For more than 20 years, artist Claudia Fletcher has been hand painting the official Clovis Rodeo poster and this year is no different. Since she was just a little girl, Fletcher has been creating artwork and Western scenes of horses and cowboys have always come straight from the heart.
Born and raised in Madera, Fletcher grew up on a farm. Her father grew alfalfa and cotton, and her mother was a teacher.
“We just lived a modest life out on the farm,” she said. “The first thing I wanted when I was at the age of semi-reason was a horse. I got that horse when I was 10.”
Fletcher, her younger sister, and her best friend all put their money together to buy Corky, a Pinto draft mix. Sometimes they would ride Corky two at a time, and once all three of them climbed on at once. They made sure they rode him in the soft field, because one little hop from him would send them all flying off his back.
During that time, Fletcher was already busy with her artwork and couldn’t get enough of it.
“I always liked to draw. I grew up loving it. I went to Catholic school and the nuns got tired of me drawing on my catechism, so they got me paper and they’d hang my drawings on the walls,” said Fletcher, laughing.
Fletcher continued to draw — entering her first art contest in third grade — through grade school and high school.
“I had a really great art teacher (Heinz Kuseo) in high school,” she said. “He pushed innovation a lot.”
Fletcher said she knew from the beginning that art would be her calling in life, and her parents never discouraged her.
“I don’t remember thinking I had another option,” she said. “I wasn’t going to work in an office.”
When she graduated from high school, Fletcher went to Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles and took art lessons from Sister Mary Corita.
“It was an interesting time. When you take a little farm girl and put her in Hollywood at the end of the 1960s, it’s pretty scary. It was an awakening, and I was never the same,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher did not finish college, but she still found a career using her passion in art. She began working for an ad agency in Fresno until she decided to leave the agency and go out on her own around 1972. She wanted to follow her passion for art as well as her passion for horses. She began doing custom artwork on motorcycle engines and was happiest when someone requested a horse painting. She didn’t just limit herself to motorcycles — she also painted everything from boats to cars.
Fletcher’s love for the cowboy life not only was apparent through her artwork — she did everything she could to live the lifestyle. On one occasion, she even traded an art piece for jackpot roping lessons.
When Fletcher was approached by a couple members from the Clovis Rodeo Association in the early 1990s and asked to create a rodeo poster, Fletcher happily accepted the challenge. She has been painting the official Clovis Rodeo poster since 1992, minus two years when historical photos were used instead. However, she still helped with the creative aspect of it.
Fletcher has loved every minute of her work with the rodeo — from working with Clovis Rodeo Association members to meeting famous cowboys.
“One of the treats of my life was meeting Ty Murray (World Champion rodeo cowboy) and having him sign my poster,” she said. “He was such a nice person, and he signed it very thoughtfully. He took the time to think about it, and he wrote, ‘Thanks for the compliment in art.’”
This year’s poster is a salute to the Special Kids Rodeo event, which is in partnership with Break the Barriers. The event will be held at noon, Sunday, April 26.
“It was just time to honor the kids and do something nice for them,” Fletcher said.
It was Ron Dunbar, Clovis Rodeo Association board member, and other members of the association that selected the focus of this year’s poster.
“It’s been part of our rodeo for a long time, and we have always included it in our events,” Dunbar said. “We thought it would be a good year to spotlight them in poster.”
Dunbar got some photos of the event, gave them to Fletcher, and she began creating this year’s colorful print.
“She does a real good job every single year,” Dunbar said.
Fletcher hopes to continue working with the rodeo for many years to come.
“It’s a job I look forward to every year,” she said. “As long as they want me and I can still lift a brush, I’ll gladly paint it for them. The Clovis Rodeo Association has so many good people, and it’s just a joy to work with them. A lot of them have become good friends. Rodeo people are like family.”