Skip to main content

Enjoy Magazine

Portrait Artist Lynda Lanker

10/01/2013 01:57PM ● By Enjoy Magazine
Artist Lynda Lanker says women ranchers and cowgirls make good subjects because their character is so visible. “There is no veneer of style or barrier of ego to chip away. Their character is exposed, ready for expression in ink, paint or charcoal.”

Lanker’s fine art, “Tough by Nature,” is a series of portraits of women ranchers and cowgirls from the American West that will be presented at Turtle Bay Exploration Park from Oct. 18 through Jan. 19. The project took 19 years to create. Traveling the western United States, Lanker met with 49 women capturing their spirits and their lives through art.

One of her subjects, rancher Billie Roney of Chico, was moved when she first saw the finished portrait of herself. “I look like the weight of the world is on my back,” Roney says, explaining that the portrait embodies her determination and her profound sadness. “I thought I’d be shown a portrait of the typical smiling cowgirl.”

Roney had been advocating for the cattle industry when Lanker came to interview her. “She took the time to listen to my tales of what was happening, how ranchers were suffering so many kinds of economic as well as political blows from people who loathed but didn’t understand ranching and cattle at all,” Roney says.

Though the process for each piece was the same, each portrait is unique. After Lanker spent time with each woman, she would sketch her subject and take photographs. For the portraits, she experimented with a variety of mediums, choosing the technique she felt best captured the subject’s character. The 49 portraits range from charcoal, oil pastel, acrylic and egg tempera to plate and stone lithography and drypoint engraving. Lanker says, “This 19-year sojourn has been almost like a second childhood for me, sitting, listening and watching these women. I learned from them, and they changed me… the resilience, character, and quiet strength of these extraordinary women will be with me forever.”

When she was 11, she sat for her portrait and became inspired by art. It was the first time she saw an artist at work. The portrait artist had card tables that were covered with hundreds of soft pastels. “My idea of art materials was limited to the Crayola jumbo box of 48 crayons,” she says. “I wanted to have hundreds of colors to work with, too. When I saw the finished product, it seemed like magic, except I had watched her do the work. Somewhere in my 11-year-old head, I started to think that if I was willing to work, I might be able to make magic happen.”

A fine artist based in Eugene, Ore., Lynda Lanker was born in 1943 in Kansas City, Mo., and raised in Wichita, Kan. She majored in painting at Wichita State University and became an art teacher. In 1969, when her first child was born and she quit teaching, she set up a studio in her home and became a serious artist.

In 1974, she married Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Lanker and moved with him to Eugene. He encouraged Lanker in her pursuit of art.

In the mid-1980s, renowned watercolor artist Millard Sheets recognized her watercolors, subsequently resulting in solo shows and workshops. Her commissioned portraits include five presidential portraits for the University of Oregon. Lanker’s current work includes stone lithography portraits of Dr. Maya Angelou and the late Oregon Supreme Court Justice Betty Roberts.

“Tough by Nature” has been exhibited in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Texas and California. The book “Tough by Nature” was published by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene. Lithographs of the portraits are available for purchase on her website.

By capturing the images of women ranchers and cowgirls, Lanker is helping to document the American West. “I became thankful that she was willing to reveal the truth of who I am, as I am,” says Roney. “It was impossible not to share my feelings about cattle, ranching and the crazy politics we endure. Lanker saw ‘me’ beyond the smiles I kept flashing at her.” •