter from Los Angeles, dated February 5, 1913, Lon submitted his proposal to paint 15 seven foot by four foot panels at a labor cost of $250 each, plus half the cost of supplies.

On May 27, 1913, the Governor's board voted unanimously to accept his offer. In alphabetical order, the murals would be:

1. Arizona
2. Canyon de Chelly
3. Casa Grand
4. Cliff Dwellings
5. Grand Canyon
6. Boomerang Thrower
7. Irrigation
8. The Prospector
9. Painted Desert
10. Petrified Forest
11. San Francisco Peaks
12. San Xavier Mission
13. Snake Dance
14. Stock Raising
15. The Superstitions

The Governor respected Lon's art because he had first been a cowboy. He had a personal, intimate knowledge of the landscape and a passion to capture, with his art, the magnificent beauty of the state he knew - and loved - so well. The Governor's contract gave Lon a boost in confidence for which he was eternally grateful.

Soon after Lon received word that the governor had accepted his offer he went out with "the boys" and met a man named Hernando Villa. Hernando supported Lon's efforts by offering to help him with his first few murals since Lon had little experience painting on such large pieces of canvas.

Lon and Hernando rented the top floor of Blanchard Hall in Los Angeles and went to work. Lon did all the sketching while Hernando helped him with the paint. By the time they got to Irrigation, however, Lon decided that he no longer needed Hernando's help. Irrigation was the first of the 13 remaining murals completed independently by the budding young artist.

The first painting to arrive at the State House was the Prospector. The governor liked it so much that he hung it in his own office. At the time, Prospector was one of the most publicly admired of all his Statehouse paintings.

The second painting to arrive was Arizona. It depicted the fading of traditional cowboy and Indian ways with the arrival of "goddesses", their arms laden with orange trees and grains.

The third painting, Irrigation, pictured a scantly clad figure of a woman standing astride an irrigation ditch holding an urn of water and wearing a crown of oranges in her hair. In its day Irrigation was considered too risqué and was not well received. In fact, an Arizona Gazette article announcing its arrival said only "[The painting] shows an irrigation ditch surrounded by fertile fields and in the rear a mountain range." There was not one mention of the woman who was the central figure of the painting!

The forth painting, Canyon de Chelly illustrated an area in the northern part of Arizona and was held in high esteem by public opinion. The fifth painting, Snake Dance, depicted a famous biennial Hopi Indian Snake Dance that was held at the village of Walpi about six miles west of Keam's Canyon. Governor Hunt had never seen the famous Hopi dance and took Lon with him to document it. This became the painting entitled Snake Dance.

And so the paintings arrived, month after month. The governor planned their completion in time to be displayed in the Arizona exhibit at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in 1915 in San Francisco.

Over the years, Irrigation became the public's favorite. Along with Arizona the two images were engraved onto silver platters for the USS Arizona. The Megargee murals, silver platters, and entire silver collection, are part of the permanent collection at the Arizona State Capitol Museum.

Later in his life, Lon thought those 15 murals he painted for the Statehouse were not worth the powder it would take to "blow 'em all to hell," except, of course, for the water goddess [Irrigation], which he thought might have made "a wonderful ad for a hamburger joint!"

In a letter dated August, 25, 1936, Lon begged Governor Moeur to let him redo his "atrocities" and replace them with his best work. By that time he had traveled extensively and been more widely recognized for his talent. His personal disdain for his own artwork lead to a myth: one day Lon rode his horse right into the Statehouse, and jumped right through several of his own canvases!

While Governor Moeur would not let Lon redo his original work, he did hire him to paint three more murals for the State Library as part of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) back to work program of President Roosevelt. These strikingly colorful murals entitled The Indian, The Priest, and The Farmer are life size figures of each man with details related to their different customs and traditions depicted in the background.

Lon may have been critical of his Statehouse paintings, but he attributed his contract with Governor Hunt to launching his career as an artist. He grew to have a different view of the drought that had driven him off his land five years earlier, for if he had prospered as a rancher, he may never have prospered as an artist.

 

Chapter 5
Discovering His Talent and Traveling

Over the next decade of Lon's life his success in art took him on many different journeys. In February, 1916, went to Norristown, Pennsylvania with a 40 canvas show at Philadelphia's leading art facility The Sketch Club. He thought he had an advantage back east because so few people had ever seen the first hand beauty of Arizona. They relied on art - like Lon's - to paint them a story.

