Lon Megargee isn’t exactly a household name across the American West, but he should be. That’s because just about every modern-day cowboy knows the artist’s work; one of Magargee’s illustrations has adorned the satin lining of nearly all Stetson hats made since 1924.Titled “The Last Drop From His Stetson,” the moving image depicts a cowboy offering his horse water cradled in his hat.
Born in Pennsylvania, Megargee moved to Phoenix, Ariz., in 1899 at age 16 to become a cowboy. He started off at Tex Singleton’s Bull Ranch, and then worked at the Three Bar Ranch and, eventually, Billy Cook’s TT Ranch. Megargee later tried ranching on his own, but lost most of his herd to a three-year drought. That’s when he turned to his training from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and began painting iconic images of the desert Southwest.
Megargee experienced some early success, selling his paintings to the Santa Fe Railroad, and in 1913, the State of Arizona commissioned the then-30-year-old to paint 15 large-scale murals for the state capitol building in Phoenix. He completed the task in 1914 (earning roughly $4,000 for his work) and almost immediately vaulted into the pantheon of great Southwestern painters.
Megargee continued painting for many years and selling his work as a collection of postcards. His clients included media such as Western Story Magazine, various corporations, and the now-defunct Arizona Brewing Company.
His art is now synonymous with the cowboy way of life. “It has almost become the image of Stetson and the West,” says Greg Rosenthal, former president of Stetson, who notes that the original “Last Drop” painting hangs in the company’s New York office.
Megargee died in 1960, but his legacy lives on. Those Arizona murals hang restored on the second floor of the copper-domed old capitol building in Phoenix. Megargee’s adobe and exposed-timber hacienda, Casa Hermosa in upscale Paradise Valley outside Phoenix, is also open to the public. The compound recently underwent an extensive renovation and reopened as a boutique hotel called the Hermosa Inn (www.hermosainn.com). Lon’s, the on-site restaurant, occupies Megargee’s former living quarters.
From the grounds, you can see the view of Camelback Mountain that inspired Megargee, and which appears in many of his paintings, including “Camelback Mountain,” a 1934 oil on canvas.