Autry Museum of Western Heritage
Los Angeles, California
photo, ©1999 John Hazeltine
Will James: Cowboy Artist and Author
a 1926 novel by Artist-Author Will James, won the
Newbery Medal for literature from the
American Library Association and
has never been out of print. This oil
by James of Smoky appeared on
the cover of a color illustrated edition
of the book and is his most
recognized and famous painting. It has
not been exhibited since 1929
and is one of 66 James artworks to be
exhibited at the Autry Museum
of Western Heritage from October 3 through
January 4, 1998.
Courtesy of A.P. Hays, Paradise Valley,
Purchased from the artist in 1920, this
painting remained in the
family of the original buyer until it
was acquired by the Autry Museum last year.
Photograph by Susan Einstein, Los Angeles.
- A special exhibition at the Autry
Museum ofWestern Heritage explores the tragic
- and fascinating life of artist and author Will James.
On view in the Showcase Gallery from Oct. 3,
- 1997, through Jan. 4, 1998, Will James: Cowboy Artist
and Author provides a rare opportunity
- for visitors to appreciate the artistic skills of the
author of such American classics as Smoky and
- Lone Cowboy.
- James' work, which includes 25 beloved novels, continues
to appeal to a large audience who grew
- up reading his books and to new generations of horse
fanciers and cowboy fans. This intimate
- presentation draws on an unmatched collection ofapproximately
75 paintings and drawings
- featuring the private collection of A.P. Hays, Paradise
Valley, Arizona, as well as first edition books,
- numerous early drawings and a newly acquired oil painting
from the museum's collection.
- James' literary career began in the early 1920s, when
the lanky cowboy from Nevada sent an
- essay and illustrations to Scribner's New York offices.
The easy-going, storytelling quality of his
- writing, illustrated with his own drawings and paintings,
made for a winning combination that was
- quickly recognized by editor Maxwell Evarts Perkins,
who worked with Thomas Wolfe, Emest
- Hemingway and other literary giants. James' first novel,
Smoky, won the Newbery Medal in 1927
- as the most significant contribution in American literature
that year for children, establishing his
- place as an enduring writer of note. All 25 of his books
are still in print.
- Born in Canada as Ernest Dufaut, James left home to be
a cowboy. Along with a new name, he
- manufactured a new identity, claiming different parents
and birth in Montana. Despite acclaim
- and success in the literary world, his life was tragic.
A brief prison term for rustling, a tumultuous
- marriage and devotion to drink contributed to his untimely
death in 1942 at age50.
- James' best works were produced in the late 1920s and
early 1930s at his first studio home on the
- Washoe slopes near Carson City, Nevada and in his studio
on his dream spread, the famous Rocking
- R Ranch at Pryer, Montana. Both Smoky and Lone
Cowboy were made into motion pictures. His art
- graced the pages of periodicals and books and illustrated
the works of many other authors.
Pencil drawings by Will James were precise and reflected
his real-life experiences as a working
cowboy. This example helped to illustgrate the book
Sand, published in 1929.
Courtesy of A. P. Hayes, Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Text and images courtesy of Autry Museum of Western Heritage
Search for more articles
and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists
for biographical information on historic artists.
This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource
Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for
Copyright 2012 Traditional
Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit
corporation. All rights reserved.