As an enrolled member of the Gros Ventre Tribe, Clarence Basil Cuts the Rope 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 in school.

While attending the Mission School in the Little Rocky Mountains, Clarence was encouraged by the Franciscan sisters to nurture his natural artistic ability. After graduating, he went to Haskell Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas, a vocational school for Native American and Alaskan Natives.

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. The two were married in 1972 and made their home in Hays, where they had five children.

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 bronze, oil, watercolor, pastel, charcoal, and pen and ink. 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.” 

Clarence is best known for his use of light and color in the wide Montana skies of his oil paintings. 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 knew how to tell a story with the horses, wildlife, and history right off his doorstep. He and Margaret traveled to local and national art shows, but mostly he sold his paintings from his studio through word of mouth. His talent will forever be immortalized in his work, beautiful tableaus of Western heritage and landscape, particularly the culture and the traditions of his people.

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