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El Vaquero: The Texas Cowboy

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Photographs and Paintings by John Dyer, Cristina Sosa Noriega and Lionel Sosa
February 1 - April 1, 2007

Photographs and Paintings by John Dyer, Cristina Sosa Noriega and Lionel SosaIn the spring of 2006, John Dyer, photographer, and Lionel Sosa, artist, were having a cup of coffee. John had just gotten the news that his book of photographs of Texas conjunto bands was to be published. The book would be important because these musicians, many of them aging Latino icons, and their brand of music might soon be gone.

As the two friends celebrated the news, it occurred to them that there was another group of men who had never had their day in the sun- the Vaquero- the original Texas cowboy. In Western art galleries and museums all over the country, we can admire paintings and photos of the cowboy, the Indian, and the buffalo soldier. But what about the original Texas cowboy, the Vaquero? Where were they?

The answer would become their next project: a museum exhibit of photos and paintings and a new book to boot. John would take the photos and Lionel would do the paintings. Both would write the stories.

But was the timing right? Would anyone care?

Turned out that a lot of people cared. Almost immediately, doors opened everywhere. The world-famous King Ranch offered its hospitality by hosting an exclusive 2-day private tour. Lionel's daughter, Cristina, herself an accomplished painter, joined in the adventure. The venerated Beto Maldonado, the grand old man and patriarch of the famous "Kineños" (or King Ranch Vaqueros), guided them. The tour gave the three full access to every part of the ranch and hours of time with the 16 current Vaqueros. Most of them are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the hundreds of Vaqueros who once ran herd at the world's largest ranch, before management turned to the more efficient helicopter to get the job done.

Then Anne Armstrong opened her famed gates in Armstrong, Texas at her ranch. There, the next generation of Mexican cowboys- mostly teenagers were busily at work repairing fences using an old Jeep to get from place to place. More photos were taken. More stories were heard. And recorded.

Soon, others got wind of what was going on and joined in. In Hebbronville, not far from the King Ranch, John and Lionel got an invite from a small but active group called The "Jim Hogg County Vaquero Festival Assn." The mostly Anglo assembly of ranchers is dedicated to preserving the Mexican Vaquero heritage. Fellow rancher and historian Bill Hellen heads it. There, the two were introduced to dozens of other ranchers, ranches and Vaqueros all over Texas. Turns out, the timing was right.

The work of chronicling the Vaquero experience has just begun for John, Lionel and Cristina. This small exhibit is but a preview of the full works to come in the next 3 years.

Hear Sonny Melendrez interview John Dyer »
Meet Some of the Vaqueros »
John Dyer Photography »
Photos from the March 22 Reception »
Press Release »

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