Book pairs Western paintings with cowboy poets

'A Handshake is Enough' is about partnerships

Marless Fellows’s painting “Mischief” helped introduce her to the world of cowboy poetry. (MARLESS FELLOWS/Courtesy)

Marless Fellows’s painting “Mischief” helped introduce her to the world of cowboy poetry. (MARLESS FELLOWS/Courtesy)

KINGMAN - A Cave Creek artist and a collection of poets are helping keep the cowboy lifestyle alive in a new book of paintings and poems that embodies the cowboy way of life.

Marless Fellows said her new book, "A Handshake is Enough," is a project featuring 36 of her paintings coupled with poems from nine cowboy poets across the West. It also features an introduction to Fellows and the cowboy way of life written by Leslie Bay.

"I started painting about 21 years ago. I was one of those kids who sat and doodled and drew all the time," said Fellows.

"I always had that love of that lifestyle and the West because we were raised with the cowboy code. We all had to raise horses and cows. I was a competitive barrel racer when I was a teenager. It was a real, healthy good life for a little kid."

Bay, Fellows' biography writer, was crossing paths with Fellows for most of her adult life.

"I can remember seeing the cowboys taking the herds when I was driving to and from ASU," said Bay. "I was seeing her family's sheep going down the trail."

Her love for writing and their mutual desire to preserve the West brought them together.

"It's a real team," added Bay.

Cowboy poetry is different, depending on whom you talk to.

"It comes from a rural foundation," said Skylar Harwood, a trooper from the Utah Highway Patrol and one of the poets in the book.

"Pastoral poetry," said Sam DeLeeuw, a retired juvenile probation officer from Utah and another poet from the book.

"It just keeps the cowboy and the wild west alive," said Gary Penney, a retired quality technician from the Mars Candy Co. in Waco, Texas.

"It talks about the day in the life of a cowboy," said Ol' Jim Cathey, a retired school teacher from Texas.

The poets and Fellows each have different stories and backgrounds, but they share the same love for cowboys and the West.

Fellows initially met up with the poets three years ago at the annual Arizona Cowboys Poets Gathering in Prescott. One of her paintings, entitled "Mischief," was selected as the theme of the event. During one of the sessions, poets and writers were challenged to write about the painting and submit their own take on it.

"I was just blown away," said Fellows.

Fellows saw a unique and different project there and decided to pursue it. Over the next three years, she sent her paintings to poets across the country. She would send them every two months, and a poet would have two months to write a poem about it.

"It's been a ball," said Deleeuw.

The poets wouldn't get a title or suggestions to write. They would have to draw from their own experiences and inspiration and write what moved them about the painting.

"It motivated me to sit down and write," said Penney. "I've explored things in my mind and heart that I wouldn't have looked at if it weren't for this project."

The 112-page book can be found online at www.saddleupgallery.com or visiting Fellows's gallery in Cave Creek.

As for the title?

"The integrity of the cowboy code was built on a handshake," said Fellows. "There's also a beautiful handshake between the two artists."