A cowgirl’s heart with the soul of an artist describes Sonoita resident and nationally acclaimed artist Deborah Fellows. As the creator of the cowboy on the quarter horse statue that adorns the entrance to the Santa Cruz CountyFairgrounds and as the designer of the ‘Welcome to Sonoita’ signs which greet motorists as they approach town from all four directions, Fellows has added her own special touch of beauty to the local area.
The daughter of a three-time world champion bronc rider (who still rides at the age of 94), Fellows was born and raised on a ranch in northern Idaho, so is no stranger to the western culture of cattle and quarter horses. She’s an accomplished horsewoman, barrel racer, former rodeo queen and team roper as well as an honoree in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. She and her husband, Fred, have been avid team ropers, their walls attest to that endeavor with pictures of their competing and helping area ranchers at roundup time. She is also a nationally renowned artist with sculptures displayed from coast to coast.
Fellows’ early years on the ranch prepared her for the tough career choice as an artist. “You need to have a tough hide but still have the sensitivity to see the dew on the rose,” she said. She found this especially true being a woman in this competitive profession. However, Fellows has found that even though her calling as an artist is “difficult to start, it is a great profession to finish.”
One of the projects she is currently working on is a sculpture honoring the firefighters of the tragic 2013 Yarnell Fire where nineteen hot shot firefighters lost their lives. Fellows stated that this can be emotionally draining as she forms the subject. She must keep from letting that emotion bring her down while still creating an accurate expression on the face and in the demeanor of the sculpted firefighter. Her art is a “conduit of the subject matter to the consumer” and as that, she strives to create that link honorably and scrupulously.
This attention to detail in her work has earned her a lifetime membership into the National Sculpture Society. Fellows meticulously researches her subjects before starting a project and sees every creation as a learning opportunity. These qualities in her as an artist has industries, governments and individuals seeking her out, which is a comfortable place for an artist to be professionally.
Having visited southern Arizona from time to time when participating in various art events, Fellows was familiar with the area. She and husband decided to relocate from Montana to settle in Sonoita. They purchased 79 acres just north of town in 1999 and constructed their adobe home and studio in the grasslands, surrounded by BLM land. After completing their home, they both continued their busy art careers, inspired by the Sky Islands. “This area allows my spirit to soar. The sunrises and sunsets elevate the spirit, enhances sensitivity and broadens my scope, she said. “There’s an atmosphere of wholeness here and my soul is settled by the wonders of the area.” She truly appreciates how beautiful it is and is thankful for her good fortune in finding this place.
In 2010 there was a movement to discontinue the horse races at the Sonoita Fairgrounds. Since Fellows’ heart was with the quarter horse industry as a breeder and competitor, she and her husband became involved with the Fairgrounds Association to ensure that the tradition of racing in Sonoita continued. Fellows remained an active contributor and volunteer for the Sonoita Horse Races for five years.
Fellows and husband share their lives with their dogs, quarter horses, cattle and a burro. They are also hosts to thirteen grandchildren as they drop in from time to time. Deb has a daughter, Fabienne, who has four children. Fred contributes the other nine grandchildren. They welcome the visits and have constructed a large teepee for them to play and sleep in when they come. They all enjoy riding the horses and learning the ‘western ways’.
“Art is my best friend” states Deb Fellows. Her life here is complete and filled with the area’s natural beauty as well as the beauty she creates in her large, bright art studio. World class talent, right here in Sonoita, Fellows and her husband are remarkable residents of the community. For more information about the Fellows, visit www.fellowsstudios.com.