"The West's Best"

by Peter MacMillan Booth






Though the popularity of Western Art dwindled during and after World War II, a few artists, out of a love for the subject and a close connection to the West, continued the Western Art tradition.

As the Great Depression and then World War II descended on the nation, some artists turned to regionalism that emphasized social realism instead of nostalgia while others ventured into abstract expression. By the 1950s and early 1960s, many artists, following the trend set by the buying public, moved out of regional art altogether and became more worldly. The few who continued the Western Art tradition did so because of a personal connection of affection for the West, especially cowboying. Three leading examples of these true Westerner artists include R. Farrington Elwell, Olaf Wieghorst, and Lon Megargee. A local description of Megargee can be used for most of these interim period artists -- he was not a "carpetbagger with a paint box or a disillusioned urbanite seeking a new life," but a true Westerner.


Key Artists

R. Farrington Elwell

(Born: Boston, Massachusetts, 1877 - Died: Phoenix, Arizona, 1962)

Though he came from elsewhere, Wickenburg has a claim to one of these True Western artists -- R. Farrington Elwell. This Massachusetts native started his career as a newspaper illustrator in Boston when he happened to meet William Cody. This fortuitous encounter led to Elwell's becoming the ranch manager of William Cody's ranch in Montana for twenty five years. Through Cody, he became acquainted with such Western figures as Diamond Jim Brady, Teddy Roosevelt, and Annie Oakley, who taught his daughter how to shoot. After leaving Montana, Elwell came to Wickenburg as an art teacher for Remuda Ranch. Throughout his life he continued to illustrate Western images, selling black-and-white sketches to Harper's, Century, American, and other journals through the 1930s. He only started adding color to his works, such as the five hanging in the DCWM gallery, at the request of his publisher. Up to the end of his career, Elwell's paintings remained vigorous and youthful. (left: R. Farrington Elwell, Foiled, A.K.A. Cody, Desert Caballeros Western Museum Permanent Collection)


Alonzo "Lon" Megargee

(Born: probably Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1883 - Died: probably Cottonwood, Arizona, 1960)

An Arizona favorite from the period of the True Westerner art is Lon Megargee. In reality, much of his life is rather mysterious, with several different versions floating around about his exploits. According to his own story, Megargee left Philadelphia at age 14 and worked as "an exhibition roper in a Wild West show, a bronc buster, a fireman, a poker dealer, a police captain, and a rancher." He was also partially a salesman, winning a $7,000 commission from Arizona's governor without any previous painting experience. He eventually served as the head of the Art Department for Paramount Studios before coming to Arizona as a full-time artist. He is best known for the humorous advertisement illustrations he did for Arizona Brewing Company, maker of A-1 Beer. One of the most famous of these images is Cowboy's Dream. This one was such a hit, that her painted several originals, one of which now hangs in the DCWM gallery. DCWM created a Megargee exhibition which ran from February through April, 2002. Prints of the Megargee A-1 beer advertisements and a biography of Megargee entitled The Cowboy's Dream: The Mythic Life and Art of Lon Megargee, written by Dr. Betsy Fahlman, are available in the Museum's gift shop. The following A-1 beer jingo accompanied reprints of Megargee's painting.

A-1, Wonderful one is A-1 Pilsner Beer...
A Treat, A Wonderful Treat,
So smooth and sparkling clear...
So Deep Down Satisfying,
Mellow and light you're so Right,
A-1, A wonderful one is A-1 Pilsner Beer.


Olaf Wieghorst

(Born: Viborg, Jutland, Denmark, 1899- Died, 1975)

One of West's premier artists during the post-war era, Olaf Wieghorst was the only one not to be raised in the West but instead hailed from Denmark. He did, however, grow up with horses and by age fourteen, was a trick rider in a circus. At nineteen, he came to the United States and joined the 5th Calvary patrolling the Mexican border. After three years, he became a cowboy in New Mexico. Although he moved to New York and worked as a mounted policeman, the love he developed for the West and for horses became the foundation for his later artwork. Not until he was forty-one did he ever sell any of his work, yet his career mushroomed soon after. In 1962 he presented The Trail West to the American Historical Museum in Jutland, Denmark. Later, the museum sold this painting to form a fund to support that museum. DCWM is now the permanent home for this painting.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

return to page 1 of "The West's Best"; Gallery Guide by Peter MacMillan Booth

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. [rev. 5/9/12]

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