Tough by Nature: Portraits of Cowgirls and Ranch Women of the American West

“I undertook this project because the character of these women is right there on the surface, more so than somebody who’s got layers and layers of urban culture.” – Lynda Lanker, artist

In 2012, fine artist Lynda Lanker launched “Tough by Nature,” a series of portraits of women ranchers and cowgirls from the American West. A 19-year project, she traveled the western United States to interview 49 women and capture their spirit through portraiture. As the American West undergoes transition and transformation, Lynda’s work preserves the histories of these contemporary western heroines.

The book “Tough by Nature” was published by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Oregon, and an exhibition of the same name was on view at the museum from July 1 – Sept. 9, 2012. The exhibit is now touring at other museums through Landau Traveling Exhibitions.

The project began as an idea of Lynda’s artist friend, Elizabeth Brinton, who suggested a collaboration to portray Eastern Oregon. Elizabeth would paint the landscape and Lynda, the people. Elizabeth was unable to commit to the extensive travel schedule, so Lynda pursued the project on her own and extended it to include most of the American West. Throughout the project, Lynda was encouraged and advised by her late-husband, photographer Brian Lanker.

Lynda’s process included on-site photographs, sketches and interviews. For the portraits, she experimented with a variety of mediums, choosing the technique she felt best captured the subject’s character. The 49 portraits range in medium from charcoal, oil pastel, acrylic and egg tempera, to plate and stone lithography and drypoint engraving.

Click on "Purchase" to see images of lithographs and engravings that can be purchased here.

More information about scheduling the exhibit can be found at

“This 19-year sojourn has been almost like a second childhood for me, sitting, listening, and watching these women. I learned from them, and they changed me … the resilience, character, and quiet strength of these extraordinary women will be with me forever.” – Lynda Lanker, artist

Buy Now Link to Gallery

Exhibition Schedule


Past Exhibitions

July 1 – September 9, 2012:

Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Eugene, Oregon

Opening attendance: 1,150 people, including some of the cowgirls featured in the book – Georgie Sicking (WY), Jonnie Jonckowski (MT), Lois Stevenson (OR), Vicki Bass (TX), Carolyn Hunt Olson (WA), Kay Shelton (WA), Teresa Gray (TX) and Gerda Hyde (OR).

February 1 – March 31, 2013:

Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon

May 9 – September 9, 2013: 

National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth, Texas

Oct. 18, 2013 – Jan. 19, 2014: 

Turtle Bay Recreation Park, Redding, California

September 20, 2014 - February 1, 2015:

Museum of the Rockies, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana

March 29, 2015 - July 12, 2015:

The Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas


October 10, 2015 - January 17, 2016:

High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon