Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding: Art of the Cowgirl Fellowship

Every week Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to recognize those doing good in the horse world. Today we recognize Art of the Cowgirl for its fellowship program, which works to inspire western artists to new heights.

When Tammy Pate was first dreaming about Art of the Cowgirl, bringing together experienced western artists with aspiring makers and providing mentorship was the ultimate goal. Now in its third year, the Art of the Cowgirl event attracts thousands of guests and generates the funds and support necessary to bring Pate’s dream to life.

“I thought it was very important that we honor women in the industry and let them be mentors,” Pate says. “Our Fellowship Program encourages arts and trades among western women, both continuing tradition and inspiring innovation.”

Photo by Savanna Simmons

Art of the Cowgirl’s Fellowship Program provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for western artists to learn or refine their passion with some of the most talented makers in the business. Whether it’s fine art, functional trade or horsemanship, Art of the Cowgirl Fellowships seek to enrich, empower and educate, while honoring western heritage.

“What I see with Art of the Cowgirl is women who are skilled, who are professionals in their fields, and they want to pass along that experience and knowledge,” says Barbara Van Cleve, cowgirl legend and photography mentor. “That’s how it is in ranching. You pass that tradition along. That’s how people learn.”

Photo by Savanna Simmons

Master Artists, like Van Cleve, offer up to two weeks of teaching at their various locations for Art of the Cowgirl Fellowship Recipients. Applying for the program is a competitive process, and it’s grown in popularity each year. For 2020, six Fellowship Recipients were selected to take part in the immersive experience.

“What we’re looking for in a Fellowship Recipient is someone who will bring it full-circle to give back again to the next generation,” says Art of the Cowgirl Fellowship Director Jaimie Stoltzfus. “Someone who values the spirit of the Fellowship Program.”

Photo by Savanna Simmons

Fellowship Recipients also receive funding to travel to the 2021 Art of the Cowgirl event, where they will present their work and donate an item to the Fellowship Auction, which supports the next class of aspiring artists.

“My hope for the future is that not only can we provide fellowships for people to learn a trade, but we can also help them start up their businesses,” Pate says. “That’s something we really want to help young women do — live a unique and different life, and keep a western tradition alive.”

Photo by Savanna Simmons

This year’s Fellowship Recipients represent a group of talented women from across the West in the following trades: bit making, horsemanship, photography, fine art, horse hair hitching/rawhide braiding and saddle making.

Amy Erickson from Evanston, Wyoming, is the 2020 Bit Making Fellowship Recipient and will learn from Master Artist John Mincer. Erickson became interested in silverwork and bits and spurs after attending the Elko poetry gathering as a teenager, but further developed that interest later in life. She was given the opportunity to learn engraving from Ernie Marsh and then later attended an intermediate engraving class taught by Jeremiah Watt.

Selected as the Horsemanship Recipient, Paula Francis of Bakersfield, California, will gain experience and insight from Master Artist Sandy Collier. Competing in NRCHA NonPro boxing classes the past three years, Francis says riding has always been part of her life and she looks forward to sharing what she learns with others to encourage them on their journey.

Erika Haight of Roundup, Montana, was selected as this year’s Photography Recipient and will study under Master Artist Barbara Van Cleve. Among her many Western subjects, Haight has devoted the past nine years to documenting and spending countless hours on the reservation with her adopted Crow family. Haight’s work is both modern and timeless — historically significant in the context of our times.

This year’s Fine Art Recipient, Jessica Howard, who will study under Master Artist Shannon Lawlor, says her deep admiration for horses as partners has been prevalent in her artwork since childhood. Howard believes it is her responsibility to paint and use her art in a way that respects, memorializes and inspires western culture.

Melanie Kimpton-Weyant, a fifth-generation rancher near Toston, Montana, has been selected as the 2020 Horse Hair Hitching/Rawhide Braiding Recipient. She will learn from Master Artist Teresa Black. Weyant started braiding in early 2017 with help from her dad. By May of that year, she completed her first bosal of latigo and kangaroo — and was hooked. With continued practice, she has built five bosals, a riding crop and a rawhide headstall.

This year’s Saddle Making Recipient, Chelsea Sazama of Fallon, Montana, started her leatherworking journey about seven years ago. Today, Sazama operates Rocking S Saddle Shop and makes everything from saddles to belts, chinks, tapederos, medicine bags, Buckaroo Sweaters and more. She’s made 14 saddles so far, and looks forward to further developing her skills by learning from Master Artist Nancy Martiny.

“People ask me what the cowgirl spirit is, and to me, it’s a woman who takes risks, believes in herself, and does things because she’s passionate about them,” Pate says. “Art of the Cowgirl isn’t just for women from the West, it’s for women with the cowgirl spirit.”

Photo by Savanna Simmons

Art of the Cowgirl’s annual event takes place Jan. 13-17, 2021, at Horseshoe Park and Equestrian Centre near Queen Creek, Arizona. Tickets are now available online, with early-bird pricing until June 15. Five-day passes are available for $150 using the code EARLYBIRD.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

About Art of the Cowgirl
Founded by Montana horsewoman Tammy Pate in 2018, Art of the Cowgirl is a three-day gathering that celebrates cowgirl artisans and their contributions to the western lifestyle and culture through discussions, demonstrations, rodeo and ranch horse competitions, an art auction and trade show, and an elite ranch horse sale.

Proceeds from the event fund educational fellowships that unite emerging artists with masters in their respective fields. The gathering will be held Jan. 13-17, 2021, at Horseshoe Park and Equestrian Centre near Queen Creek, Arizona.

Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected]. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.