Big Saddle Wins Big Money: Marshall Harris Rounds Up $50,000 Hunting Art Prize

by Bill Davenport May 7, 2013


photo by Ralph Lauer

photo by Ralph Lauer

Fort Worth artist Marshall Harris has won the $50,000 Hunting Art Prize 2013 with “Round Up: B.F. Smith & Son Saddlery Circa 1940-1942” a life sized, highly detailed graphite drawing of a vintage saddle. The prize was announced at an evening awards gala on Saturday, May 4, at the Friedkin Companies Campus, Gulf States Toyota, in Houston. Round Up was chosen from among 1600 entries in this year’s competition by a panel of three jurors: Karlota Contreras-Koterbay, Curator at Slocumb Galleries in Johnson City, Tennessee; Jeanne Klein, Collector and Advisory Council Member of the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas; and Margaret Winslow, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington.


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Duke M. Horn May 8, 2013 - 09:10

Academic expertise does not trump concept execution. A lot of people can draw exactly what they see. And BIG sells the story better than small. I guess I’m underwhelmed.

Jason Franz May 8, 2013 - 14:49

Duke, you’re incorrect. Academic expertise IS concept execution when done with intellectual skill, insight, and a mind for the meaning of the work. These two things are not mutually exclusive, and too much of the art world (especially academia ironically enough) believes they are.

As a professor who specializes in teaching people how to draw what they see, I can tell you that most people cannot do this, and even those who work very hard at it have a very difficult time doing so consistently.

I know first hand that it’s plain as day when I see a work that is ‘about’ replication of an image versus a work that is about more. Marshall’s drawing is clearly about more. Sadly, folks want to be spoon-fed concept in ways that are less subtle or sophisticated.

Marshall is mostly incorrect that this was luck. If it was luck, then the jurors would be pulling a name out of a hat.

Congrats Marshall! I’m not surprised!

Marshall K. Harris May 8, 2013 - 09:45

Hi Duke. I ask that you look at some of my other work as well. This work qualified due to it’s smaller size. Many of my more conceptual works fell outside of the size of work submission regulations. And I will say that I was surprised as well at the award. I saw so much great work at the show. Much better than mine in my humble opinion. I saw works there that I only wish I could accomplish. I am so very honored to have received the award. I know that this same work has been booted from other shows for the same “expertise does not trump concept execution” ideal. I know that in these situations there are probably 1599 Texas artists who would agree with you. I guess I was in the right place at the right time and 3 people liked my drawing. Those three folks happened to be the selection jury. I got lucky. That’s all. Pure luck.

Stephen May 8, 2013 - 10:32

Spoken like a deserving winner. The piece looks wonderful to me and I have been drawing since I was a small boy and it’s simply not true… very few can render reality that well! I love the isolated saddle away from the horse, idolizes it and that is very telling, interesting, and unique. Congrats!

Karen Harper May 8, 2013 - 10:04

While I understand Duke’s criticism, for those of us who can’t draw exactly what we see, it is a treat to examine the work of those who can!

Cecile G. Charles May 8, 2013 - 15:35

Marshall, I am an artist I have been one since I was 14 years old. I have also owned an art gallery and know just a bit about art. It is wonderful to see work of this quality, get an honorarium of this size. Bravo, I use what I call an infinity backgrounds on the horses I paint. Seeing your artwork with the same absence of any deterrent to the subject makes me smile. I love your artwork and remind you that your journey will be filled with jealousy, know-it-all’s and opinions both good and bad. Tuck them away, enjoy the good, ignore the bad. Fabulous concept in my humble opinion.

Marshall K. Harris May 11, 2013 - 12:13

Saturday, May 11, 2013
The Secret to Winning the Hunting Prize

It’s been a week since the announcement was made that I had won the big schamolly, “The Hunting Art Prize” which along with a big fat grand prize comes a bunch of adulation and some push back. I am still in awe and denial that this could have happened to me. But it did. After a weeks worth of reflection as to how it happened and the steps taken to be honored with such a prestigious boost to my art practice, I am compelled to recall my earlier statements that it was all due to luck. It didn’t come without hard work and dedication. And it’s not anything that is a secret. This essay is not about the work or it’s caliber of expertise or defending it’s qualification as fine art. This letter is about how I did it. How I really won the prize.

