Southwest Style

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, built 1869

I’m not sure what it is in a person’s makeup that draws them to certain things, but I’ve always loved the art and architecture of the Southwest. Adobe homes, Spanish tiles, turquoise doors, Native American art and jewelry and pottery. I used to flip through the pages of home magazines to appreciate the various layouts and decor. I’d imagine having an adobe home with an interior courtyard complete with cobalt blue tiles as accents and a fountain. I think part of this may have come from some long-ago historical romance I read that had something to do with Pancho Villa and had a hacienda with such a courtyard described. Alas, I don’t remember the book or the author.

Palace of the Governors, built 1610

Back in the 1990s, I went to a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico for my day job. I had one afternoon where I could just wander around the city and loved every minute of it. I visited the old churches such as the Loretto Chapel and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi; took a trolley tour around the area; admired the bright and beautiful art at the city’s many, many art galleries; appreciated the public art that was seemingly everywhere; and perused the wonderful works of craftsmanship by residents of the nearby pueblos — art, jewelry and pottery that they offered for sale outside the Palace of the Governors. The Palace sits on the city’s plaza in the middle of town. It was built in 1610 and is the oldest continuously occupied building in the United States.

It really is amazing how incredibly different even sections of the West can be from each other. Texas is different from New Mexico is different from Montana. They are all beautiful in their own ways and have their own distinctive styles and cultures. But the Southwest is perhaps the most distinctive because of its Native American and Spanish/Mexican influences. It takes on the brown and red earthy hues of the rugged Southwestern landscape and adds in incredibly eye-popping colors — blues, reds, oranges and purples. Adobes pots and trellises overflow with tons of vibrant pink bougainvillea.

I’d really like to visit Santa Fe again sometime when I have more than an afternoon to explore. There are things I missed and even more that have been added in the years since I visited.

Are you a fan of Southwestern architecture and art? What are your favorite styles? Let me know what you think for a chance to win an autographed copy of my book, The Rancher’s Surprise Baby, which releases next week. It’s the latest in my Blue Falls, Texas series from Harlequin Western Romance and the second book featuring the five siblings of the Hartley family. Yes, it’s my birthday today, but I’m giving away a present instead. 🙂

Movie Quotes: You Can’t Say it Better Than That!


I love good dialogue, especially when it delivers the unexpected or makes me laugh. Dialogue sparkles when it reveals insight into the character, adds conflict, or moves the plot forward. I also like dialogue that adds sexual tension—hee haw!  Here are a few of my favorite western movie quotes.

The Ououtlawtlaw Josey Wales

Josey Wales: When I get to liking someone, they ain’t around long.
Lone Watie: I notice when you get to disliking someone they ain’t around for long neither.


Once Upon a Time in the West

Wobbles: You can trust me, Frank.
Frank: Trust ya? How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders, a man who can’t even trust his own pants?

True Grit

Rooster Cogburn: Damn that Texan, when you need him he’s dead.

The Magnificent Seven

Chico: Ah, that was the greatest shot I’ve ever seen.
Britt: The worst! I was aiming at the horse.


 Wyatt Earp: You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?


The kid:  Well, I guess they had it comin’.
Munny: We all got it comin’, kid.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

 Man with no name: See, in this world, there’s two kinds of people, my friend. Those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig.

 The Cowboys

Jebediah: Above all, forgive me for the men I’ve killed in anger…and those I am about to.cowboy

 Pale Rider

Preacher (played by Clint Eastwood): Well, if you’re waitin’ for a woman to make up her mind, you may have a long wait.

 Support Your Local Sheriff

Jake: You want me to tell Joe Danby that he’s under arrest for murder? What’re you gonna do after he kills me?
Jason: Then I’ll arrest him for both murders.

The Searchers

Martin: I hope you die!
Ethan: That’ll be the day.

Blazing Saddles

Lamarr: Taggart.
Taggart: Yes, sir.
Lamarr: I’ve decided to launch an attack that will reduce Rock Ridge to ashes.
Taggart: What do you want me to do, sir?
Lamarr: I want you to round up every vicious criminal and gunslinger in the West. Take this down: I want rustlers, cut-throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes, mugs, pugs, thugs, nit-wits, half-wits, dim-wits, vipers, snipers, con-men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bush-whackers, horn-swagglers, horse-thieves, bull-dykes, train-robbers, bank-robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers, and Methodists!
Taggart: Could you repeat that, sir?

