(This article originally appeared in the Jan. 31, 2019 print and e-edtion of The Pioneer)
Driving through the small village of Sheffield could be reminiscent of an old western movie with little to no traffic and dust often blowing in the street. Adding to the scenario, in the middle of town, there is an old storefront behind a porch of rustic wood, with western memorabilia showing. The doors open up to a world of western art and treasures.
This is Mike Capron’s art studio.
Capron calls his gallery – the Texas Cowboy Art and Social Hall – a “truly unexpectedly divine place.”
“I’ve been drawing and painting since high school about 60 years ago,” he said. “I always aspired to have something like this but there were other interruptions. Of course, it wasn’t until I got to a good age that I realized all interruptions were for a reason.”
After completing his service as a Marine in Vietnam in 1968, Capron soon married his lifetime love, Anne Wilson, on June 26, 1969. The union began a shared life of cowboying, ranching and art.
The couple managed a ranch at Guadalupe Peak until the owner sold the ranch and the new owner turned it into a hunting enterprise. The new owner asked Mike if he needed a job, which he did.
“I have 12 deer feeders, a flat bed pickup, a barbecue pit and a new pickup. That’s all you need when you ranch for me,” the owner told Capron.
Mike asked him what he wanted him to do and was told to be there during deer season, keep the waters up and the deer feeder filled. Mike asked if he could take some art lessons and the guy told him “Do what you want as long as the other is done.”
The owner even built Mike a studio.
Mike studied art under Jan Herring from Clint, Texas. After assessing 25 of his paintings, she told him: “You are crafty but you don’t know a thing about art.”
Mike responded: “That’s why I’m here.”
Might studied under Herring for two years, learning landscapes, portrait and life scenes, “but none of that cowboy crap.”
In the interim, the ranch boss began to get more active and more jobs were assigned. Mike and Anne’s two kids were outgrowing their current school so Mike and Anne shopped for another school. They ended up moving to Fort Davis, where Anne taught school.
Capron tried to earn a living as an artist.
The market for western art was good but a dip in the economy made it too hard financially to survive as an artist.
“I tried day working and painting,” Capron said. “Enjoyed it, but was getting hungry.”
The Caprons left Fort Davis and leased 150,000 acres in Salt Flats. A good friend and fellow western artist brought some old wagons out and they did work from those wagons and used them for artistic purposes as well.
They stayed at Salt Flats for around 30 years until the ranch was suddenly sold and the couple was given two weeks to move out.
“I don’t have a clue what happened Mike or where we are going” Anne told her husband.
“Me either but the good Lord is in control,” Capron told her. “It will be exciting. It will be fun.”
Off to Sheffield
The next destination was Midland, where their son, Wilson, was making bits and spurs. It was there Mike said the Lord told him “Get your butt up and go to work. You wanted to be an artist.”
They bought a place south of Midland where Mike set up a studio and painted. When Wilson left to go to Christoval, Mike and Anne leaned toward moving to the Sheffield area where Anne’s mother had inherited a ranch. After she passed away and the leases were up, Mike and Anne took over a portion of the ranch.
They were in Sheffeld to close the sale of their Midland property. They decided to let the ranch rest and not run livestock or hunt on it. Anne thought maybe they could build on the ranch but it wasn’t feasible for many reasons.
After eating lunch in town at what was then Nina’s, they saw a for sale sign on the old hotel that housed the restaurant.
Anne told Mike to call and ask about it. She thought they could live there and convert part of it into a studio.
Capron and the owner, local Jerry Davenport, asked where they were. Mike told him they were in front of the restaurant. Davenport told him to stay put, they were going to close on that deal. By Friday they owned the hotel.
As they moved items between Midland and Sheffield, Capron's eyes kept wandering across the street to the old mercantile.
After peeking in the windows, Capron called its owner, local Pat Garner, and asked if he wanted to sell the mercantile.
After a qucik negotiation, Capron owned the merchantile.
“Bottom line, it was all God’s work. It was a clean deal,” Capron said.
Mike pointed out with the grace of Sheffield people helping, the mercantile was cleaned and repaired and yet maintained the old mercantile look and the studio was formed.
It is a beautiful place full of Mike’s projects and art and houses other artists such as Shoofly, Wayne Baize, Bob Jones.
Saddles, spurs ropes, antlers, cattle mounts and southwest rugs are part of the rustic look. Upstairs is a section called the kids ranch where local kids come in and play with the toy trucks, horses and cattle.
Mike says he has seven or eight projects going at a time.
“It’s kind of like a radio station. When you get tired of one, you move on to another.” he said.
When first trying to paint here Mike says he was at a loss.
“I was used to large mountains and this was a different country with a different color and feel and I couldn’t get going,” he said. “It’s like the pictographs. The communications of the symbolism are the art.”
He stresses that it’s important to get the time period correct for art to be realistic from the people to the horses.
He began listening to the local history and color of the area and got real interested in painting historical subjects. His first painting on this subject was a commission for a bank depicting Charlie Goodnight making his first cattle crossing at Horse Head Crossing before going in to Fort Sumner.
When Crane, Texas celebrated the 150th anniversary of Horse Head Crossing, the painting was used as a logo for their products during the celebration. This gave him an incentive to paint local history.
A large painting he is working on depicts the attack of the Kickapoos on Fort Lancaster. It’s important he says that the history of the painting is accurate and he tells the historical story with great enthusiasm pointing out the great horsemanship of the Kickapoos and that the soldiers in the attack were roped and thrown in the bushes and killed. He points out that no shots were fired.
History has been saved by the Caprons within the buildings they live and work and throughout Mike’s paintings. In their life painting, the past has been saved by the stroke of a brush.