I humbly share this knowledge freely to anyone and everyone who might wish to apply these principles and practices and hopefully be somehow rewarded for your efforts. I have learned what I’m going to share with you through years of experience and successful application in both my previous life as an exhibits and graphic designer as well as in my new fine art practice.

Art is like any other commodity. It is a product of our labors. It is sometimes done for the shear pleasure, for the gratification of self-expression and often for more. The Exhibit. The Sale. The hope of scraping together enough money to afford the next canvas and one more tube of titanium white. But like any other commodity the producer needs understand that they need to find an audience and/or customer. In arts case, we create an item that is unique. It is a one of a kind. That makes the challenge of finding that audience even more of a challenge. With the right work at the right place at the right time hopefully you will find a patron that might be moved by the work and purchase it. But the efforts to find the right market, the right venue and the right customer base JUST DOESN’T HAPPEN. It takes as much time and effort as if you were selling a new brand of tooth paste to a target market. It sometimes takes as much or more time than it takes to create the work itself.

This is where I employ the practice of what I call “Strategic Submission Strategies”. I teach a class at TCU as part of their extended education program that covers this and other Applied Professional Practices that I use in my daily routine of research and marketing efforts for my art practice.

Artists in general would rather make their art than spend all the time to market their art. Many create their work and distribute it like bird seed hoping that the right fowl will happen to fly along and take interest in their offerings. You can approach your practice like that but I have found that by applying Strategic Submissions Strategies (SSS) that I have improved my submission to acceptance ratio to about a 75% acceptance rate.

As I said art, is like any other product in that it must be presented to the right audience who is already predisposed to the style or type of art that you are making. Now the capabilities and caliber of work is important. Don’t let me suggest that you don’t have to produce good work. But if that work is placed in the right environment to the right patron than your presence and possible sale are greatly increased.

Before I entered the Hunting Art Prize I did a ton of homework. I do this with any show or call for submissions I consider. I first look up the background of the organization or gallery posting the call. If it is an organization that I feel is substantial and the event could move my work and career ahead then I continue. I research, in a gallery’s case, who their list of represented artist are. I look into past exhibits to see the caliber and style of accepted works for this exhibition. I consider if 1st. I have work that is competitive. 2nd. if the gallery or exhibition mission is something that might be applicable for my style of work. 3rd. I consider what work I have that might fit those 3 criteria. I then research who has curated the previous shows. What did they choose? Where are they from? What type of work (Art) do they do or collect? What are their professional qualifications that make them the chosen critic for the event? I then, if possible research the artist’s in the past shows as well as specifically, in the case of The Hunting Prize, the winner of the past years events. Do they make work that is representational? Abstract? Conceptual? Whatever. I ask myself how my work compares and if I have something that fits a niche with all this information that I have compiled. Sometimes you can research the current jurors or curators of the show. Most often the curator or jury for the show is promoted along with the call for submissions. Even if you can’t find the list of jurors for the show, you can use some deductive reasoning and consider the nature or the hosting company/gallery and the work that has won in the past then you have a pretty good profile of the curators they will choose for this event.

So here is the Secret.

Once all that homework is done and I’m assured that this is an event that my work would fit and would push my practice and career forward, I consider which work or works are most likely to meet the shows criteria and event theme. With The Hunting Art Prize I had to choose ONE work. I knew that this was specifically a 2-D show that has awarded prizes to recent Texas artists who did drawings. Bonus! Not all shows even recognize drawings as anything other than preliminary studies for real art like paintings. Then I had size limitations. I work big but the Saddle drawings were just under the 6 foot cut off criteria. I knew that the Hunting Corporation was international, into Oil as well as a number of other big business services and that this event is one of Houston’s most elite fundraising events with a very specific invitee list and big money going to the chosen charity. A bigger price tag on my work might not be a deterrent as it would be in a gallery. This show also allows artists to keep 100% of the sale value where as the same work in a gallery sale I would receive 50% of the ticket price. All the preliminary research showed that this was a very fertile promotional opportunity.