The following year Lon was living back in Los Angeles operating an art supply store with a man named Mr. Greenlee. They named the store M.G. Colors and marketed a line of watercolor poster paints that were "superior to anything on the market." Ground from the best pigments they could find, their paints mixed well in a wide range of colors and sold well in both California and Arizona. Their paints were, in Lon's words, "splendid for designers, poster artists, all school work and map drawing in flat tints."

As a store owner, Lon continued to pursue work in the commercial field. In Phoenix, he painted murals for the Westward Ho and the Jokake Inn (now the Phoenician); he painted the history of medicine mural, still found today, at the Grunow Clinic in Phoenix. Lon also aspired to teach art at the University of Arizona once but instead, landed a job as Art Director for Paramount Studios in Hollywood where he befriended Gary Cooper, another wannabe artist.

Then for several years, Lon ventured away from both Arizona and California on a journey that began when he submitted several cartoons to the Chicago Tribune. When his cartoons were rejected, Lon went east to find out why! He got as far as Denver when he was hired by the Denver Post to accompany reporters and sketch subjects if they refused to be photographed. With this job, he traveled widely in both the United States and Mexico.

Once while traveling in Nogales, Lon talked a Mexican cowboy out of a $300 bridle, an apparently gorgeous hand-tooled creation of the finest leather with silver and gold inlay. He used it for a while, but then it disappeared. He knew who stole it, but he couldn't prove it.

Then on day, while he standing in a second hand store, that same Mexican cowboy, in need of cash, tried to sell him the same bridle! As the story goes, "Lon weighed pretty near 200 pounds…and the bridle was hanging – last time [anyone] saw it – on the wall of his living room" at his Casa Hermosa in Phoenix. (Oren Arnold)

Eventually he made his way across the entire country, ending up in New York City where he lived for a year and a half working in the commercial field. His most notable achievement during this brief stint of city life is the now famous Last Drop From His Stetson, painted for the Stetson Hat Company. To this day, the image is found on the inside of every top-of-the-line Stetson hat.

Lon also lived in Spain for a year and became fascinated by the Spanish architecture of an old monastery he lived in. He became so attached to it, he attempted to buy it, but his offer was refused. So he sketched it - and all its furnishings - in hope of recreating it someday.

He was entranced by the honest simplicity and functionality of the typical Spanish style home. As a family grew, so did the house, with rooms added to accommodate more family members. Many homes were made of indigenous materials so that when completed, they fit naturally into their surroundings.

Upon leaving Spain, Lon purportedly traveled to Paris and even Tahiti. But eventually he returned to Arizona and concluded that: "on the desert, [he] just seemed to belong."

 

Chapter 6
Making a Living with Architecture

After settling down back in Arizona in the late 1920's, Lon decided to try his skill at building himself a home and art studio modeled after the architectural methods he had studied abroad, but reflecting his own sense of desert living. Over the next decade, he not only designed and built a home for himself, but he also built homes for several wealthy clients in Paradise Valley, Phoenix and Sedona, making a nice living for himself (and apparently for several different wives too!).

For his own home and art studio he bought a six-acre piece of land just east of the Arizona Biltmore. Just like the Spaniards had done, he camped with the workers that he brought from Mexico and incorporated their methods of making adobe bricks from the surrounding soil as he watched the house of his dreams begin to rise from the desert floor.

Lon didn't use blueprints; he knew what he wanted in his mind. He directed his men to build 30-inch thick foundations and walls massive enough to hold the weight of hand-hewn beams he salvaged from an old abandoned mine. He poured a mixture of oil and ash down the exterior walls and watched them turn into the shade of dusty rose, just like the surrounding soil.

He built beehive fireplaces with chimneys ten feet in diameter at their base. He designed deep windowsills and built an interior patio. He employed a skilled designer of ironwork, whose exquisite simplistic style he adored, to make the hardware for his new "hacienda".

When Lon wanted to add a room, he used a stick to draw lines in the soil and put his men to work. It wasn't until he sold his Casa Hermosa, as he affectionately named it, that blueprints were made, and only to satisfy a prospective buyer.

