By Molly Barber
The Wild West. Cowboys, Native Americans, mountain men- what is it about that time period that captivates my family? My grandpa and I used to read history books and stories about the different Native American tribes. We would play pretend, he as the wise medicine man and I the brave warrior. He and my uncle visited all the big Native American battle fields, something I will always envy them for. And then there’s the Big Guy. The Big Guy is pretty much obsessed with Westerns… and Jason Bourne… but mostly westerns. He even made us watch Will Penny at Christmas, his reasoning being that “it counts as a Christmas movie because there’s a Christmas scene in it”. ONE SCENE with a Christmas tree, towards the end of the film, for like 2 minutes! My point to all this is that the whole Wild West time period completely enthralls lots people; not just my family. The wonderment of that era is in all of us, it maybe latent for some but there none the less and the art of Jamie Means is captivating enough to awaken even the most dormant cases.
Now let me tell you a little bit about Jamie. My first impression of him was through his work, I was in awe of the art on my screen. I knew we had to lock down this interview. Luckily for us he was willing to play and we set up a time to meet. I met him at his studio where he creates these amazing colored pencil drawings. The walls are covered in props he’s used for his art, a giant drawing table sits by a window overlooking his property, and classic country music softly haunts the airwaves throughout the house. He had a bunch of his artwork in boxes that he ships himself.
As I was shown drawing after drawing I was fairly certain he must have taken numerous classes, you couldn’t be that good on your own. But he was, I asked him about classes, if he’d studied art, “Not other than doodling. I was a rougher for 13 years. I started roofing at 17 but when I broke my back in 2001, that’s when I started drawing.” Jamie explained. “I always doodled. I took one semester of art class in high school, my freshman year- I hated it. I never took an art class again. You know, they wanted me to paint, do this and that. I can’t stand that. I love painted artwork but I can’t stand doing it. Just not my cup of tea.”
I was kind of dumbfounded because his work is amazing and it’s all self taught. “I was laying flat on my back for close to a year, before and after surgery. I was just drawing away and people started buying them, for some reason. I entered a bunch of stuff into The Legacy Gallery and they took it. 2001 I broke my back and I think about 2003 or 2004 was when I got into Legacy.” Jamie said. “When I was there I sold, then after a while I just couldn’t get them enough, so it was the end of that. Now it’s really tough- western art isn’t as big as it was back then, really no art is. The dead guys are still selling pretty well and very few older guys that are still alive. The masters.”
He’s so modest about his talent and art he even joked about not having a favorite because he gets so sick of looking at all of them while working on them. His drawings have so much detail. He told me he spends close to 300 hours on some of them.
I was curious about the newest project he had on his drawing board and he told me the inspiration came from conversations he’d had with a friend about the man’s father who served in WWII. Jamie asked his friend if he and his son would be interested in posing for him and they agreed. “This will be like a WWII homecoming. He’s in an army uniform and it’s just everybody meeting him on the way home you know?And this (the background) is right out here on the road as you’re coming in, except I made Shasta bigger.” Jamie said. “You know, this one, when it gets done, I’m gonna donate all the proceeds to veterans. If it works out and I don’t choke on coffee and spit it all over the drawing… or spill my beer on it.” Since I interviewed Jamie he has finished that drawing and named it Twas The Fall of ‘45. He’s also decided donate the proceeds to The Gary Sinise Foundation.
I think there is always going to be a part of us that is captivated by this part of our past- whether we play as the “Cowboy” or the “Indian”, we feel this kindred spirit to them. Maybe it’s the feral part of us that longs for a time spent more in nature, more free and open. Whatever that feeling is Jamie seems to capture it completely in his art and you can’t help but feel connected to it. If you want to check out more of Jamie’s work you can find it at his website jamiemeanswesternart.com. He also does shows at the Highlands Ranch Resort in Mill Creek, so keep your eyes peeled for those events. Jamie’s a character and getting a chance to see his work and talk to him is a treat.
I know Jamie will never admit it but he’s an amazing artist; one that has the power to invoke in his audience a feeling of nostalgia. Like the Big Guy with his westerns and me with my grandpa’s stories, these drawings are the strings that weave the narrative of an era that calls to us. A narrative that makes us homesick for a time we didn’t experince but can’t forget.