Rayburn Senior Brandon Leal, the 2016 Grand Champion, holds his drawing, "Comradery
Like No Other," as it is auctioned during the school art auction at the
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Sunday, March 13, 2016, in Houston. Photo credit Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle
Photo credit Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle
via The Houston Chronicle
This year's Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo School art Grand Champion - with a winning bid of $185,000 - was "Comradery Like No Other" by Rayburn’s Brandon Leal, a colored-pencil drawing of rodeo cowboys waiting at the chute, their eyes focused on the action in the ring. The scene is remarkably lifelike, from the creases in their jeans to the J.J. Watt jersey on a member of the crowd.
Hundreds of potential buyers filled the seats at NRG Arena's Sales Pavilion, yardsticks in hand and ready for bidding. As Leal strode across the stage, showing the framed artwork to bidders on all sides, his fellow art students - seated together in a single section - pounded their yardsticks on the ground, drumming up excitement as the bidding war took just moments to play out.
Leal, 18, drew "Comradery" from a photograph. He said he liked the image because it shows the rodeo from a different perspective, offering a behind-the-scenes look at rodeo life beyond the big moments that make the crowds cheer. The cowboys in his drawing are likely competitors, but in boots and faded jeans they wait amiably together at the chute.
"People forget about how these cowboys work with each other," Leal said. "They support each other and respect each other."
The same group of bidders, for the most part, won both the Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion’s art this year, spending a collective $405,000 on them.
Leal's piece was bought by Mimi and Tom Dompier, Lynda and Jim Winne, Jennifer and Joe Van Matre and the Sommerville family, including Paul and Kristina and their daughter and son-in-law, Courtney and Bradley Becker.
The Reserve Grand Champion Lucy Chen's work went to a bidding group that included many of the same people: the Dompiers, the Van Matres, the Sommerville family and Mary and Ken Hucherson.
It's not the first time this group has bought art together; on the list of top buyers at the school art auction, their names appear in some combination every year since 2000. But the group decided Sunday morning that, for the first time, they'd try to win both of the top two pieces, said Jennifer Van Matre.
"It was kind of a last-minute decision," she said.
Leal's work will go to the Van Matres' ranch near Victoria, where they display much of the student artwork they've bought over the years. And Chen's piece will hang in the couple's Houston living room, Jennifer Van Matre said.
Part of Sunday's auction money goes directly to the winning students - at least $28,000 for Leal and at least $14,000 for Chen. They're both planning to use the money for college tuition. The rest will go the rodeo's education programs.