Hermine Summer, Lon's last wife, said that when Lon started to build his Casa Hermosa he was a bachelor, but the house "just kept growing and growing. So he decided he'd better make it a guest ranch. It was a bit unconventional, with guests answering doors if Lon was painting or pitching in as cook in a cook-less emergency."

When his house was completed, it was the embodiment of masculinity, reflecting the character and temperament of its creator: strong, determined, even brutal. Guests came from all around and stayed for weeks at a time. Lon was known as a ladies' man and his Casa Hermosa was known as a place for drinks and good times. Mysterious tunnels that ran beneath the property served as a testament to his flamboyant reputation. Rumors suggest that guests used the tunnels to escape the police during late night drinking and gambling parties.

In 1941, having been married (again) for just a few years, Lon found himself in the midst of an ugly divorce and in need of cash, so he put his Casa Hermosa, with all its art and furnishings, on the market. Since then, Lon's Casa Hermosa has survived many owners and a devastating fire in 1987.

Thanks to restorative efforts of Fred Unger with designer Dan Macbeth, the Hermosa property was restored. Although slightly redesigned, the property maintains the southwestern flavor and hacienda style charm that had been the vision of its creator, complete with ironwork, old wooden beams and beehive fireplaces.

Today the property, known at the Hermosa Inn, has been expanded into the 35 casitas. What were once Lon’s main living quarters and studio is now LON's at the hermosa, one of the most critically acclaimed dining establishments in the area. Original paintings, prints and even photographs of Lon are on display.

 

Chapter 7
His Artwork Becoming an Arizona Legend

Throughout Lon's life, he regularly took time out to just sit and sketch different aspects of his life and images that came to his mind. One set of sketches that recorded a trip to Mexico he had taken caught the attention of a poet named Roy George. Roy found the sketches so moving that he published a book with Lon entitled A Cowboy Builds a Loop (1933). Roy George insisted that Lon "author" the book, even though he himself wrote the poetry and prose. In Roy’s mind, Lon's art really told the story.

Besides a flair for architecture, Lon came to have a greater sense of freedom and confidence to his art. As one art critic noted, "he no longer confined himself to the simple rendition of scenes, but relentlessly explored new means of expression. Lon's art was honest and earthy. Sincerity was the keynote of his work; simplicity and peerless style his goal. Understanding sympathy was his greatest asset; he had an honest imagination and a spirited heart. His art was a record of his life and his loves. He sketched and painted his own view of things around him, with honest and faithful interpretation, telling a simple story the way he saw it.

An example of this is The Drum. One day when Lon was camping alone on a reservation near Monument Valley an Indian came riding by his campsite on a beautiful white horse. He captivated Lon's attention. The Indian, in a semi trance, chanting some ancient song and tapping his numinous instrument, rode slowly by, oblivious to Lon's presence. It was a spiritual incident that Lon highly regarded. The painting that came to symbolize the event was never publicly exhibited. Lon kept it in his personal collection. Today it hangs in the private collection of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona.

Critics found Lon's versatility difficult to classify. He was not an impressionist. He painted recognizable scenes of peaks and plains, and then gave them lavishing color that seemed so real; critics would wonder how brush and paint could create such an illusion. His diverse subject matter had three common denominators: an unerring gift for color, vigor of design and the imaginative vitality of the artist.

Oren Arnold, a personal friend, wrote that "once [Lon] thought he'd like to be an arty artist, complete with smock and beret. But there were two obstacles – his own nature and that of the Arizona Sonoran Desert. They both made it inevitable that his ideas and expression of them be honest, bold, unconventional. He [was] a husky lusty he-man sort…one of the boldest artists the desert region is likely to produce, and one of the most interesting individuals." (Desert Magazine, October 1943)

Discipline and relentless drive accounted for the steady evolution of Lon’s art. He went from detailed realism, through a period of free brushwork, then onto greater plasticity of form and color and simplified abstractions with pure designs. He became successful in both color and black and white. His showed his diversity at exhibitions, many of which he preferred to do alone, as in his last major exhibit at the Grand Central Galleries in New York

Over the years, Lon's evolving style began to set him apart from other painters. His early work was tighter in handling and more illustrative in nature, but he maintained his sense of old west drama. As one art critic noted, there is "a whale of a difference between a cowboy artists and a mere painter of cowboys."

