This Cowboy Artist Ain't No Cowboy


As a self-proclaimed western artist, it figures that a lot of Jim Hagen's paintings include cowboys and horses.

What seems surprising is that a good many of them also feature quail until he explains why.

"They're very colorful and they lend themselves to small paintings, and the biggest problem people have with fine art is that they don't have the wall space," Hagen, a resident of Christopher Creek, said. "I've heard that 100 times."

Of course, it helps that Hagen also has a special affinity for quail.

"They have distinct personalities," he said. "Sometimes they hunch up. Sometimes they run with their necks extended like a giraffe. They are just so beautiful, and they have a haunting, plaintive call. And then I love the desert and they fit into the desert."

Hagen's paintings always begin with the setting, into which he places his subjects.

"I love the mountains, I love the West, I love scenery, I love landscapes, but I've never painted a landscape without putting people or horses or animals into it.

"I work from photographs. I get landscapes I want to paint and then I put something in it quail or horses. I make up the painting that I wish I could have photographed the scene that never happened."

Hagen, who has owned horses, considers himself a mountain man rather than a cowboy. And he disagrees with those who say only a cowboy can paint horses.

"My answer to that is that I never knew what a horse looked like until I painted it," he said. "That's how you really learn about horses."

Now retired, Hagen started painting in California where he worked as an aerospace engineer.

" A neighbor invited us over and their children were doing watercolors," he said. "It looked like fun, so I played with them for awhile. A little later, my wife bought an easel and some paints for me at a yard sale. One rainy weekend she was out of town, so I decided to paint.

"I just copied a photograph of a Labrador. It turned out pretty good, so in 1981, a friend of mine, a wildlife artist, said why don't you do four or five paintings and come to the (George) Phippen (Memorial Art) Show in Prescott."

"I sold them all and took first place," he said. "Unfortunately, that was the last good year for art in a long time. I went back the next year with 10 or 12 paintings and sold nothing."

After painting every evening for several years, Hagen took a decade off from his art beginning in 1988 to retire to the Rim country and build a house.

"I first discovered the Payson area in 1938 when I came to Camp Geronimo as a Boy Scout," he said. "Then I worked on the staff at the camp for many years.

"During the war, I fought forest fires in the Mazatzals. During the war years, there was nobody to fight fires but old men and young kids, and if you were 16 or older you'd get pressed into service.

"I've had a cabin in Christopher Creek since 1957 where we'd spend summer vacations. When I stopped painting, it was to build a home across the street from the cabin. We still have both places, and in the summertime we use them both. Now that it's done, I'm back to painting but now I do it in spurts. I love the outdoors, and it seems like there's always things like firewood to do."

While he appears in Payson Art League Shows and Art in the Park at the Rim Country Western Heritage Festival, Hagen's work is also available through his website (www.western

Besides featuring Hagen's paintings and his wife's stained glass, the site also offers an inspirational page he calls "Words To Live By."

"I wanted some reason for people to continue to look at the site, so each month I feature a new word. I have some 400 positive words like 'love,' 'thoughtfulness' and, this month, 'honor.'

"Through scriptures, stories, quotations and definitions, I look at all aspects of the word. There's personal honor, honor to others, honor to country, honor to God."

Much of what he has to say on his website is based on the experiences of a life that has been both active and interesting.

"I nearly drowned twice," he said. "I bailed out of a plane at 600 feet and barely got the chute open before I hit the ground. My work took me around the world."

That he chose this area to spend the rest of his life says a lot about the area, but perhaps even more about Jim Hagen, a man who finds both inspiration and fulfillment in the simple beauty of the Rim country.

Name: Jim Hagen

Occupation: Retired engineer/program manager

Employer: Motorola, Ford Motor Company, Xerox, Loral

Age: 75

Birthplace: St. Louis, Mo.

Family: Wife, Marlene, three children, six grandchildren, a yellow Labrador Retriever named Mandy. Son, Daniel, is a real estate appraiser in Payson.

Personal motto: Live and let live; love and be loved; thank God for each day, and, with His help, make it a good one.

Inspiration: Good music, the Bible, family

Greatest feat: First place for oil painting in the 10th annual George Phippen Memorial Art Show (1981)

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Oil painting, hiking, photography

Three words that describe me best: Energetic, conscientious, loving

I don't want to brag but ... I once bowled a 294 game. I met King Hussein and Queen Noor and gave him a painting on his 50th birthday.

The person in history I'd most like to meet: Leonardo DaVinci, a great artist but also an engineer, architect, mathematician and designer of weaponry.

Luxury defined: Quiet, uninterrupted time after a delicious, home-cooked dinner.

Dream vacation spot: Under the Mogollon Rim.

Why Payson? I'm a mountain man and they don't get much better than here. I first came here when it was an eight-hour drive from Phoenix.

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