Longtime cowgirl engraves love of West in her art
July 22, 2005
Virginia McCuin does art the cowboy way.
Which is not surprising, since she lived most of her 64 years on a ranch outside of Tonopah.
McCuin makes wearable silver art with a Western theme – pendants, buckles, bolo ties, earrings – as well as small sculptures. Her work has been recognized with awards from Washington to Texas.
The Silver Springs resident began by making items for cowboys on the Nevada ranch she owned with her husband.
“That’s how it kind of started, because cowboys back then, they didn’t make a lot of wages,” she said. “They still don’t make a lot of wages but if they could have a pair of silver spurs or silver conchos, it was really nice.”
Her days of making silver trinkets for cowboys led to several honors and a whole new career as an artist. She has been awarded the Nevada Governor’s Art Award and was invited to send pieces to the Smithsonian Institute in 2006 to the Great American Cowboy Show.
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She also received the Will Rogers Engraver of the Year award from the Academy of Western Artists at a ceremony in Dallas.
McCuin is self-taught, and creates images of cowboys, cowgirls, wildlife and almost anything else associated with the West that created her.
She was raised on Twin Springs Ranch outside of Tonopah and spent her life working the ranch along with her family.
“We gathered cattle in the spring and in the fall,” she said. “We did the branding, picked up the ones that were going to be cold. We weaned and fed calves in the winter.”
The ranch in Reveille Valley would be her home after she married as well, after a brother died and her father became ill and leased the ranch to her and her husband, Patrick. Later the McCuins would move to Las Vegas and sell the ranch to the last surviving of her three brothers.
“It was a family ranch and we all pitched in and helped,” she said. “When you went around the wells, and did the pumping for the cattle, you made a 100-mile trip.”
Later, she and her husband purchased the Currant Ranch located between Tonopah and Ely on Highway 6, where they raised cattle, hay, ran a bar and cafe, motel, trailer park, Laundromat and truckstop. “It was a workhorse place,” she said.
Eventually they sold that ranch also, after her son and daughter decided they wanted to go to college. The McCuins moved to Las Vegas – where they also kept horses and cattle.
Las Vegas is where she learned engraving, but with little help from any craftsman in the business.
“I went to an engraver and asked him if I could watch him, and he said ‘no,'” McCuin said. “He said ‘I served an apprenticeship in the old country and I’m not going to tell you anything.’ So I taught myself.”
McCuin said she began working with turquoise, learned how to run a torch and began making and wearing her Western jewelry.
“People would ask, ‘Where’d you get that,’ and I started selling pieces off myself,” she said.
She soon purchased equipment and began learning one phase of her craft at a time until she could do it all, she said. By the early 1980s she was engraving.
Flat engravers, point engravers, lining engravers; McCuin learned to sharpen, shape, set in handles and use them all.
“I would practice trying to make different cuts, trying to make a flower or a scroll,” she said. “It was a struggle, but I basically learned.”
One day McCuin went to a show of the Firearms Engravers Guild of America, and there she found support from fellow artists.
“They were very good because anything you asked them they would tell you what to do or show you what to do,” she said.
Eight years ago, she and Patrick retired and moved to Silver Springs, where she continued with her art.
She appears at professional gift shows in Las Vegas, Mule Days in Bishop, Calif., Reno’s Rocky Mountain Elk show and Elko’s Cowboy Poetry Festival, among many others.
Though she loves her second career, she can’t say she likes it more than ranching.
“Well, I loved them both, they’re just hand-in-hand with me,” she said. “I’d love to have a ranch again, but I’m too old.”
— Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 882-2111 ext. 351.
Contact Virginia McCuin
Call (775) 577-4102