Lon never failed to acknowledge a good review with a letter of appreciation, and he received constructive criticism graciously. He was a merciless critic of his own work, continuing to experiment with different media and explore new means of expression.

Some of his subjects, for example Serenade, a beautiful woman bathing in a tub with a man outside her window serenading her, were reproduced by the New York Graphics Society as color prints. They were popular in Megergee’s day; today they are collector’s items.

A 1981 Southwest Art article described Lon as an "Arizona Legend…an immutable part of the landscape he so loved and from which he drew inspiration time and time again. His paintings reflected the spirit of the west as no other artist had before. They affirm his legacy as the Cowboy-Expressionist of the southwest."

A-1 Brewing Company Ad Campaign

In the 1940's Lon won a contract to paint four pictures for an A-1 Beer ad campaign. A-1 was Arizona's own brewing company that, in the 1950's, won international beer tasting awards for five years in a row.

Cowboy's Dream was the first, and most popular of the series. The painting, a sleeping cowboy with his head on his saddle, floating on a billowing cloud, facing another cloud taking the shape of the cowboy's dream: a nude woman astride his horse, hung in nearly every bar in Arizona by 1952. It typified Lon's maverick style. His use of color and organization of form were outstanding, revealing a mastery of storytelling skill. The Cowboy’s Dream won advertising awards and is still a popular collectors item.

The second painting in Lon's A-1 campaign portrayed the infamous Wells Fargo gentleman bank robber Black Bart. He won the reputation of a “gentleman” because he treated those he robbed kindly, even respectfully! Lon depicts Black Bart sitting in a barber chair preparing to have his beard or maybe his throat – cut. You’d have to know your history to realize that he was painting the legend and not the man. The Black Bart robberies had occurred in the previous century! A sign in the wall that says "Vote Cal Boyce for Sheriff” dates the painting around the 1940's and 50's. A song Lon wrote about Black Bart was even recorded by Columbia Records!

The third and fourth paintings in the series were: The Quartet and The Dude respectively. The Dude illustrates Lon's tendency to place an incongruous person in an otherwise serious painting; the gender of the "dude" in the picture is incongruent with its name it's actually a woman! Today, the A-1 prints are most valuable as a complete set.

 

Chapter 8
In the End

Throughout his 77 years, Lon maintained the stamina that it took to be a nature-loving cowboy. He followed the health and eating philosophy of Bernard McFadden and maintained a strenuous regime of physical fitness. In 1959, at the age of 76, he wrote: "I still can work on our road four or five hours and then paint in the studio past midnight. My objective now is to invent ways and means of creating a picture, expressing my feelings about the subject, related to, but not a copy of visual actuality. It's an endless quest, but boundless in its possibilities all creative art is progressive, never static."

As he aged he became more and more obsessive and intense about his work. He restricted his social interactions with others. His widow, Hermine, noted, "There wasn't much conversation around in the evenings…I was writing and interviewing, and Lon always had his head full of the next painting. He worried about becoming so distraught with planning or working on a painting, which was always. I think his other wives had given him a bad time over this."

Lon built his last home in the Back O' Beyond county near Sedona with Hermine. She said that Lon "built a home as an artist would paint a picture. It was incredible to watch him build because it seemed so spontaneous, but he had it all in his head. The workmen we employed on our house thought they were working for a madman until they discovered he knew exactly what he was doing although there were no blueprints, no sketches, almost nothing. Our greatest struggle was with the man who laid the flagstone floors. He tried to work them into a neat, squared-off pattern to show his craftsmanship. He almost couldn't bring himself to achieve the free-flow form that Lon had in mind."

Lon lived the last years of his life with Hermine on top of a hill in Sedona overlooking Oak Creek on one side and Forest Park on the other. "It was completely isolated, about five miles from the village," she said. "When a jet plane would fly over, Lon would come out and shake his fist at the monster that was invading his quiet. It was a piquant contrast."

Lon died in January of 1960 at the age of 77 after running his truck off the road and hiking a long, rugged distance for help. His ashes were scattered over the land he once called Rancho 51, where he had thrived as a cowboy and nature had changed his destiny, leading him along a different path, where he blossomed into an artist, prospered as an architect and became the Arizona legend: Lon Megargee.

 

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