GWTWWestern movies aren’t known for love or romance, so I offer one of my favorite romantic quotes from Gone with The Wind:

Rhett Butler (who else?) You should be kissed — and often — and by someone who knows how.

And finally, here’s one from my soon-to-be-released book Left at the Altar

Josie (when the groom fails to show up for the wedding) You don’t suppose something might have happened to Tommy, do you? An accident?
Meg (the bride) It better have!

Do you have a favorite book or movie quote to share?  If not, which of the movie quotes above did you like best?

LeftattheAltarfinalcoverWelcome to Two-Time Texas:

Where tempers burn hot

Love runs deep

And a single marriage can unite a feuding town

…or tear it apart for good.




The Art of Hitching Horse Hair

Jeannie Watt 2Hey everyone and happy Wednesday. Today I’m going to toot my own horn and discuss a western craft I love.

I’m a hitcher. Not the kind that marries people, but rather the kind that makes custom cowboy gear out of twisted and woven horsehair.

Hitching is an ancient art and I don’t think anyone has truly nailed down where  or how long ago it started. It has been kept alive, however, in the Montana Penal system, where inmates have been creating hitched horsehair belts and headstalls (bridles) for well over a hundred years. If you visit Deer Lodge, you cabelt detailn see some beautiful hitching in the prison gift store, along with other crafts created by the inmates.

I learned to hitch in 1993, at a time when so few people were hitching, that most knew each other by name or reputation. The art re-surged during the 90s and I was lucky to have been riding that wave. I’ve shown my pieces in western art and museum shows and have been invited twice to show at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko.

So how do yhairou hitch? First you get some decent tail hair. Tail hair is different from mane hair—it’s courser and longer. Mane hair is used for the tassels and also can be twisted into ropes called mecates.

I cheat and buy violin bow hair. It’s alretied hairady cleaned and of equal length. I get it in black, brown and white. The white I dye on the stove, using plain old Rit dye, to create the not-so-natural colors.

To make a string, you count out 9 hairs if you’re using black or brown, because the hair shafts in these colors are thicker, 10 if you’re using white. You flip half of the hair around, because one end of a strand is naturally thicker than the other and this gives you a uniform thickness, and knot it. Then you split the hairs over your hand and twist. Unlike human hair, horsehair doesn’t unravel. As long as twistingit has a knot in both ends, it stays put.

After you have enough strings, you can start hitching. To do this, you fasten two long rolls of twine (I use mattress tufting twine) to a dowel, attach to the twine however many horsehair strings you need to cover the dowel, and then start weaving the horsehair over the twine in half-hitch knots—thus the term hitching. It’s essentially weaving in the round, since you turn the dowel and continue to weave around and around it, until you reach the desired length. Once you are done

All designs are woven in using different colored horsehair strings.

—a zillion weeks after you start sometimes, you pull the work off the do

wel. It comes off as a tube of horsehair and string, which is then dampened and pressed flat in a big steel press. After that you attach leather and…viola…work of usable art. And hitched horsehair is durable. People are still using horsehair gear made in the 1940s or earlier.

It takes a while to complete a project. When hitching a 1 ½ inch belt, I can finish Âľ to 1 inch in an hour, depending on the complexity of the design I’m weaving—and I’m fast.

Here are some of my finished pieces–

These are belts that I designed and made for my family. My belt is the grey and blue one on the end.



This is a checkbook cover with a hitched insert of a brand.



This is my master work—an old-style headstall. I’m still working on the reins. This took 240 hours to complete and I displayed it at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The strings for this work were very delicate–only 5 black hairs, and I worked it over a single twine.

big heastall


And this is the Michael Martin Murphy headstall—yes, he bought it, while it was on display at Cowboy Poetry and he was performing there! I was so stoked when I found out.



And that’s my craft. I’ve so enjoyed sharing with you today, and if you’re ever at a western event, keep your eyes peeled for people or horses wearing hitched horsehair. They’re out there.

The Best Unknown Architect Was a Woman!


