Walter Piehl, born into a family that raised rodeo stock, rode horses as a matter of course. When he arrived at graduate school at the University of Minnesota in 1969, Bill Goldstein, now the Director of Universal Limited Art Editions but then a fellow student, commented that from the beginning Walter drew with great confidence and skill. We were beginning students and he arrived full-blown. He put his hand to paper and the lines flowed. And he drew horses.
But before that, at the beginning of his experience with the world outside of Marion, North Dakota, Walter went to Concordia, a small Lutheran college in Moorhead, Minnesota, enrolling in 1960. Cy Running was his teacher. Walter was the skittish colt. I was so used to calendar art, to illustration, to cowboy art as it appeared in the magazines, I had a hard time.
Piehl went on to draw and paint horses, year after year, never wearying of his subject, never despairing in his quest to create contemporary Western art. In the beginning he worked alone, one of the very first to turn his back on the established ways of painting and bronze casting, rendered into cliché by followers of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. By 1978 Piehl and his horses were well on their way. By drawing, overdrawing, and re-drawing, Piehl could leave the traces of movement on the paper. He worked and reworked the surface, always leaving enough description for the viewer to follow the motion of a falling hat, a rider flying backward, the gesture of a flinging hand, a boot following the body into a somersault as the rider is tossed.
As he matured, his skill as a painter matured as well. Just as he was interested in observing the subtlety of a creek bottom, he wanted his surfaces to dance with subtle variations. Drips, feathered edges, scumbled paint, the judicious use of glazes, all contribute to his rich surfaces.
Today Piehl is widely recognized as one of North Dakota’s senior painters and as the artist who singularly pioneered the contemporary cowboy art movement.