Editor’s note: Big Bend artist A. Kelly Pruitt died Sunday in Presidio; he was born Feb. 9, 1924, somewhere in Arkansas. His good friend Woody Crumbo - Sul Ross, 1964-1968, as he says - wrote this tribute.
By Woody “Trail” Crumbo / Special to the Avalanche
The Big Bend’s A. Kelly Pruitt was literally a legend in his own time. Undoubtedly Kelly was best known as an Artist — a Western artist.
Kelly’s magnificent oil paintings and bronze sculptures are proudly displayed in art museums and private collections all across America and around the world.
Kelly was much, much more than an artist. He was a writer, poet, philosopher, spiritual visionary and an intellectual; however, more than even that, he was an extremely kind, courteous, and compassionate gentleman.
There was another facet to Kelly that shocking to many — he lived by his own rules and guidelines. Kelly did not like to live in a house like most of us. He chose to live in a ti-pi, a tent or one of his famous artfully handcrafted Gypsy wagons. He loved animals and considered his dogs — Wizard, Gracie and Wolf — a part of his family
Many of you reading this tribute to Kelly knew him much longer than I did. Anyone who knew Kelly for whatever period of time was well aware of the fact that they had encountered a unique human being.
Such was my meeting Kelly 39 years ago in his beautiful art gallery in Taos, New Mexico. I knew in the first five minutes of my time with Kelly that I had met the one human being that I had been waiting a lifetime to meet.
Even though we were both artists and had cowboy backgrounds, it was something else that created our instant and life-long bond. I was starving to death spiritually and was in search of a person that had true spiritual knowledge and wisdom and would share it with me. Kelly was not only generous with his vast deep teachings, he was also patient. He was the mentor … I can only wish I were a better student.
Let’s back up a little and take a look at Kelly’s early years.
He was born on the family farm in Arkansas during the early years of the Great Depression. Times became exceedingly difficult, so like multitudes of other Americans, the Pruitt family packed their few possessions and headed West. There was a short and traumatic stopover in Oklahoma.
Then, rather than going on to California with the mass migration. the Pruitt family settled in the Big Bend country of West Texas in Presidio.
Fate and destiny no doubt had a hand in choosing West Texas for the home for this pre-schooler that was to fall in love with this land and its people. He was to spend the greater majority of his life painting, sculpting and writing his vision of this vast, haunting Big Bend country and the people and spirits who live and have lived here.
Formal education was not to be for Kelly — he did finish the 3rd grade. His education, which was vast and awe-inspiring, some might call it metaphysical or spiritual. It was amazing to watch Phd’s, academia and the like struggle to formulate intelligent questions and responses when having a conversation with Kelly.
After the 3rd grade Kelly worked at various jobs around Presidio. As he got older he found that he enjoyed the cowboy lifestyle, even running wild horses in what is now Big Bend State Park. This all was to set the stage for the Western art that was to come.
World War II found Kelly in the Pacific Theater experiencing such violence that he was reluctant to talk about it. He did complete a manuscript on Burma (possibly a book is yet to come).
Home from the war, Kelly moved with his wife and children to Arizona where he began his 50-plus years as an artist. Arizona did not hold Kelly long. He was soon back in Texas painting along his beloved Rio Grande.
For about 40 years, Kelly spent his summers at his art gallery in Taos, N.M., returning to the Big Bend to spend his winters. There was also a fair bit of time spent on some of the larger ranches in Northern Mexico. For many years Kelly created large numbers of original sculptures that he shipped to Rome, Italy, and had cast in bronze at Italian foundries, later to be shipped back to the United States.
Collectors and admirers often asked Kelly where he studied art. Part of the answer was that he was self-taught.
But there was more; Kelly painted by spirit. There was some magical, angelic energy that flowed through Kelly as he painted. Often he visited with friends while painting and hardly looked at the canvas, yet a masterpiece would come forward with seemingly little or no effort on the part of the artist.
Pruitt was also a writer. Recent books include “I Will Always Come Home,” “Legend of the Kings,” “For the Love of Lucia.”
While these three works are strongly autobiographical, they are teaching tools for the spiritual path which Kelly followed and never waivered from. This spiritual path was affectionately referred to as “the Warrior’s way” by Kelly. They are all three wonderful light reading on the surface. However, for anyone seriously interested in the evolution of the soul, these works can be extremely challenging.
He was constantly working on some project — gypsy wagons, training a horse, building a jaclito or a picture frame. He would paint anything from an Indian ti-pi to a stretch limo. Many people saw Kelly in the glamorous role of the artist, which he wore well. He seemed larger than life in many ways; however, he was still a human and experienced highs and lows that everyone faces, emotionally, finacially, etc. When Kelly was in a low period or blue time he tended to stay out in the desert by himself. Our dear friend, Kelly, lived his life very much in the present, which he referred to as “being in the now.” Kelly also lived his life with great dignity, right up to the end.
Friends and family are grateful to Kelly’s very good friend Terry Bishop of Presidio. Terry was with Kelly in his Gypsy wagon and his dogs as he took his last breath. One of Kelly’s great “intentions” was to pass from this life in a state of conciousness and not be drugged with chemicals and medications. Terry was kind enough to facilitate Kelly’s last wish right to the grave. Kelly was buried in his cowboy bedroll wearing a white shirt, Levis and a colorful scarf — boots and hat went along.
In visiting Kelly’s daughter, Anna, and her daughter, they remembered Kelly telling them many times that when he died he was going to leave this earth on a comet. That huge fireball that screamed across Texas on the day of his passing cause many of us to winder if he did leave this beautiful earth riding a celestial comet — that would be just like A. Kelly Pruitt.
Three things are in my mind: 1. Will Kelly’s unpublished manuscripts become books? 2. Will there be an art show in retrospect? 3. Will there ever be a Museum Memorial Center along the Rio Grande, similar to the one honoring Dr. Barton Warnock?