Colorado Painter Duke Beardsley’s first museum show, with sculptor Greg Woodard, "Indians & Cowboys: Redefined by Duke & Woodard" opens in October at the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia. He's been given free range in choosing pieces that express his unique view of the timelessness of the American West "at a time when the world is asking us to think differently," Beardsley muses. His outsized cowboys loom large, as does the mystique of the cowboy on the western landscape. But Beardsley challenges the time-honored, romanticized icons, and they are always up to "whatever I throw at them."
The collaborative exhibit may be his first museum show, but it's not the first time Beardsley's work has graced the walls of an august institution. The Denver Art Museum has two of his paintings in its permanent collection.
What was it like to have your hometown art museum come calling? Beardsley tells a story with a sense of wide-eyed wonder even after nearly two decades. "I hosted a show at Rockmount Ranch Wear where I had studio space on the second floor, a beer and cheddar Goldfish thing. Peter Hassrick came up to me and said, 'If you haven't sold these two paintings, give me a call.' I didn't really understand what was going on until someone told me he was a curator from the Denver Art Museum and he's interested. As soon as he left, I took the sale stickers off those paintings," Beardsley remembers.
Hassrick, a legend in Western art circles who had established the Petrie Institute of American Western Art at the Denver Art Museum, was indeed interested. He invited Beardsley to bring his paintings to a swanky cocktail party and dinner for a group of high-powered patrons that acquired art for the DAM’s collections. “I talked to them a bit and then waited in the bar while they had dinner. Peter came out and said, ‘You’re in, kid.’”
“That’s quintessential Duke,” says his longtime friend Steve Weil, president of Rockmount Ranch Wear in Denver. “Duke embodies the cowboy spirit. He is modest and lacks pretension. He’s not a poser. He’s an unassuming guy, he has no expectations despite the prominence of his family,” Weil says.
Duke’s father George Beardsley was a developer who, with his partners, planned and built Inverness Business Park. His family has left its philanthropic stamp on Colorado.
The family had a small cattle operation in southeastern Douglas County where the fifth-generation Coloradoan was rousted from his bed to join family members working the cattle.
“I learned to rope and ride, and maybe most importantly, I learned when to get out of the way. I did whatever needed doing,” Beardsley remembers. His was a childhood he describes as a “dual/duel upbringing,” that would serve him well in his artistic career.
Duke Beardsley draws cowboys. Big, working cowboys and cowgirls that have taken their places in cowboy iconography along with the romanticized images of Beardsley’s boyhood idols Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. “I know these cowboys, I’ve worked alongside them, ridden these horses. They’re my friends,” Beardsley says. His canvases might depict a single out-scaled image of a working cowgirl on top of multiple images of riders rendered in a graphic arts, or even pop style influenced by his days at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. Other times, the lineup riders take center stage and the cowboy steps back into the composition. “Sometimes it’s a contest to see who’s on top,” Beardsley says, “I stay out of their way.”
Beardsley’s paintings often feature vivid colors. Turquoise and red are favorites; that’s another thing the work seems to decide for itself. But the cowboys remain monochromatic in charcoals and black. They are real but unrecognizable with hats pulled low, or heads turned downward or in profile. The cowboy could be any one of us. “Duke universalizes the cowboy,” Weil says. “His cowboys resonate with us.”
Beardsley seems to marvel at the serendipity of his career. He speaks with fondness of his commission from his alma mater Graland Country Day School to paint a portrait of Charles Gates for the Gates Center for Innovation at the school. “I had the privilege to know Mr. Gates and to ride horses with him. It was a rewarding and fun collaboration with his family,” Beardsley says. And yes, the picture is immediately recognizable as Charles Gates.
Some of Beardsley’s works really are serendipitous. An avid fly fisherman, Beardsley painted a garage wall at a fishing lodge in Argentina. It involved a bit of the potent local liquor, he allows. He has also painted images for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and for fundraising merchandise by fly fishing brands Patagonia and Fishpond.
Beardsley collaborated with Weil and Rockmount on a scarf marking the 100th anniversary of the National Western Stock Show as well as a scarf for the Calgary Stampede.
“Duke is the same guy he always was, and that’s his charm,” Weil says. “He’s just a nice guy.”
To see more of the artist’s work, visit
or call 720-722-3496
Kimberly Field writes about fine arts and Western lifestyle, and has written several history books. She’d like to be a cowgirl, but she’s scared of cows.
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