Dye's natural affinity with horses was apparent from his earliest years in Colorado, when, according to his mother, his first word was "horse" and his first real love was his horse, Old Navajo.² When he was about seven years old, Dye rode Old Navajo in a few scenes for a local movie production. He was a hit with audiences and eventually moved to California, where he spent downtime on set sketching his home and beloved horse from memory. Longing for ...

Dye's natural affinity with horses was apparent from his earliest years in Colorado, when, according to his mother, his first word was "horse" and his first real love was his horse, Old Navajo.² When he was about seven years old, Dye rode Old Navajo in a few scenes for a local movie production. He was a hit with audiences and eventually moved to California, where he spent downtime on set sketching his home and beloved horse from memory. Longing for ranch-life, by age 17, Dye was a top hand with colts, working at ranches across Southern California, Oregon and Arizona, and even rodeoing. Many of the ranches' bunkhouses now displayed his drawings of bucking horses and ranch scenes.³

A book of Charles M. Russell drawings introduced Dye to the idea of becoming a professional artist. In early 1926, he moved to Chicago to attend the Art Institute and American Academy of Art, where, under Felix G. Schmidt's tutelage, Dye's career hit a new stride in advertisement illustrating. Schmidt moved his studio to New York City in 1935, and Dye followed, working first at a commercial studio, then a partnership with Schmidt in Schmidt Studios, painting illustrations and covers for publications such as The Saturday Evening Post. In 1947, Dye moved his family to Virginia to set up his own studio and continued illustrating for New York accounts, including American Weekly and Argosy.

In 1956, when visiting his ill sister out west, he was surprised Western art was selling well in galleries. Dye planned a permanent move back west and began painting. Fortuitous connections led Dye to two of his longest-standing gallery relationships, first in 1957 in Taos, New Mexico, and in 1959 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Initially splitting time between painting and teaching at the Colorado Institute of Art, by 1962, able to paint full-time, Dye and his wife permanently moved to Sedona, Arizona. Surrounded by cattle ranches and landscape, Dye produced some of his finest paintings from this studio and solidified his legacy in Western art as one of the four founders of the Cowboy Artists of America.

Thanks to his disciplined work ethic and succinct storytelling ability, Dye was a prolific painter, most adept at depicting family life in a humorous and true Americana theme, much like Norman Rockwell, one of his favorite illustrators. A gifted draftsman, Dye used sketches and drawings to rough out his paintings.⁴ His process included a pencil thumbnail, a full-color oil sketch, and finally a canvas-size finished pencil drawing before his final painting. "Cartoons" were common among artists but never sold as finished works, with the exception of Dye, whose sketches became a collector's item.

Dye prided himself on his intimate knowledge of the working cowboy, his understanding of the West, and his ability to portray these in his paintings with painstakingly accurate details on every figure. He also held his fellow artists to the same standard, notoriously pointing out technical mistakes in the depicted gear or horse.⁵ Dye's cowboy artwork is largely depicted in two distinct manners – one illustrating a solitary figure enveloped in quiet or reflective moments, and one fundamentally action-driven, showcasing the humor in the raucous shenanigans of a cowboy's daily life.⁶

Dye reminisced that while the real cattle days, ended before he was born, he had a great time watching as Old Father Time pulled down the curtain.⁷

Reflecting on his career, Dye astutely recognized his perspective on the West was never requested by art editors in New York because of his authenticity – they wanted a Hollywood variety of the West, not the truth he illustrated. "I guess I loved the West too much. I couldn't lie about a sweetheart." ⁹

¹ C. Dye, P.E. Weaver, Charlie Dye: One Helluva Western Painter, Los Angeles, California, 1981, p. 8.
² Ibid, p. 18.
³ Ibid, p. 28.
⁴ Ibid, p. 6.
⁵ Cowboy Artists of America, www.cowboyartistsofamerica.com.
⁶ Weaver, p. 104.
⁷ Ibid, pp. 4-6.
⁸ Ibid, p. 132.

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