A Well Drawn Legacy
Published by the K-State Agriculturist, Fall 2023 Edition
Story by Carlie Jones
Stroke by stroke, it’s impossible to overlook the impeccable detail and experience that goes into every drawing Dino Cornay creates. For almost 40 years, Cornay has built a legacy of portraying the western culture and lifestyle in a realistic manner with paper, pencil and a little help from his time at Kansas State University.
Cornay was born and raised in Folsom, New Mexico, on his family’s multigenerational ranch that spanned the acres below the historic Capulin volcano. He spent every day deeply immersed in the ranching lifestyle as his family continued to operate their properties for all his life.
The flicker of his potential passion for art arose during Cornay’s teenage years while attending school in the little town of Des Moines, New Mexico.
“I would draw on the desks in the classrooms,” Cornay says. “After a while,
the janitors wouldn’t wash the pictures off, and I got in trouble a lot in school for drawing when I was supposed to be doing other things.”
His artistic abilities continued to blossom while in high school, but it still was not something he was entirely serious about.
“The high school art teacher I had was just the nicest lady in the world, but she knew enough to just kind of nudge me,” Cornay says. “She rarely came in; we would just go in the lab and paint or draw whatever we wanted every day.”
DRAWING ON POTENTIAL
For Cornay, the art ability came easily, but he also spent a large portion of his high school career on livestock judging teams, something that also came naturally for the fourth-generation rancher and cattle producer. Because of his judging experience, Cornay and a couple of his classmates were recruited on scholarship to judge livestock at Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas, in the fall of 1976. It was here that Cornay realized there might be something worth pursuing in his art.
While at Colby, he decided to take an art class, which would wind up being the only formal art training he ever received. However, Cornay chalked the experience up as a bust when he received a “D” in the class because the teacher was interested in different subject matter than him. Even though the classroom experience was not what he hoped it would be, Cornay was encouraged to continue with his art when he made his first sale.
“The first drawing I sold was for $5 to a classmate at Colby,” Cornay says “When she bought my drawing, people were beginning to see more of my work, and they began to tell me, you know, you need to pursue this.”
LIVESTOCK LEADS THE WAY
Even though his desire to create art was growing, he still had to decide what his next steps were for his education. After much thought, Cornay ultimately decided that it was worth the eight-hour drive to call K-State home. Here, he continued his livestock and horse judging careers and found success with both teams in 1979 and 1980.
While working toward his animal sciences and industry degree, Cornay had many opportunities to hone his craft and entertain his classmates with his art and cartoons. People began to really take note of his growing talent, and he was asked by K-State’s Block and Bridle Club to do a cover drawing for their publication. He was then asked to do the cover of K-State’s Angus Sale catalog that depicted a famous cow from K-State’s registered Angus herd; the original drawing still hangs in Weber Hall today. Cornay continued to grow his portfolio by doing sale catalog artwork for Laflin Angus Ranch in Olsburg, Kansas.
For Cornay, his experience at K-State was second to none, compared to his other accomplishments.
“I am as proud of my degree from K-State as I am anything that I’ve ever accomplished in my life,” Cornay says. “I can go to K-State to this day and run into somebody that I know. It was rewarding going to school there because we had the best animal science faculty, bar none, that helped mold me into the person I am today.”
His time at K-State was a crucial step for his art career as he credits his livestock judging experience to understanding the true anatomy and physiology of cattle and horses.
“Being raised on the ranch, and all that judging that I did, contributed to my knowledge about anatomy to this day; it all carried over,” Cornay says. “Understanding the musculature and structure of everything, I try to keep it as accurate as I can. Cattle are not as easy to portray as a person thinks, but horses? Horses are unique; God truly placed his hand of blessing on horses.”
Upon graduating K-State in 1980, Cornay returned to New Mexico with the desire to pursue western art and ranch full time. It took him many years and hundreds of hours in the studio to create the success he has had. Much of which is attributed to his desire to capture the tradition, culture and heritage of the western lifestyle.
“I have not tried to emulate anybody else. That is probably one of the things I am proudest of regarding my work,” Cornay says. “People can recognize my work from a distance before they see the name, and that’s what you want. You want your own style, you want your own identity, your own brand.”
In 2015, Cornay was commissioned by K-State to do a drawing for the first ever Don L. Good Impact Award that was presented to professor emeritus Miles McKee. The drawing was affectionately named “Mentors” by Patsy Houghton, as it featured Good and McKee, and it currently still hangs in the Weber Hall foyer adjacent to Weber Arena.
Over the years, Cornay has been featured and recognized because of his many successful drawings and collections. He has sold out 25 limited edition prints that are made up of 100-750 collectible prints. He has also worked with numerous organizations like the American Angus Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Merck Animal Health, American Hereford Association, National Junior Hereford Association and he has been featured in the American Quarter Horse Journal and the Western Horseman. Most notably, he was awarded the 2019 Rounders Award by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. This prestigious award is given to individuals who advance the western lifestyle and culture in the state of New Mexico.
At the end of the day, there is a sense of undeniable wonder that comes from looking at a Cornay drawing. Maybe it is the painstaking details that go into every pencil stroke, or the heritage built by generations of hard work that inspire the art. Either way, there is no denying these drawings speak for themselves, and boy, do they tell a story.
View story with photos in the K-State Agriculturist here.