World-renowned artist Hugh Cabot of Tubac died Monday, May 23, at 3 a.m. at Tucson Medical Center after a long illness. He was 75.

His wife and longtime business manager Olivia was at his side at his time of death.

Last rites were administered by Father Clark Moore, Olivia Cabot said, since both she and her husband are members of the Roman Catholic faith.

Private services will be held today at a Tucson mortuary. Cabot's ashes will be interred at the Tubac Cemeteria, where many generations of Tubac area residents are buried.

His wife said that a bronze plaque in the historic cemetery will commemorate her husband's life and accomplishments with a simple message: "Hugh Cabot III, March 22, 1930 to May 23, 2005, American Master Painter."

Gallery event

On June 11 and 12, the Cabot gallery in Tubac will be open to the public for a special showing of the artist's work, with many paintings never before seen, Olivia Cabot said. More details will be announced later.

Despite his fame, Hugh Cabot was an intensely private person, "a loner who preferred to be within himself," his wife said.

She then shared an anecdote she said she hoped would foster understanding of her husband and his remarkable life and work.

"After the Korean War, Hugh went to stay at a Benedictine monastery near Las Vegas. He was trying to find himself at that time. He began doing sketches of the monks, producing wonderful portraits. After a time, the abbot told him: "You know, you really don't belong here. You should be an artist," Olivia Cabot related.

Longtime friend and admirer, Al Smith, past owner of the Cow Palace Restaurant in Amado from 1982-88 was among the many who offered tribute to Hugh Cabot.

"He was a really good man and a world-class artist. He used to come in for coffee two or three times per week. I am fortunate to own several of his paintings," Smith said.

Carol Cullen, executive director, Tubac Chamber of Commerce, issued this statement Tuesday: "Hugh Cabot's personna was larger than life, and his talents were even greater.

"Tubac has lost a founding father, and the art world has lost a remarkable artist. We wish to extend our deepest sympathy to Olivia and the Cabot family."

This year marked Cabot's 32th in Tubac, a community he loved because of the privacy it offered him and the surrounding scenery that inspired him.

People from all over the world flocked Cabot's four-room adobe studio and gallery across the street from St. Ann's Church in the historic part of Tubac, to purchase his paintings.

The place where he died, Tucson Medical Center, currently has nine of his paintings on display, his wife said.

Hugh Cabot was well known for his highly distinctive, stylized cowboys and bold, powerful Western landscapes awash with light and color that literally glowed.

Cabot, who loved the West and spent time working on Western ranches, considered the cowboy "the world's leading icon." His cowboy portraits are prized by collectors worldwide.

Cabot gained international artistic fame at an early age, 22, as a combat artist during the Korean War, while serving in the U.S. Navy.

Named the official combat artist for the Korean War, his collection of drawings of wartime scenes was exhibited in Tokyo after the war and was viewed by 85,000 people the first week, The Associated Press reported. The drawings were hailed by critics as "authentic and memorable."

Cabot noted in an interview in January of 2003 that the Japanese government had kept much of the information about the war secret and this was the first time the Japanese people were able to get an idea of how the combat was conducted.

During the same period, one of Cabot's war photographs appeared in Life magazine to illustrate a story in the Oct. 27, 1952, edition.

That photo, which was praised by legendary photographer Margaret Bourke-White as a "hell of a good photo," brought Cabot even more fame.

When he moved west and began painting different scenes--the grandiose landscapes, cowboys and other Western-inspired scenes, his fame continued to grow.

Hugh Cabot is listed in Who's Who In American Art, Who's Who in International Art, Who's Who In the West and American Artists, the West.

Born in Boston, the son of a decidedly patrician family, Cabot began spending time on Western ranches at the age of 12.

He commented in an interview in 2003 that he was never the same since, which has caused many to ask him: "Are you a Cabot or a cowboy?"

The answer, many thought, must be a bit of both.

Tall, with a lean and graceful look, Cabot spent several years working as a cowboy in West Texas, mainly to earn money so he could paint.

After the last horse tossed him, he took up bicycle-riding, enjoying solitary trips on his French bike around Tubac and shooting expeditions with the Tucson Trap and Skeet Club.

Cabot studied art at the Jesper George School of Fine Arts and the Boston Museum of Art.

Studied at Oxford

After the Korean War, he studied at Oxford and explored the world of art in the Orient and in Europe where he was vastly impressed, he said, with the Great Masters, such as Rembrandt, and the French Impressionists.

Prior to that, he said, his ambitions were directed toward emulating the works of Western artists Frederic Remington, Charles Russell and Will James. After his travel, his artistic horizons expanded.

"When you see great paintings , there is something they are saying that stops you cold," he said.

"I want mine to be a picture you can project yourself into. If you can't say I'm feeling something after seeing my paintings, then I failed."

Despite the acclaim that greeted his paintings, Cabot remained intensely critical of his work, saying somewhat wryly that he knew "the agony of being an artist, but have not yet found the ecstasy."

He described himself as a "very private person, who doesn't see many people," mainly because he was so intensely involved in my work."

Cabot credited Olivia with playing a major role in his success, saying that her management of the complex business end of the gallery freed him to paint as much as he could.

"Like actors without a good agent, many artists would starve to death without a good dealer," he said.

"It takes a very special person to manage a gallery and it's Olivia who keeps me in the position to paint."

Asked how he would like to be regarded as an artist, Cabot didn't hesitate for a moment in an interview just two years ago, when he said: "As a bold and competent painter and a master of color and drawing."

kengle@gvnews.com | 547 -9736