Prairie Tayles: A Wizard In A Cowboy Hat With A Paintbrush For His Wand

Oct 13, 2017

If you ask youngsters to name a wizard, they’ll immediately offer Harry Potter’s name. I have news for Harry fans. The real wizard lives in Wyoming, and he wears a cowboy hat. His wand happens to be a paintbrush. This is all true—I and other artists worked with him for a week to improve our use of light and shadow in our paintings.

What, you say! Yes, a real cowboy early in his eighth decade uses a paintbrush and earth-tone pigments to turn a flat canvas into a vision of soft buckskin baby shoes that look as though you could pick them up and savor their softness. This magic takes less than seven hours when he’s not wrangling livestock or riding into the Wind River Mountains after this year’s elk. The man takes props such as his son’s worn,  beaded baby moccasins and an old brass bell, puts them in a lightbox, and tugs his spectacles down to get a closer look at the combination. Within an hour, he’s roughed in a sketch to direct his efforts.

Students of varying abilities hang on every word as he narrates a painting from concept to finish. They focus on the back of a well-worn, dark felt cowboy hat that amplifies the wisdom of 70 plus years. Every now and then, this man of a thousand talents turns to his audience, who note his crinkled eyes and his broad grin. He loves to get the group laughing whether it’s through his imitation “Golleeeee,” that reminds them of Gomer Pyle or his audacious chuckle that states outright, “It’s a good day to be alive.”

Tom Lucas started painting his senior year of high school during his first art class. At that time, he determined he’d master using a limited palette. From the looks of his finished paintings, his sales, and awards, he’s succeeded. Now he shares his how to’s with others who want to breathe life into their own art with a few well-directed strokes of color.

Over decades, he’s built family homes, cowboyed, and earned scores of friends and acquaintances’ respect. Surprising even himself, he’s become a public speaker, substituting for the preacher when called upon. Modestly, Tom explains he never thought to fill a pulpit, but everyone sitting in church is glad he did. His message is obvious: God works through his humblest servants. It’s clear that’s true when you see a man who’s learned to speak effectively despite the cleft palate that troubled young Tom.

So where does Lucas’s paintbrush wizardry fit in. His students can explain that. Obviously, he uses a brush and a little paint to turn light and shadow into life-like drama in his own work. However, his most amazing gift is his ability to scan and analyze student paintings. In a flash, he instructs how to incorporate a delicate stroke of color to reveal what the mind perceives. That lucky learner will never see the world the same again.

As one of his pupils, I marvel at his ability to zero in on exactly what needs improved with a deft brush of paint. Using the student’s palette to repair issues that trouble the aspiring painter, he swiftly transfers knowledge that took him decades to master.

If you told Tom he’s a wizard, he’d blush and give you a country boy, “Ah, shucks.” It’s obvious he feels blessed to earn his living painting and teaching. His students would tell you they’re lucky to learn the secrets of light and dark from a wizard in a cowboy hat whose paintbrush is his wand.

For those of us who learn from him, we’re lucky to be in the presence of a master of both painting and good-heartedness.