Mary ColterThe heroine in my latest book Calico Spy is a Pinkerton detective working undercover as a Harvey Girl. Last month I wrote about Fred Harvey and how he saved early train travelers from food poisoning.

This month I want to draw your attention to Mary Colter, the woman who designed many of his hotels and restaurants. At a time when traveling was expensive and people traveled only out of necessity, she helped introduce the concept of traveling just for pleasure and that’s not all she did.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1862, she attended the California School of Design at the tender age of seventeen. She planned to support her mother and sister by teaching art. While attending school, she apprenticed as an architect.

At the time, architecture was going through great changes. Instead of emulating European styles, a new type of California architecture was in the works and Mary was influenced by this new Mission-type of design. She also believed in replicating nature by utilizing natural materials in her designs.

Mary designed this to house native American craftsmen and their wares.

After graduating in 1890, she returned to St. Paul and taught art at the Mechanic Arts High School.

She was hired by the Fred Harvey company in 1902 as an interior decorator. In the early days, Fred Harvey collected Indian art and she encouraged the company to expand on this concept. She was instrumental in reaching out to Native American craftsmen and bringing their wares into the Harvey hotel shops. This was a daring venture as the Indian Wars were still ongoing in some parts of the country, but somehow she persuaded visitors to purchase tribal pottery, blankets and jewelry—quite a feat given the times.

This was an engineering feat and was lined with steel for safety.



Eventually, Mary became the chief architect of the Fred Harvey company. The idea of a woman playing such a role in a company was unthinkable, and it wasn’t easy. She clashed with family members who carried on after Fred’s death, but eventually won them over.

Never heard of her? There’s a good reason for that. Architecture was a male dominated profession, and Mary was not credited as architect on the buildings she designed. As a result, she never gained the same recognition as many her peers such as Frank Lloyd Wright. She has been called the best unknown architect of the Southwest.

Some of Mary’s work includes the Indian Watchtower at Desert View; Lookout Studio; Hopi House; Hermit’s Rest and Painted in Painted Desert. La Posada in Winslow, Arizona was her favorite.

Historic Park Inn HotelPosada






Okay, you decide; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Park Inn Hotel is on the left and Mary’s La Posada hotel  is on the right.  Many think that had Mary been a man she would be better known today.  What do you think?

Working Undercover is No Job for A Lady!

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Elisabet Ney – Sculptor of Texas

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Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.
Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

During Spring Break this year, my daughter and I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel with a group from her high school to Italy and Greece. What an amazing experience! Ancient ruins like the Colosseum and the Parthenon, gorgeous cathedrals like St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s basilicas, and artwork from paintings to sculptures to tapestries to mosaics that simply took my breath away. One of my very favorite statues was created by the incomparable Michelangelo. His depiction of Mary holding her son after he was taken down from the cross. It is called “Pieta” which means pity in Italian. Truly stunning.

Greece, of course, is also known for their statuary, and after seeing so many examples of classical art, I started wondering about some of the artists behind the statuary closer to home. As it turns out, one of the most talented sculptors of Texas heroes is a woman.

Elisabeth NeyElisabet Ney was a German-born sculptor who worked in Europe the first half of her life, perfecting her craft and becoming so accomplished, she was commissioned to create busts of such influential world leaders as Otto von Bismarck and King George V of Hanover (pictured with her in the portrait to the left). She was the first female sculptor admitted to the all-male Munich Academy of Art.

A stringent feminist, Elisabet wore trousers and rode astride like her male counterparts. She also despised the marital state, believing it to be a form of bondage for women. However, a young (and exceedingly patient) Scottish medical student named Edward Montgomery eventually wore her down. After 10 years, he finally convinced her to marry him in 1863. That same year, he contracted tuberculosis. After struggling with the disease for many years, Montgomery took a friend’s advice and moved to the United States in 1871, to a resort for consumptives in Georgia. In 1873, after the birth of two sons, the couple moved to Waller County, Texas.

In the 1880’s, Elisabet was invited to Austin by the governor of Texas, and her artistic career gained new life. In 1892 she built a studio in north Austin and began to seek commissions. Right away, she was commissioned by the Board of Lady Managers of the Chicago World’s Fair Association to create marble figures of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston to be on display at the World’s Fair. They can now be seen in the Texas State Capitol building.

