Talking art shop over a meal at Blue Moon Diner

Tri-City Tribune

You might wander into Blue Moon Diner on a Wednesday afternoon and notice a bunch of older gentlemen in deep conversation. Sometimes a couple of them carry in a painting or two.

What are they up to? Could they be antique collectors, art dealers or just some friends meeting for their weekly lunch date? They actually are all of the above.

This group of men is fondly called the Lunch Bunch. It is a number of well-known, well-loved artists who reside in San Juan County and have a passion for their work and hankering for friendship.

It all began more than 20 years ago, when the Norman Rockwell of the West, also known as painter Gerald Farm, visited with an artist friend in Santa Fe. Clark Huling told Farm that he met up with a few artists each week to talk shop.

“I decided it would work in Farmington,” Farm said. He invited Lance Mumma to join him for lunch. Then Bob Blair, of Aztec, started coming and so did Jim Tschetter and the Rev. Jim Simpson.

“I’ve only been here a short 18 years,” said John Cogan, during the Wednesday, March 28, luncheon. Cogan is leading an art show with several of the Lunch Bunch members. John Cogan and Friends Paint the Town opens April 13 at Artifacts Gallery in Downtown Farmington.

“I still remember when Gerald called me up and asked me to do this (join the Lunch Bunch). It was December of 1993,” Cogan said.

Gerald Farm is not only the patriarch of this group; he is one of the better-known artists to hail from San Juan County. Filled with knowledge and stories about art, Farm spoke about having talked to Norman Rockwell on the telephone in the 1970s. He modestly explained that one of his early paintings, Night Rider, was named for Rockwell, so he told his wife that if it sold they would travel to Rockwell’s studio and meet him.

When it sold, Farm called the studio and Rockwell answered the phone. “He was very pleasant, very nice,” Farm said.

Throughout the years Farm has invited other well-known and well-sold artists to join Lunch Bunch. Many have come once or twice. Some have left the area and returned such as Rod Hubble, and other artists such as Tschetter, Cogan, Larry Rea and Blair stayed.

“I think almost anybody’s welcome,” said Tschetter, who is a western and wildlife artist, and a past recipient of the Arts for the Parks award. While he has two or three local folks that collect his works, Tschetter said he’s never really made a profit selling his works locally.

This is the sad tale of many talented and well-known Farmington artists. They might be represented by galleries in Santa Fe, Sedona, Scottsdale and other worldly locations, but in their hometown it can be difficult to move their works. Part of that has to do with the economy and part of it has to do with the location.

“The problem with selling art anywhere is you don’t sell art like you sell hardware,” Cogan said. “Nobody goes into an art gallery with the intention of buying art.”

When someone goes into a gallery they don’t want a high-pressure sales person, they want to talk with someone about art, maybe even meet the artist. “A lot of it takes the right person to sell it,” Cogan said.

And now is a great time to invest in art, according to Cogan. “Art is a tricky investment, but right now living artists are selling as inexpensive as they’ve ever sold.”

Classic art will never lose its value, but Cogan admitted it can be difficult to invest in a living artist. It just takes knowing the work and loving it.

“As an investment, now is the time to buy,” added Dwight Lawing, the newest member of the Lunch Bunch.

Art in his opinion is communication. “It’s a story without words,” he said. “For me the arts are born in our genes, since the cavemen first started making drawings in the sand – it was the arts.”

Larry Rea agreed: “That’s true.”

Bob Blair added to the conversation: “Every painting is a piece of art, but not every piece of art is a masterpiece.”

Lawing sat listening and smiling. “I wish I could absorb all of the knowledge that comes from these guys,” he said, as the conversation turned toward the economics of art.

The gentlemen agreed that with the rising costs canvas and paints you could make more money selling art supplies than selling paintings.

Cogan said that he never throws anything away. Even paintings he doesn’t like find their way into storage and are sometimes dug out and recreated. “Revisit it. Repaint it. Make it work,” he said.

He did just that with this upcoming show. He found an older piece and revisited it to make it work. Now he will put it in the local show.  Cogan is known for painting the Grand Canyon and will be a part of the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art in September. He also was commissioned to paint more than 24 pieces for the Sultanate of Oman.

Cogan says he enjoys participating in local shows as well and he is looking forward to the one at Artifacts, which will give artists an opportunity to share their recent works with the public, receive feedback and hopefully sell a painting or two.

Interestingly most of these men are artists in their second career. Rea was a banker. Blair retired from the city of Aztec. Tschetter still works as a hunting outfitter, and Cogan is a former geophysicist. Hubble, Farm and Lawing have had life-long careers in art.

“We could drive trucks or something, but we paint,” Lawing said. “That’s our passion.”

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