Who’s Got Your Back?

Lesson Plan


Students will examine Rodeo-Pickup Man and find information that allows them to compare and contrast the roles of people who provide safety across cultures and throughout different time periods.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Social Studies


Students will be able to:

  • describe and analyze what they see in Rodeo-Pickup Man;
  • identify and interpret clues about roles people play in different communities; and
  • compare and contrast communities from the past and present.


  1. Show students Rodeo-Pickup Man and have them describe what they see. How many horses are there? How many people? What are the people doing?
  2. Explain that one of the men in the picture has a special job. He is called a rodeo pickup man. His job is to rescue bronco and bareback riders from their horses after they ride in a rodeo. This painting was painted in the 1930s, but people still have this job in rodeo communities today. If time allows, show students the video of rodeo pickup men doing their job.
  3. Ask students to look at the painting again. Can they identify which cowboy is the pickup man? How? What clues tell them that?
  4. Ask students why they think the rodeo pickup man is important to the rodeo. Some answers might be that he helps people in dangerous situations and that he provides safety.
  5. Ask students what characteristics a person who does a job like this must have? Answers might include bravery, strength, protectiveness, etc.
  6. Now consider any roles or jobs in your community, school, or family that fit a similar description. Ask students the following questions: Who makes you feel safe? Why? Can you recall who the caretakers were in any other cultures we have studied (e.g., American Indians)?
  7. Younger students will write one letter, as a class, to a rodeo pickup man. You can address it to a rodeo pickup man at Cheyenne Frontier Days or another rodeo that is closer to your community. You can share your impressions of the job that they do, ask why they risk their own safety for others, whether they ever get scared, or anything the students have been prompted to think about from the Rodeo-Pickup Man painting.
  8. Older students could write individual letters to a rodeo pick up man or to someone else who has a caretaking role in the community. You might wish to work with language arts standards and include proper letter writing format.


  • Paper for writing letters
  • Variety of pencils, markers, or other writing implements
  • Video of modern rodeo pickup men doing their jobs
  • About the Art section on Rodeo-Pickup Man
  • One color copy of the image for every 3–5 students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


  • Note-taking paper for each student


CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Ask questions, share information and discuss ideas about the past and present
      • Become familiar with United States family and cultural traditions in the past and present
    • Geography
      • Understand people and their relationship with geography and their environment
  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Rodeo-Pickup Man

Rodeo-Pickup Man

c. 1930

Frank Mechau

Who Made It?

Frank Mechau [MAY-show] was born in 1904 and grew up in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He worked for the railroad and as a cattle hand, and later received a boxing scholarship at the University of Denver, which helped finance his art studies. After traveling to Europe to study art, Mechau returned to Colorado. “America is the place for American artists,” he said. Mechau taught art at various places in Colorado, including his own Mechau School of Modern Art in downtown Denver. In 1934, he received his first of many government commissions to create murals (his first mural is located in the Denver Public Library). Mechau settled with his family in Redstone, Colorado, in 1937, where he continued to teach and paint. He died suddenly at the age of 42.

Mechau was well-recognized as a mural painter and has either murals or paintings in 48 states. He worked very slowly, with painstaking precision. Using countless sketches, he recomposed and resized his forms many times. Mechau’s representation of the West combined traditional subjects with simplified forms and a modern style.

What Inspired It?

Mechau felt that the West held the best possible subject matter for his art. “Sports, mountains, canyons and the history of the West, of which Colorado has more than her share, are subjects from which I hope to fashion [my art],” he said. This painting has a Colorado setting, with mountains along the horizon. Mechau was also inspired by the energy and beauty of horses, a common source of dynamic form and movement in his paintings.

While studying in Paris, Mechau was influenced by cubism, with its simplified, geometric shapes, and by artists like Picasso. For his own works, Mechau took cues from his studies in Europe and the many hours he spent scouring museums. Vibrant colors, which he may have admired in works of European art from the 1200s, along with strong, clean lines, influenced by Chinese and Japanese paintings, help express Mechau’s great adoration for the West.


Who’s Got a Face
Who’s Got a Face

Mechau loved horses and spent a lot of time observing them and making sketches, trying to capture their spirit and beauty. Notice that there are no facial features shown on any of the riders. Mechau created much more definition for the horses’ faces than those of their riders.

Missing Legs
Missing Legs

A quick leg count reveals how Mechau manipulated his subjects, overlapping figures to read as one form. While the gray and brown horses seem to have all of their legs, the white horse’s legs are not shown.

Smooth Lines
Smooth Lines

Mechau created smooth lines by combining the edges of his forms. Notice how he positioned the cowboy boots so they fall inside the shape of the horse.


To put more emphasis on the horses, the shirts of the riders blend in with the sky. A triangle of the primary colors is displayed with the red and yellow saddle blankets of the horses and the blue shirt on the third rider. A touch of the same red from one saddle blanket is used to highlight the artist’s signature at the bottom.


Shapes and lines repeat throughout the painting. Wispy horizontals define the scarf, clouds, and horse tail. Circles are repeated on the chap buttons, horse bit, and bridle joint.


Looking closely, you can see different textures Mechau created with the paint. The ground looks rough in comparison to the sky because the paint is thicker. The tail looks hairy, the horse’s body seems furry, and the chaps appear fluffy.

Small Details
Small Details

Although Mechau simplified his forms, he also included some small details. While the body of one rider is almost completely hidden, you can see his arm, wrapped around another rider, with a tiny flower on his cuff. Other small details include fringes on the brown chaps and a star on one of the saddles.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.