Cowboy Artist Will Berg
- December 7, 2020
- Tiffany Schwenke
Will Berg is a man of many talents and enjoys creating different types of art from painting with oil or watercolor, to music with his guitar, to leather work, and even to the horses he rides.
I recently asked Will to tell us a little of his backstory…
WB: I grew up with a fire in my belly for horses, and keeping my hands busy. My dad and uncle were craftsmen, artists, and poets. I used to hide under my bed and trace Will James drawings out of his books. I’d show them to my dad and tell him I drew them. That was my first lesson in how to draw horses and lie! LOL!
I saved up and bought my first guitar when I was 13. We lived on a lot of places and moved a lot. If I wanted to ride I had to steal it from whatever colts or broncs were around. If we happened to have a horse around that a kid could ride we had to wait our turn to go along and help do any ranch work.
I was around sheep a lot and cattle some. Now I am kinda proud that I grew up working sheep.
Through my high school years I lived with my dad’s mother in Kaycee, WY. She had a trailer house a block from the school. I was bored and she was a wood craftsman, so I carved a lot. That was my first lessons in sculpture.
The bronc riding bug bit me and I wanted to ride broncs from as early as I remember. I was fortunate that in Kaycee I could hone up on that under the John Forbes family. So, I spent a lot of time with Sandy and Mo Forbes. At night, I’d hang around the Forbes’ shack. We’d kick in our saddles and talk buckin’ horses. We put a lot of spur tracks on that ol’ wood floor. John would cup his hand round his ear towards my grandmother’s house and say “Willber, I think I hear your grandmother calling, it’s time to go home now.”
Rodeo took money, so I’d sell my carvings and sketches and work odd jobs. I had a job in Babes Grocery Store working for Shirley Simon stocking shelves and bagging groceries. When Bill Larson would come in to buy grub for his cow camp, I’d hide in the back rooms so he couldn’t see me. I was embarrassed. Later in life while cowboying for Bill, I told him that story and he told me he was proud of me for working there to ride broncs.
Larry Sandvick would come by and get me for little jobs around his place. There were some early lessons in leather and work there.
I grew up with the young end of the Ledoux kids (Beau, Will, and Cindy). Their dad, Chris Ledoux, would come up with some wild idea for a drawing or carving, tell me to do it, and then buy it from me. Deals like that helped me get through high school rodeo and paid for my college.
In college, I was a welding student. Somehow my instructor knew I wouldn’t stick. So he signed me up for a lot of art classes. He thought it was funny to put me in some of the most challenging English classes too. Which I later appreciated, as writing is now one of my creative outlets. While in college, I lived with my best friend, Matt Robertson. We’d play guitar chord progressions over and over for hours. Matt really stepped me up in my guitar playing. He was always really accurate. He had clock work timing and a real creative element.
I’ve rode broncs with a lot of good hands. The Trimble family took me under their wing while I was buying my first place in Torrington. I’d wake Dane Trimble up every morning thumpin out cowboy songs on my guitar. Later, when Rex and Cathy built the new house, I’d ride my outside horses up there and have coffee with Britt and Cathy. Cathy would make me pickled eggs.
I’ve been to some art shows and sold some stuff. One time when I was cowboying for Shepperson Ranches it was a rainy day, and we were caught up on the works. Frank said, “You’re still on the payroll so you should draw me a picture.” So I drew him something with a poem. Frank loved to see a bronc ride, so he’d put me on every outlaw he had. He’d laugh and slap his leg when I’d spur it out of ’em. Frank is a very talented performer, and he gave me the confidence to play and sing for the shipping crews.
My wife, Kelsey Jean (Felix) holds it all together. She has all my stuff on a Facebook page and sells Christmas cards. I’ve accused her in the past of trying to sabotage my creativity, but she just laughs. She is so inspiring. Kelsey and our daughter, Irie, have the gift of encouragement.
I grew up knowing that if you want something you have to build it or work for it yourself, and that hasn’t changed. I’m building a new saddle right now. The tree broke from a bronc falling on it in one I built 15 years ago. I got excited when I found out I had to replace it. I play a lot of music with my kids and write a song once in a while. Hallie and Irie (8 and 6) both play the fiddle, draw, paint, and do leather work. They love to ride, and I take them with me on some of my camp job adventures.
My art has evolved into something I like to do not “have to” do. My confirmation is off, and I blow it up on purpose. I just want to create something that’s fun, something you’d want to hang on your wall. I want people to see it and know that a cowboy did it.
I have to create, whether its music, painting, or leather. I get out of balance without it. I’ve found that the arts are for my soul and it took me a while to admit that it’s a gift from God. So it needs to be shared.
My wife has a job in town and I have this little raggy bunch of cows out back. So when I do art it’s for my soul to share with others. I just want my kids to learn that their music, art, and horsemanship, is for them to enjoy and share. If we’re lucky we might get paid, but we’re gonna do it anyway. People have helped me so much along the way and I hope I can continue the tradition and pass it on.
About Tiffany Schwenke
My family has been ranching and raising horses for over 100 years. We raise, train, and market AQHA horses at North Four Mile Creek Horse Ranch. We produce the annual event WYO WILD RIDE RANCH RODEO. I am a wife and a mother to 3 amazing...