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Texas Artist Don Yena Captures the Cattle Business the Way It Was

By Johnny D. Boggs 
Originally published by Wild West magazine. Published Online: October 14, 2008 
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Long after I don't care, somebody will look at my paintings and say, 'You know what? He damn sure knew what he was painting.

At the heart of Donald M. Yena's 3-by-5-foot oil Texas Trail to Rail Trails, a trail herd ambles into town. On the tracks, a 4-4-0 engine waits for rangy Texas Longhorns of every conceivable color to cross. One drover pauses between the rails with a tally book, while the rest of the crew herds the cattle into massive loading pens. Off in the distance, just discernable through the dust, are a windmill, a water tank and the town. In the lower right, the trail boss meets with a man in a spanking rig pulled by a nice pony—probably the buyer. Unused railroad ties, tin cans and trash lie scattered about, and as the tracks cross a prairie dog town, a furry onlooker or two watches the action.

"I never thought I was going to finish the damned thing," Yena says in that deep Texas drawl, "but I did."

Talk about your narrative style of painting. The canvas is one of several Yena plans to create depicting the Texas cattle business, big paintings that tell a story and show the West as it really was. The San Antonio–based artist stresses historical accuracy.

"That's the way I do it," Yena explains. "If you see a saddle or a gun, it'll be the right one of the era. Everything will be just like it should be."

He doesn't have far to look to find the objects for his research, either. Usually, he'll pick something out of his and his wife Louise's personal collection of Western memorabilia, which includes badges, knives, guns and holsters, the latter of which, Yena says, "are harder to find than the actual guns." He stresses historical accuracy in his art.

"I'm a real stickler for that," he says. "Long after I don't care, somebody will look at my paintings and say, 'You know what? He damn sure knew what he was painting. I don't know where he got it, but he had it.'"

Where he got it, Yena says, was growing up around the cattle business in Castroville, Texas, about 15 miles west of San Antonio in the historic Medina River Valley. Texas Ranger John Hays is said to have led Henri Castro and his colonists, most of who came from Alsace, France, to found the town in 1844. And south Texas certainly grew into cowboy country. "I was always playing cowboys and Indians," he says, "and never got over it."

That explains his interest in collecting the West. And art?

"I got in trouble in grade school for drawing and scribbling and carving up desks rather than learning how to read and write," he says. "That's a fact. My mother used to go and get me shoe boxes at the store because they had white paper on the side, and I would do my crayon work and drawing on that, because everything else had lines through it.

"My mother could sketch," Yena recalls. "We didn't have much money. My family moved out to Medina County when I was about 3 years old. I watched her sketch some of the old buildings around Castroville, some of the ruins. I can remember watching her. I don't have anything she did, but I know she did. Maybe that was the beginning of it."

After studying commercial art at a vocational high school in San Antonio and a stint in the Navy, Yena broke into the Western art field. He does not sell prints and is not represented by a gallery or agency, but he has been dealing on the private collector market for more years than he cares to remember.

About a dozen years ago, Yena sold much of his collection to the Witte Museum in San Antonio, but he has been rebuilding his personal collection since. "We usually convert most of our monetary assets back into our collections," he says. "That's why we're broke all the time."

So how would he prefer to be remembered—as a collector or as an artist? "Just a damn good Western artist," he says. "That's what I like to do. I paint 'once upon a time in the West' with authenticity." ww

Donald Yena's San Antonio studio is open only by appointment. Call 210-494-5371.


24 Responses to “Texas Artist Don Yena Captures the Cattle Business the Way It Was”


  1. 1
    evan says:

    i found one of his painting out in the middle of the forest..it sounds made up but its true had no idea who he was befor thisw..its a painting of a cowboy saddleing up a house autographed as donald M. yena 82/300
    anybody have any idea of how much this is worth..if you find it send me an email at armyboy4@aol.com

  2. 2
    Gigi Gray says:

    Mr. Yena,

    I saw your collection at the Witte Museum for the first time last week. It took my breath away. Although I am a native Texan, I've never cared much for western art. You have changed that. I can still see the campfire in the rain/chuck wagon scene in my minds' eye…it really drew me in. Thank you so much for sharing your gift with us. Even a die-hard contemporary art enthusiast of African American descent at age 50+ can accept… and appreciate your love for your craft.

    Sincerely,

    Mrs. Gigi Gray

  3. 3
    Lucy Fernandez says:

    I visited the Witte Museum yesterday and was so inspired by the southwest paintings that Mr. Don Yena painted. It took me back in history. One I especially liked was "Quiet Night in Cow Town". I wish I could buy that painting . Thank you, Mr. Yena, for the beautiful work that you do.

  4. 4
    J.K.T. Williams says:

    I have two prints low Numbers — Bandits at border town and The yellow gun… Think that father got them in late 60's….. any comments?