The work I chose to enter for this show was specifically and intentionally a Texas Show Saddle Drawing. My work, although looks western, is drawn with a stark white background and so it has a sort of contemporality that many western themed works lack. This particular saddle drawing could be equally at home in an ultra spartan and austere polished concrete condo in Aspen as it would be in a vacation ranch in the hill country of Texas. I built a custom rectangular steel tube frame that was brush finished and a piece of one-quarter inch plex with flame polished edges was suspended over the work and attached with industrial finishing hardware. The contemporary presentation of this traditionally western theme doubled my possible audience interest as it could be applicable to someone looking for something contemporary or someone looking for something traditional.

I researched the Hunting Art Prize, looked to see if my work would fit, considered the past winners and past jurors, looked at the works I could enter that fit the submission criteria and then I chose the best possible work that might be a strong contender for the prize. I prepped and presented the work to appeal to a broad base of viewers and then, I gave it all up to the universe and asked that what was supposed to happen would happened. I have a tattoo on my right forearm that reads in a delicate white script, t.t.u. unconditionally. Trust The Universe Unconditionally. It’s important to trust the universe but it helps to do a lot of homework to help it out as much as possible.

Respectfully I submit this in hopes that someone can benefit from my experience and can put into practice some of the efforts I have experienced as successful. Sometimes it is as much about the work behind the work as it is the work itself.


Bill Davenport May 12, 2013 - 17:48

Thanks for sharing your very practical advice so generously, Marshall.

Marshall K. Harris May 12, 2013 - 19:41

My pleasure. I hope it is beneficial to someone out there.

Hana Shoup May 22, 2013 - 13:44

Congratulations Marshall! It was an honor to be a fellow finalist in the Hunting Prize with you. I also appreciate you sharing your strategies with us. The practice of making art is too complex to reduce to “commercial” versus “conceptual” or “technique” versus “expression”. Your reply to the criticism is thoughtful and well said. Not all artists may want to take your approach, but it is a good approach. Ultimately, every artist should be proud of their own work. That is something everyone can agree on. The path the artist takes to put the work out in the world is their own decision, and is a journey in which luck plays only a much overrated part.
Good luck with your art and teaching pursuits.

gary j uribe May 17, 2013 - 01:56

Dear Mr. Harris,
Firstly, may i extend congratulations on your win. It was well-deserved. This comes from one of the other 1599 entrants. Secondly, thank you for your SSS essay. It was so informative, that I will be posting it on my studio/garage door. I appreciate the reasonableness with with you treat the marketability of your art. Recently, I learned Vermeer used a version of your SSS manifesto. I, too, will be adopting this structure. Thank you for posting. Sincerely, gju

Marshall K. Harris May 17, 2013 - 07:45

Gary. Thank you tons for the reply of support. As artists we are a sharing sort, at least I try and be and if anything I am doing in my practice is beneficial to others than I am happy to offer it. I hope some of the suggestions work for you as well. Thank You.

George Prochaska August 24, 2014 - 19:42

I saw Marshall last night at our 40 th high school reunion. I knew Marshall as a classmate, a carpooler to CCD, and as a friend. Marshall and I even did a video together in high school. Marshall was known for his art, as well as for creating a vibe that brought a good spirit to whatever he was involed in or whose company he was in. I am not an artist, just a lover of art. Marshall varied life interests and temperaments are a delight to consume in experiencing his art. As much as I enjoyed looking at his works on his website, remembering his art from high school including the army boots with the painted face on the toes, or the logo he created for TCU. I think I enjoyed his description of his game strategy for entering a show, or competing in an art contest, coupled with his life philosophy, for me it was another exquisite slice of his artistic gifts manifasted!


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