Elgin Pruiett joins art fest to share brother’s famous works
April 20th, 2017 under Arts
By CAMERON DODD
PRESIDIO — Elgin Pruiett has come to Presidio to promote the legacy of his brother, the late artist A. Kelly Pruitt.
Pruiett will be on site at the Presidio Bi-national Fine Arts Festival on Saturday to answer questions and tell stories about his famous brother’s life and artwork. Eight years after Kelly Pruitt’s death, Pruiett hopes to rekindle interest in his brother’s legacy.
Pruiett is the younger brother of the late A. Kelly Pruitt, a painter, sculptor, writer and itinerant cowboy adventurer who spent much of his life bouncing around the American Southwest but always returning for extended stays in Presidio. Pruitt passed away in Presidio in 2009 and is buried at the La Junta Heritage Center, northwest of town. The artist dropped the “e” from his last name after finding some success as an artist.
At 89, Elgin Pruiett is honest about this being one of his last treks from his home in Kingsland, near Marble Falls, all the way down to the border town where he spent six years as a child. But he’s driven farther for his brother. Around 1950, Pruiett recalled, he drove from Artesia, New Mexico, to Chihuahua City rescue his brother and family after a plan to strike it rich fell flat.
“He called and asked, ‘How’d you like a paid vacation?’” Pruiett said. “The paid vacation ended up paid out of my own pocket. He didn’t have a penny or window to throw it out of.”
At the height of his career, Pruitt was selling paintings and sculptures depicting iconic western scenes and stories for thousands of dollars. But the simple living Pruitt was generous with his friends, liked to have a good time and fast with cash.
“When he started being a famous painter, he didn’t care a penny for money,” Pruiett said of his brother. “He’d give paintings away, or trade a picture for a paint job on his car.”
Pruiett, with Kelly and three other siblings, grew up in what he describes as a migrant family. They travelled between Arkansas and Texas working in agriculture and doing odd jobs for money. The Pruiett family followed their search for work down to Presidio’s in the 1930s to work in the then-thriving cotton industry. Pruiett and his family were here for about six years, one of the longest stationary periods of his childhood.
The Presidio Pruiett recalls from his youth is one of unabashed child labor and joyous youth dances in the park; a town where poor gringo families lived next door to aged Mexican revolutionaries; where open country offered the possibility for adventure and inspired young artists and storytellers. After school, he and his brother would roller skate or catch and ride wild burros. For a family that was often on the move, the six years the Pruietts spent together in Presidio was a considerable break from the rootless migration.
Kelly Pruitt dropped out of fifth grade at the Presidio school and eventually joined the cavalry station here. He had long aspired to be a cowboy, Pruiett said, once making a pair of chaps from his mother’s tablecloth.
After his service, Pruitt travelled often, to Mexico, Italy and India, among other places, and dabbled in various spiritual traditions. He lived among Native Americans in New Mexico and Arizona, briefly converted to Mormonism and possibly married a Mennonite. But the itinerant artist Pruitt always returned to Presidio. For the playful, creative and flirtatious cowboy painter, Presidio held memories of his youth.
“Our childhood was here,” Pruiett said. “Our other childhood was in 40 different places. So we were here for a period of time growing from children into adults.”
As an adult, Pruitt kept a study in Taos, New Mexico, but spent his winters living in an old school bus near the Rio Grande in Presidio.
“He loved Presidio, every chance he got he’d come back here… Kelly could come down here and be free, do whatever he wanted to do,” Pruiett said.
“I think the river, this country, there was something about this place,” Terry Bishop, long-time friend of Kelly Pruitt’s, said. “He loved to walk. Surveyors have told me about being out in the middle of nowhere and all of sudden Kelly would come walking by with his dogs.”
Many of the A. Kelly Pruitt paintings that will be shown at the art festival on Saturday belong in Pruitt and Bishop’s personal collections. They depict cattle drives and lone riders, canyons and river scenes. One painting, “Utah Carol,” is Pruitt’s depiction of a folk song about a cowboy who gives his life to keep a young girl from being trampled to death by a stampede.
For Pruiett, his brother’s life lives on in his work. From his childhood on, Pruitt had an endless imagination. Throughout his life Kelly Pruitt crafted an aura of western mythos about himself, embodying the popular image of a true cowboy and preserving images of waning lifestyle that only lives on in art and the rarest corners of the county. It was a trait the artist carried with him all his life. Pruiett recalls campfires with his brother and friends where all the other children were mesmerized by Pruitt’s storytelling abilities.
“All his pictures, he had a story for them,” Pruiett said. “He prophesied when he died he’d ride out on a comet. The night he passed away there was a comet in the sky.”
Elgin Pruiett will be on site at the gallery space next to the Dollar Tree on O’Reilly Street starting at 10am Saturday as part of the Presidio Bi-national Fine Arts Festival. The festival begins Thursday with an opening show and continues through Saturday night.
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