Still home on the range

A famous Texas ranch gets a coffee table book worthy of its story

At a little over 12 inches square, 6666: Portrait of a Texas Ranch is a pretty good spread, and with 150 color photographs in 160 pages, it contains many glorious spreads - black baldies lumbering through belly-high grass, cowpokes branding colts, the chuckwagon at sunrise - and a handful of centerfolds. Therein lies the book's only glaring weakness: The largest images seem to be pushed beyond their technical limits, resulting in a distorting graininess that contrasts unfavorably with the sharp color and definition of the smaller vignettes.

Sharp and colorful also describe the economical prose of sports and wildlife writer Henry Chappell, who has crafted a set of introductory essays that contextualize the Four Sixes geographically, historically, culturally, and economically. Among the ranching facts Chappell weaves into the visual tapestry is news that "Experienced cow punchers need less than thirty seconds to brand, castrate, dehorn, and vacinnate." 6666 doesn't try to soft-peddle the methods of modern ranching. The text and images include branding, weaning, spraying cows with high-pressure nozzles for ticks and lice, and round-up for market, but ranch foreman Mike Gibson - a third-generation member of the ranch's workforce - makes the case through Chappell and photographer Wyman Meinzer that Four Sixes handles the business as humanely as possible.

A debatable subject, but less controversial is Gibson's and ranch owner Anne Marion's commitment to reclaiming the natural prairie from the invasive, water-hungry cedar and mesquite; it's repetitive work that requires pulling the shrubs up by the roots, controlled burns, and in the Four Sixes' case, aerial spraying with herbicides (which happens to yield the best photo in the book). Where eradication is successful, though, large swaths of native grasses are burnished by the sun, native wildlife such as wild turkeys and bobcats thrive, and long-dry springs have been known to flow again.

The book takes pains to remind readers that the Four Sixes is not a charm on a millionaire's bracelet but a working ranch, if an uncommonly well-appointed one (even for Texas). Marion is famous for the Four Sixes, but she is also a generous patron of the arts who served as chairman of the committee that engaged Tadao Ando to design the haunting new home of the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth. She and husband John Marion, a former chairman of Sotheby's, have been involved with the Modern, the Georgia O'Keefe Museum and SITE Santa Fe in New Mexico, as well as Fort Worth's Burnett Foundation (named after Marion's great-grandfather, Burk Burnett, who built the Four Sixes in the late 19th century) and numerous other cultural philanthropies.

6666: Portrait of a Texas ranch
By Wyman Meinzer and Henry Chappell
Texas Tech University Press
$45.00, 160 pages
ISBN: 0896725367
The photographs by Meinzer - who is the official state photographer of Texas and has produced picture books on everything from Texas Whitetail to Texas Quail for the fish and game crowd - appear to be printed on a semi-matte stock and spot varnished. The technique is supposed to make the words easier to read while still retaining definition in the photographs. I'm not sure it yields the crispness of images printed on high gloss paper, but it does make the Four Sixes story easier on the eyes, and in this case, a thousand words are worth a single picture.

By Elaine Wolff

Scroll to read more Arts Stories & Interviews articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.