Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

"Art in the Library," a rotating exhibit at the Tuolumne County Library on Greenley Road in Sonora, features 14 authentic and colorful portrayals of the modern cowboy and his horse for the month of August.

Working in oils, artist Chuck Knowles said he strives to achieve the feeling of true-to-life action, emotions and the atmosphere of the life he loves in his artwork.

"As a young boy, I spent every available moment working on cattle and horse ranches, in my dad's saddle shop, and packing hunters and fishermen into the high ranges of the Sierra Nevada," Knowles said. "Later I also got into rodeoing and cowboying in many western movies. These physical and mental experiences were gathered as later subjects for my works of art."

He started drawing with a natural talent as a small boy. Though basically self-taught, he enrolled in Norman Rockwell's Famous Artist School in commercial illustration. After graduation from college in San Luis Obispo, Knowles worked as a commercial illustrator for several clients.

"At Leslie Salt Company, I painted illustrations for brochures and the covers of the horse mineral blocks - painting horses and riders of all ages competing and just enjoying life," he said. "I also did many pen and ink drawings for the Sullivan workbooks for schools."

The commercial art career led to a demand for his fine art.

"I was commissioned to do paintings and drawings for numerous businessmen, ranchers, and livestock breeders throughout the western states, and I specialized in current western adventure incidents, contemporary western art, horse show and rodeo events, and livestock portraits," he said.

Each work in the exhibit has been inspired by one of Knowles' experiences, and a story about each painting is included in the exhibit.

"Meeting the Devil Atop Skeleton Pass" is one of the paintings.

"In 1958, while working as a guide for Reno Sardella's pack outfit, I talked Jack Milford into showing me the trail to Chain Lakes," Knowles recalled. "On the final climb Jack was in the lead when a small donkey appeared at the top of the pass - a red bucket on top of his pack, complete with fishing poles and red floaters. Jack's horse spun and mine did too, taking off full blast down the rocks. That donkey was the devil scaring the holy hell out of the horses. Meeting 'the devil' atop Skeleton Pass was a harrowing experience."

Fifty-five years later Knowles recorded that moment in this painting.

Another piece in the exhibit, "Never Drag a Barbed Wire Gate on Granite," shows a group of both experienced and inexperienced riders. "We came to a cattle range dividing fence between the Summit and Mi-Wok Districts. I opened the gate and we all went through successfully, but then when the gate was closed it scraped loudly on granite. The painting shows the pandemonium that ensued."

Born in Texas in 1932, Knowles and his family moved to Sonora when he was 10 years old. After graduating from high school in Sonora, he served four and a half years in the U.S. Air Force as a radar technician for an all weather fighter-interceptor squadron in the Korean War.

After his time in the service, he married and had a son, David. A year after his marriage, he enrolled at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and earned a bachelor's degree in animal husbandry and graduated from the horseshoeing and blacksmithing schools.

His senior project was to write and illustrate a book on corrective horseshoeing, which has been used as a textbook in most horseshoeing schools.

Knowles' art is inseparable from his varied careers and avocations.

"I was always testing myself as a growing cowboy - I rode saddle broncs, bareback horses, and bulls while rodeoing throughout high school, college and the 10 years in between," he said. "From 1950 up until a few years ago, I worked on many Western movies, television shows and commercials filmed in Tuolumne County and surrounding counties as a teamster wrangler, driving teams, playing a renegade Indian, a cowboy, or anything else they might need."

As founder and organizer of the Tuolumne County Trails Council, Knowles has been an active contributor to the group's thousands of hours of volunteer trail work.

Knowles, now 81 and retired - but still painting - lives with his wife Joanne on a ranch outside Columbia. "We maintain our ranch for the benefit of our horses that we have trained for our personal use," he said.

Knowles has exhibited and sold paintings in galleries locally, as well as in Oakdale, Modesto, Stockton and Reno. His art has been represented by the Zantman Galleries in Carmel and Palm Desert.

In 1962, while at Cal Poly, he was the art director of the school yearbook, drawing the front cover - an image of Sputnik circling the earth.

"Before computers were in use, I did all the ink work on drawings of the Cal Poly mascot - Musty the Mustang - showing him as a welder, cooking, reading, playing sports, etc.," Knowles said.

In 1968 Knowles was recognized by and was a guest artist at the national convention of the Western Artists of America held at John Ascuaga's Nugget Hotel in Reno.

He has donated artwork to the American Field Service for many years, as well as to the Mother Lode Quarter Horse Show for 12 years. His works are in demand throughout the United States.

The public is invited to visit the library at 480 Greenley Road in Sonora to view the art on display each month.

Call 533-5507 for more information.