The gallery filled with family, friends and colleagues of Mick McMurry. They reminisced as they admired a set of 10 paintings inspired by the Wyoming businessman and philanthropist’s life and the principles by which he lived.
Casper artist Zak Pullen’s series, “Cowboy Code of Ethics, in honor of Mick McMurry,” took about two years to complete as he drew on the stories from dozens of people in McMurry’s life.
A private reception July 28 showcased the original paintings, which will appear as seven-foot, square panel reproductions on an outside wall of the NERD YMCA of Natrona County.
A public unveiling of the artworks will take place Monday at the YMCA. Pullen plans to reveal stories behind the paintings and McMurry’s dedication to the Cowboy Code of Ethics. Some of the faces resemble McMurry, who found success in the oil and gas business and started the McMurry Foundation with his family.
But most are not portraits, rather illustrations based on his life for generations to remember.
“A lot of people that knew Mick really well will pick up on a lot of the subtleties in the paintings and see their influence of story,” Pullen said. “But once we get a generation away from those people, this hopefully will tell a story of a man’s life who has given more to this community than anybody that I know of.”
It was McMurry himself who sparked the idea over lunch one day, Pullen said. He mentioned he’d like to see the ethics from James P. Owen’s book “Cowboy Ethics” depicted in the artist’s style. So Pullen started the project a few months after McMurry’s death in 2015.
A campground scene is one painting in the series that brought back memories for George Bryce, a friend of McMurry for more than 40 years and a McMurry Foundation trustee.
He fondly remembers McMurry cooking over a barbecue grill at a campground he’d built with a view of Devils Tower in the distance. A man at the grill is laughing and surrounded by friends and family in a scene much like he recalls.
Bryce pointed out a motor home in the background—the first thing his friend had bought after selling the Jonah Field in Pinedale.
“He was more excited about the motor home than selling the gas field and what he sold it for,” Bryce said, smiling.
The painting is called “Some Things Aren’t for Sale,” one of the 10 Cowboy Ethics.
Ashley Bright of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming pointed out a picture of MAD magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman in one painting, remembering how McMurry was a fan of the satirical humor magazine.
The picture hangs above McMurry’s desk in the painting, “Be Tough, But Fair,” just as it did in his real office.
The McMurry Foundation has contributed generously to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming, said Bright, its chief professional officer.
He also worked with the local organization to teach the Cowboy Ethics to other club branches in Wyoming, as well as people of all ages in schools, youth organizations, businesses, police departments, fire departments and more through Wyoming and other states, Bright said.
Friends at the reception pointed out a figure in “Be Tough, But Fair” looks a little like Joe Scott, a longtime colleague in McMurry’s business. The scene looks like one of the discussions in which they’d figure out where to place a pipeline or a well, Scott said. McMurry gazes thoughtfully over a cup of coffee emblazoned with the McMurry Foundation logo.
He treated everyone the same, whether a business executive or field worker, and “was a worker among workers,” Scott said. “That’s why he was so popular with his hands.”
The painting was inspired by the many decisions McMurry made about which projects to back, Pullen said, while always contemplating how to “build a better Wyoming,” a phrase for which he was known.
The paintings give a nod to McMurry’s youth, service in Vietnam, philanthropy, working life and his dedication to family, Pullen said. People also will recognize the freezing winters to sunny days in the state he loved.
“Wyoming is a definite character throughout them,” Pullen said.
Pullen plans a family book featuring his 10 interpretations of the Cowboy Ethics with essays by ten Wyoming authors.
Susie McMurry, Mick’s wife, said she was touched to see the paintings that show Pullen’s admiration and friendship with her husband.
“He always called Zak the Norman Rockwell of Wyoming,” she said. She enjoyed the small details, like a Mickey Mouse shirt in one painting; his family called him Mickey and gave him Mickey gear, she added.
She couldn’t pick out a favorite among the paintings. But her daughter Trudi Holthouse’s is one with McMurry standing with child on his shoulders looking out over a Wyoming landscape, Susie said.
“It just shows that Mickey gave great thought and appreciation to everything in Wyoming,” Susie said. “It just looks like he’s looking out with love and admiration for everything that he was seeing.”