Clarence Basil Cuts The Rope was born on April 12, 1935 to Frank and Matilda (White Plume) Cuts The Rope at the family log cabin in Hays, Montana. Clarence came from a large family and was an enrolled member of the Gros Ventre Tribe. He grew up learning about his people and culture from his grandparents. His grandfather received the name Cuts The Rope when he and a friend attempted to steal Crow horses. His friend was captured, but Clarence’s grandfather stole into the Crow camp, cut the rope that bound his friend and they quickly escaped. Cuts The Rope became the family surname when Clarence’s father Frank was given his English name while in school. 

Clarence went to the Mission School in the Little Rocky Mountains, the same school that his parents attended, and where all his brothers and sisters were educated. Clarence once stated that education was very important to his parents and became important to him, as he got older and began raising his own family. While at the Catholic mission, the Franciscan sisters, as well as Clarence’s classmates, began to notice his natural artistic ability. The nuns encouraged Clarence to enter art competitions. After graduating from the mission high school, Clarence went to Haskell Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas, a vocational school for Native American and Alaskan Natives. The school is still operating today as the Haskell Indian Nations University. 

Clarence served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany in a mortar battery unit with the 24th Infantry and the 11th Airborne Divisions. After two years of service, he was honorably discharged in 1959. Clarence always valued his paratrooper wings. Upon his return home to Hays, he once again began to paint and draw.

Clarence gained a new outlook on his life and his art following a severe car accident that left him hospitalized for four months. With the encouragement of his mother and brother, Clarence focused on art full time, and consistently took up the practice of painting. Around this time, he met Margaret Hickey of Massachusetts. She was of Irish and Iroquois descent. With a Master’s Degree in English, she came West to be a Jesuit volunteer for the Mission School and later taught in the public school system. 

Margaret and Clarence were married in 1972 and made their home in Hays. The couple had five children together – Catcher and Delina “Sissy,” continue to reside in Hays, Montana; Jauquene “Paul”, of Havre, Montana; Thelma, currently living in Pryor, Montana; and Edna, who has made her home in Billings, Montana. When the children were of age, the family moved into Dodson, Montana, during the winter months so they could attend school. Clarence and Margaret built a log cabin and a studio at the Hays family ranch that they lived at the rest of the year.  

Clarence continued to paint and draw and soon found that he was establishing a career as a professional artist. He worked with a variety of mediums including sculpting in bronze, oil, watercolor and pastel painting, charcoal, and pen and ink drawings. Clarence signed his artwork with a drawing of a Native pipe by his name, for he saw it as a representative “logo” and a “sign of communication between man and the Creator.” This affinity with nature was something Clarence gained from his Native culture, and all Native Americans from the past. As one of his marketing brochures read, “There are few works of Cuts The Rope that do not have a mood of warm alliance with nature … Cuts The Rope doesn’t just paint a horse – he interprets that horse. His realistic style never looks like a photograph.” 

Clarence is best known for his use of light and color in the wide Montana skies of his oil paintings, and he reflected once in a Billings Gazette article, “My skies, they kind of determine my painting. The colors are so puny that we use, compared to when you look at a sunset, at nature itself.” Clarence incorporated his Native heritage into his work, along with knowledge of the Montana landscape – especially the plains, mountains, and breaks that have been a part of the region for hundreds of years. Clarence knew how to tell a story with the horses, wildlife and history right off his doorstep. He noted, “Mostly, I like to tell a story – that’s what every artist should do.” He had horses and cattle of his own and on occasion would trade paintings for horses. Clarence and Margaret traveled to local and national art shows, but mostly he sold his paintings from his studio through word of mouth. For a time, the couple, along with two of their children, Catcher and Sissy, lived in Lewistown, Montana, where he had a studio with a gallery open to the public. Clarence painted many pieces of art in his studio that are now part of private collections both nationally and internationally.  

Clarence’s talent will forever be immortalized in his work, beautiful tableaus of Western heritage and landscape, particularly the Native American culture and the traditions of his people. He was able to capture these old ways in form and color, and in his own words, felt that he depicted “the real Indian, the wildlife of the prairie, and a history of those who lived there.” 

Clarence Cuts The Rope died on March 29, 2000, at the age of 64, in Great Falls, Montana, of congestive heart failure. He was buried with full military honors in the Cuts The Rope Family Cemetery south of Hays. From there, Clarence looks out upon the landscape that he loved. With his strong connection to the Creator, he probably still gets to paint a sky now and then.

Works Cited:

Havre Daily News – Obituary printed April 2000

Billings Gazette – feature article by Jill Sundby, published February 24, 1991

Clarence Cuts The Rope artwork marketing material circa 1979-1985

Photographs in Composite Credit:

Private Art Collection of Stan Weaver (1989)

Private Art Collection of KellyAnne Terry (1990)

Clarence Cuts The Rope artwork from marketing material circa 1985 –  

   photographer unknown, all artwork credit to Clarence Cuts The Rope