  5. 5
    E. Kolodziej says:

    "My mother used to go and get me shoe boxes at the store because they had white paper on the side, and I would do my crayon work and drawing on that, because everything else had lines through it." Oh, how I remember the joy of finding paper without lines when I was a kid! Love this story. :)

  6. 6
    L Smith says:

    I have a painting by Donald M Yena that I bought at the San Antonio Stock Show in 1982. Print #168-300. Rider bringing in a stray and her baby before a storm.
    Has been framed since I bought it, but not sure if it is an original or a print. Signed best wishes to Dave and Lyn.

  7. 7
    Viola Smith says:

    Am Looking For A Print It Came On The Back Of A Magazine.

    Its A Horseman In Pond With Horse
    Three Men Coming Up
    He Has His Handgun Secretly Hidden From Them

    Can You Please Let Me Know Where I Can Buy A Print
    Of It….

    Thank-You.

  8. 8
    CHARLES L PEELER says:

    Big Iron in Hand on the back cover of Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine is WONDERFUL!

  9. 9
    Vernon Dill says:

    I would like to have a print of your work "Big Iron In Hand". Where can I purchase one and what size is available?
    Thanks

  10. 10
    Stephen Crites says:

    I would like to know if Donald Yena's canvas pictures have been reproduce in prints. He has several on western frontier I would like to purchase. In particular is the one featured in Texas parks and Wildlife

    This one is called "Big Iron in Hand".

  11. 11
    Frank Palowski says:

    Howdy Don, just thought I'd say hi to you and Louise and let ya know my wife still enjoys that painting I got from you for her.

    Frank, S.O.B's of SA

  12. 12
    Ann Newton says:

    I saw Don Yena's work at the Witte for the first time. It is stunning. Each painting captures you attention and holds it,unforgettable. Pure Texas dust, vultures and grit. Love them all.

  13. 13
    Carla Williams says:

    I think i have a painting of yours from 1973. The colors are mostly bule, with a large tree, small pond with a dead brach and a red bird sitting on it. It could be a print on canvas, not for sure. It is from Deegees Galleria. Could you tell me something about it.

  14. 14
    David K Baldwin says:

    Mr. Yenna, my father bought an original water color from you in 1980 a gun show in Texas. He passed away about 2 months ago . Thought you might be interested in knowing that that was one of his pieces of artwork he enjoyed the most

  15. 15
    Kate Nelson says:

    I bought a numbered edition print of Strangers Down Below at an auction several years ago, and I just love it! Its smaller than most of our other prints, and had been improperly framed so I didnt know it was a limited edition until recently It's numbered 135/350. I had never heard of Yena until I started researching it. It was done in 74. Thanks for any info or comments.

  16. 16
    Thomas Treadway says:

    I bought a picture of a lantern/rifle. Very nice painting and number 12 out of 100. Dated 1969. I love it and would like to have a few more of your paintings. Where can I find some…. Thanks

    • 16.1
      jack dwenger says:

      I have 3 low #(50's)Yena prints,framed,for sale.One is a high price to pay for water and 2 others of bandits raiding a town.they need a new home

      • 16.1.1
        Kate Nelson says:

        Have you sold your prints already? I just saw your message this afternoon. Please message me if you haven't, also could you post a pic. of them and how much do you want for them? Thanks Kate

  17. 17
    Albert D. says:

    I have a beautiful painting by Yena for sale. It's the "Old Leader" (A buffalo). It's framed and it measures 44W x 36H in great condition. I love and treasure this painting but need to sell it.
    Please email me if interested, Thanks.

    • 17.1
      Joy Wilson says:

      In about 1975 we saw a painting in an art shop by Donald Yena that we liked (of a buffalo) standing in the snow and you could see his breath. We liked it but just couldn't make a purchase like that at that stage in our lives (probably still can't) but wondered you have this particular painting that we saw.

    • 17.2
      Kate Nelson says:

      Have you sold your painting yet? I just saw your post this afternoon. Is it really a painting? An original? Or just a print on canvas? Can you post a pic? And also let me know what you were asking? Thanks Kate

  18. 18
    Rick says:

    Have been looking for the Bordertown Bandit series.
    During the 80s, I was aware of four different BB scenes.
    If anyone has any of these for sale, reasonably, I am interested.

  19. 19
    mark says:

    I like to know if I have the original border town bandit , how and where can be praised ,Thanks

  20. 20
    Gina Cole says:

    I have 1 large i guess print on canvas of a cattle drive and 3 smaller ones that my uncle had given me. The 3 small ones were in 1983 and the larger one in 1994. He had purchased an art gallery that was going out of business. My husband and both agree those were the best wedding gifts we received.



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