Artist Gary Hawk’s painting of an old saddle became one of his most famous and beloved works, and it was inspired by one of his closest friends, Don L. Nichols.
“He was the real thing,” Hawk said Friday morning of his longtime friend who lived on a farm south of Iola.
The painting, along with the actual saddle, are on display in the entryway of Community National Bank.
Don C. Nichols, Nichols’ son, now owns the saddle as well as the family farm since his father’s death in 1990.
Don C. calls Hawaii home and spends about one month a year at the farm.
“He (his father) and Gary were the best of friends,” he said. They met through involvement in 4-H, when Nichols would take the students to the farm to ride horses. When Hawk started painting full time in the late 1970s, Nichols’ cowboy lifestyle was the perfect setting for several paintings — none more famous than the saddle, however.
“It’s been very good to us,” Hawk said.
The painting has graced the cover of Kansas! Magazine, “millions of phone books” across the nation and has been displayed in the capitol building in Topeka.
Hawk said he saw the saddle hanging in Nichols’ barn.
“When I saw it, I said ‘wow’ and took a picture of it,” Hawk said. “I just had to do it. It has been my pride and joy.”
At the beginning, he wasn’t too sure how successful it would be. He nearly sold the painting for $200 to a woman at a western wear store. He later passed up an offer of $10,000.
HAWK BEGAN painting professionally in 1976, when he was working as a boat designer. He told his wife Beverly that he wanted to paint full time, so they borrowed $1,000 from their life insurance policy (enough for one month) and Hawk started painting in his studio.
His inspiration came from artist James Bama, who moved from New York City to a ranch near Yellowstone in Wyoming to follow his dream of being an artist. Hawk saw an article about Bama in the TWA Ambassador magazine.
“I decided that was the kind of art I wanted to do,” Hawk said. “I still have a copy of that magazine.”
Hawk has produced thousands of works over the years, and continues to paint. His works have been showcased across the nation, even in the White House. Hawk made a point of singling out Beverly as his driving force.
“She has always been the one who has made sense of what I was doing,” Hawk said.
Hawk’s paintings with Nichols as his subject were some of his most beloved works. With “a real cowboy” as his subject, Hawk said it seemed as if he couldn’t go wrong.
“He was just a natural one,” Hawk said. “We just hit it off.”