Ranch women stand strong in exhibit, book
Updated: Friday, February 08, 2013 12:30 PM
Lanker: 'They have a passion for it that keeps them there in hard times'
By LEE JUILLERAT
For the Capital Press
When Lynda Lanker decided to create portraits of ranch women, she expected it would be a "small, short project. Three years at most."
But when her exhibit, "Tough by Nature: Portraits and Cowgirls and Ranch Women of the American West," opened at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Ore., last July, nearly 20 years had passed.
"I'm a little obsessive," Lanker said with a laugh.
The exhibit drew large crowds. A national tour is planned with 2013 bookings at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, and Turtle Bay Museum in Redding, Calif. Her book of the same name, featuring 65 portraits and interviews of 48 ranch women, is in its second printing.
Her portraits -- in watercolor, oil, pastel and acrylic paintings, stone lithographs, engravings, drawings, charcoal and egg tempera -- reflect the lessons Lanker, 69, a self-described town person, learned from ranch women.
"They have a love of their land and their animals, their lives and their situation," she said of the women she met. "They have a passion for it that keeps them there in hard times. They are problem-solvers. It was apparent to me they have anything but a soft life. As tough as it is, that's in their blood. They're in there for the long haul -- they persevere. They know things take patience."
She visited the women to get a sense of place.
"I walked onto their ranches and they were so generous and open, telling me about their lives, and I was so humbled by that. They were doing me a favor by letting me into their lives."
She sought out women who reflect the land.
"I'm not looking for a pretty face. I'm looking for authenticity. I want them to be the real thing," she said of the women she selected for portraits. "They don't put up a veneer, a screen, a front of who they wish they were."
When the idea for the project began, the focus was Oregon ranch women, so she contacted the Oregon Cattlewomen's Association. After seeing her work, her late husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Lanker, recommended it be expanded. In the years that followed Lanker interviewed 55 women in 13 states.
When the Eugene show opened, she required the museum to hold a series of programs involving ranch women. The opening panel program, "Ranch Women and Cowgirls Tell Their Stories," was so heavily attended that hundreds were turned away.
Lanker believes people in urban areas especially "need to hear from people actually working the land. I believe ranchers are often maligned."
Most of all, she said the women featured in the exhibit and book are teachers.
"They have things to teach us even if we never step on a ranch," Lanker said. "For every woman that's featured in the exhibit and on the book's pages, there are hundreds more."
About the book
"Tough by Nature: Portraits of Cowgirls and Ranch Women of the American West," by Lynda Lanker, costs $39.95 and is published by the Oregon State University Press, 800-621-2736 or osupress.oregonstate.edu. The book features a foreword by Larry McMurtry, introduction by Sandra Day O'Connor and afterword by Maya Angelou.