When Claudia Fletcher was a girl, her elementary school held a special art show to display her horse drawings.
“They weren’t nearly as good as they are now,” she laughed, recalling the “pretty funny” childish figures featuring “long manes and long tails, all in bright colors.” The show did, however, encourage her to find a more suitable means of artistic expression — her original canvas wasn’t exactly the best choice. “They got tired of me drawing pictures on my Catechism books,” she admitted, alluding to the true inspiration for the show.
These days, the Clovis artist has found a much larger — and perhaps more appreciative — audience. As the artist in charge of producing the official Clovis Rodeo poster, Fletcher continues to take inspiration from her original muse and favorite subject.
Although she went on to establish a successful career as a commercial artist — as a graphic designer for advertising agencies and owner of a Madera-based sign company — horses continued to occupy a special place in her heart.
“I was drawing and painting horses before I ever got a horse; that was part of the issue,” she said. Growing up on a farm in Madera, she said, she “harangued” her parents until they finally gave in and bought her a horse of her own. Even as she worked as a commercial artist, she continued to both paint and ride, at one point trading art work for team roping lessons.
Fletcher designed her first rodeo poster in 1992 at the request of the Clovis Rodeo Association. That year, she painted the first in an eight-year series that depicted a different rodeo event each year. In 2000 and 2001, she said, the Association used black and white photographs instead of her watercolor paintings, but asked her back in 2002.
“After 9/11,” she said, “they decided they wanted to do something with a patriotic theme.”
That year, she painted a bronc rider against the backdrop of an American flag. Although she’s designed every poster since, it remains her favorite.
“After 9/11, people really came together,” she said. “It was a more patriotic time in our country.”
This year’s poster, which she began working on in early January, is of another cowboy astride a bucking bronco. Fletcher based the painting on a photograph selected by the Clovis Rodeo Association. Although she’s allowed some artistic license in her interpretation, she said, the subject is always chosen by the board and she does adhere to some standards. All of the rodeo’s sponsors, for instance, must be represented in the final artwork, so she may paint a sign or two into the background.
After she finishes the painting, usually in mid-February, she works with a graphic artist to create the borders and text that will appear on the official poster. The painting is then sent to a printer, where the posters are produced. “Our goal is always to have it by the first of March, when the ticket office opens,” she said.
“It’s both something I take pride in as an artist and also very humbling,” she said of her role with the Rodeo. “Every year I keep my fingers crossed they’ll have me for next year. Clovis Rodeo Association is a wonderful group to be with; they’re like family.”
The Clovis Rodeo may be Fletcher’s biggest stage, but she shows her work locally throughout the year. Currently, she has work on view at Fresno Art Hub, where she’ll participate in Art Hop on April 6, and at M Street Arts Complex.
And if you miss the artist’s appearances there, you may just run into her at the rodeo. She goes every year. Her can’t-miss event? “I love the mutton busting,” she laughed. “Mutton busting is the cutest.”
103rd Clovis Rodeo will be held April 27-30. Tickets are available now. Details: www.clovisrodeo.com