Our current exhibition features a painting by artist Shannon Stirnweis.

Shannon Stirnweis | Lonesome Dove | 1985 | Oil on canvas mounted on wood panel | The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University

Look familiar? This is the image that graced the original cover of the 1985 publication of Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove. How does an artist develop a book cover design? Our research volunteer, Shelle McMillen, spoke with Mr. Stirnweis to learn more.

Shannon Stirnweis has had much experience working in the book publishing industry, having produced several book covers for Western literary authors like Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. One day, Stirnweis received an assignment from a publisher along with a copy of the Lonesome Dove manuscript. Stirnweis read the story to find inspiration for what he would represent on the cover. The artist created three drafts, each different compositions, within a period of two weeks, which was longer than the amount of time he would typically spend on developing a concept.

Shannon Stirnweis | Lonesome Dove Book Jacket | Book | The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University

The publishers were attracted to Stirnweis’ color sketches that included the trail herd and Gus’s tent. His final painting illustrates the tent and campsite Gus assembled for Lorie after she was abandoned by her travel partner, Jake Spoon. Crouched in the far left corner of the composition is Blue Duck, the notorious bandit from Gus and Call’s Texas Ranger days. The scene foreshadows the impending danger of Lorie’s kidnapping and the ensuing hardships Gus will endure to rescue her. Trailing in the background is the ongoing adventure of Captain Call and his cattle drive as they remain steadfast in their journey to Montana.

What do you think? Did Stirnweis capture the essence of Lonesome Dove? They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Or in the case of the hundreds of pages of Lonesome Dove, 365,712 words to be exact.