Stephen F Austin by Elisabet_Ney
Stephen F Austin
Sam Houston by Elisabet Ney
Sam Houston

Upon her death in 1907, her husband sold her studio to  Ella Dibrell, and per his wife’s wishes, bequeathed the contents to the University of Texas at Austin.  Four years later, Dibrell and other investors established the Texas Fine Arts Association in Elisabet’s honor. Today, the studio is the site of the Elisabet Ney Museum.

This passionate, strong-willed woman left her mark on Texas that still exists more than 100 years after her death. What a lasting legacy!

I can barely draw a stick figure, so art like this always leaves me amazed.

What about you?

  • Have you encountered a particular sculpture or painting that touched you in some way?
  • Have you ever wondered about the life of the artist who created it?



Welcome Carla Olson Gade!


I have a love hate relationship with cameras. I dislike being in front of the lens, but I very much enjoy being behind it. I enjoy making new pictures look old and other creative processes. My cousin, a professional photographer, took my headshots for me last year. You can see the setting I put it in, an image of an antique cabinet card and then I embellished it at Pixlr, one of my favorite online photo editing tools. 

Below you’ll see a photo I took of antique children’s shoes that I own. The picture of the mounted figurehead is one that I took on a research trip to Mystic Seaport, CT for my newest release, Colonial Courtships. I took the photo in the corral of my neighbor in Maine’s farm while the horses were watching a herd of deer leave after their daily visit. You can see some of my other photographs online at




Photography is a favorite hobby that many generations in my family have enjoyed. And thus, we have tons of pictures; a visual record of the past. Recently some relatives and I were sifting through a bunch of old photos trying to place the who and the where. When my Mom’s cousin began asking me my take on when some of the photos were taken, based on the type of photography that was used, I was stymied. She’d read my debut novel, The Shadow Catcher’s Daughter, that features a female photographer, set in western Colorado in 1875. Since I had done so much research on 19th century photography methods for the book, I was suddenly being hailed as an expert on the topic. Go figure.

We all had a great time trying to solve the photographic mysteries, but much to my surprise I realized I had learned more than I thought from all of that research. I never imagined it would be useful in a practical way. We found a little picture of Grandpa Currier (yes, as in Currier & Ives – his cousins), but who’s grandpa was it. I deduced that the photo was a tintype from about the year of my story, 1875. It fit perfectly with the age of Grandpa Currier, being my great-grandmother’s grandfather. The tiny photo is called a “gem”, made with a multiplying camera that used several lenses in order to produce multiple photographs. Gems were divided up and mounted in jewelry, a small frame, or a stamped paper sleeve.

Photography was an important element in my novel and I relied heavy on historic photos to help me plot The Shadow Catcher’s Daughter. Shadow Catcher is what the Native Americans called photographers and the title is significant since the hero in the story in half-Navajo. The story’s heroine, Eliana Van Horn, is her father’s photography assistant. She dresses like a young man as they travel the untamed western slope of Colorado visually documenting the mining outfits for the U. S. Land Grant Office. Photographs taken of many of the thriving mining towns are all that exist today. Van Horn Photography later is commissioned to be the official photographer of a survey expedition to set the territory boundary lines at the four corners. The actual survey occurred in 1875 and similar ones were led which provided photographic references with which I could better envision my novel. The photographs below are some that I imagined the Van Horn’s took on the field using the gelatin dry plate silver bromide process so that negatives did not need to be developed immediately. To see more images that I used for inspiration and research for The Shadow Catcher’s Daughter please visit my Pinterest page,











Writers: Are photos helpful to you when plotting? All: Do you have any special family photographs? Please leave a comment to be eligible to win a copy of The Shadow Catcher’s Daughter. There will be two winners!

To learn more about Carla Olson Gade please visit her website
or drop by her blog

Old but New–Pueblo Storytellers

In the late 1950’s, Helen Cordero was 45 years old, and the mother of six children.  She and her cousin’s wife, Juanita, had been doing bead and leather work to sell to the tourists who came to Cochiti Pueblo, south of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Both women were skilled artisans, but the leather and beads were so costly that there was little profit to be gained from selling their handiwork.

“Why don’t you make pottery?” their grandmother suggested.  “You don’t have to buy anything.  Mother Earth gives it all to you.”

Juanita was already an accomplished potter.  But Helen had to learn, and it was a struggle.  After six months of practice, her pots still didn’t look right.  That was when Juanita suggested she try making figures.

“It was like a flower blooming,” Helen was to say later.  Small frogs, birds, animals and eventually little people came to life.  The first time she showed them at a festival a collector bought them all and ordered more, including a 250-piece Nativity set.

In 1964, Helen was asked to make a larger figure with children.  Some potters were making mother and child figures, but Helen wanted something different.  She thought of her grandfather, one of the great Pueblo storytellers and preservers of tradition.  She remembered his voice and made her first storyteller figure a portrait of him, with his five grandchildren.  One of those grandchildren is Helen.

Helen Cordero, honored as a Santa Fe Living Treasure, passed away in 1994.  Today more than three hundred potters in thirteen pueblos have created storytellers—men, women, animals, birds and mythical figures.


I saw my first storyteller at Acoma Pueblo in the early 1990’s.  I loved it so much that I bought it from the potter, a wonderful artist named Peggy Garcia.  My little storyteller is a woman with five children, beautifully fashioned and painted.  I gave it to my mother, whose 45 years of teaching elementary school made her a true storyteller.  Now that she’s gone I have it back.  It sits on my shelf, carefully anchored, as I write this.  I wish I had a photo to show you.  Here’s a similar example of Peggy’s work.

(For the information about Helen Cordero, I credit an article by Pamela Michaelis.)

Who are the storytellers in your family?  Maybe you’re one of them.

Glorifying the Wilderness Experience

So many things drove the westward expansion of the 1800s. The lure of a better life. Cheap land. Adventure. The railroad. Art.


Home in the Woods by Thomas Cole (1847)

Wait a minute. How did art drive the westward expansion?

In the mid-1800s, a new wave hit the artistic community, a desire to show nature in it’s most glorified state. Known as the Hudson River School, this movement focused on dramatic landscapes painted with romanticism and wonderful uses of light and detail to make the subject even more attractive than it might usually appear. It derived its name from the original locales that were painted–such places as the Hudson River Valley, Catskills, Adirondack, and the White Mountains. As the movement grew and inspired a second generation of painters, however, the ladscapes they painted encompassed wilderness areas from as far away as South America and Syria. The themes of the paintings fit so perfectly with the American persona of the time. Themes of discovery, exploration, and settlement. And for a growing number of east coast citizens, the appeal came in viewing untamed lanscapes and idyllic nature scenes so different from the bustling cities to which they had become accustomed.

Thomas Cole is considered by most to be the father of the Hudson River School, but it was his prize pupil, Frederic Edwin Church, who became a true celebrity. Some of the finest works from the Hudson River School were painted between 1855 and 1875, and Church’s works consituted the majority. His paintings are truly stunning. I must admit that I fell in love with them myself. Here are a few of my favorites:

Niagra Falls (1857)
The Natural Bridge - Virginia (1852)







Twilight in the Wilderness (1860)










You really have to see larger images to do them justice.

In the 20th century, the term luminism was coined to describe this style. It is characterized by attention to detail and the hiding of brush strokes so that nothing distracts from the vision of nature being depicted. Artists in the Hudson River School for the most part believed that nature in the form of the American landscape was a manifestation of God. Therefore they painted highly realistic yet idealized renderings of what they had seen on their travels.

Often, they visited such dangerous, hard-to-reach places, that they could only carry a sketch book. They depended on these sketches and their memories to reconstruct the images they had seen once they returned to the safety of home.

In my current work in progress, my heroine’s mother was an art teacher back east who was greatly influenced by the Hudson River School. It is her dedication to this style of art that drives her to leave her safe city life to search out her own wilderness to paint. This, of course, eventually leads her to Texas.

What type of art speaks to your heart? I’ve always preferred realist landscapes that capture the glory of God’s creation. That’s probably why these paintings gripped me so completely. What about you? Do you have a painting or print in your house that you just adore? What painting would you buy if money was no object? I’d love to hear about it.