Montana museum opens with James work

"The Old Story"

     (PNAN-MT) – “We hope that the community of Great Falls will come down for this exceptional show,” said Executive Director of the C.M. Russell Museum, Darrell Beauchamp. “History and art come alive in James’ work and this is one of the most incredible exhibitions we have had the honor of hosting.”  On display is more than 200 pieces including watercolor paintings, oil paintings, pen and ink drawings, movie ephemera, books, and photographs.

     The opening reception is free and the public is encouraged to attend on Thursday, October 28 from 7:00-9:00 pm. Collector Abe (A.P.) Hays will introduce this historic collection and remain for a gallery walk-through with visitors. Wine and light refreshments will also be served.

     Will James was born Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault on June 6, 1892, in Saint-Nazaire-d’Acton, Quebec, Canada. He passed in Hollywood, California on September 3, 1942, however he spent much of his later years on his ranch at Pryor Creek, Montana and at his Billings home on Smoky Lane.

     Artist and American West writer James started drawing at the age of four on the kitchen floor. He settled and learned to be a western cowboy in the new French-Saskatchewan settlement of Val Marie in 1910, but three years later, he was accused of cattle theft. He left with a new name, William Roderick James, travelled the United States, drifting and working at several jobs, and was jailed in Carson City, Nevada for a brief period of time for cattle rustling.

     He went on to work as a stuntman in movies and served in the U.S. Army from 1918-19, and afterwards began selling his sketches as well as was a horse wrangler for the First Annual Nevada round-Up in Reno in July 1919. He married Alice Conradt in 1920 and sold his first writing, “Bucking Horse Riders” in 1922, and later he sold several short stories and books.

     This modest success afforded him the ability to purchase a small ranch in Washoe Valley, Nevada, where “Smoky the Cow Horse,” his most famous book was written and published in 1926, garnering him the Newbery Medal for children’s literature in 1927. Film adaptations of the book were made, with James narrating the 1933 film.  

     His fictionalized autobiography, “Lone Cowboy” became a bestselling Book-of-the-Month Club selection. In 1942, his last book, “The American Cowboy” was one of 23 he wrote and illustrated in all. In 1991, James was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, but the largest public collection of his writings, artwork, and personal effects is at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana.

“Thoroughman's Home on the Range”

    For more information, including the workshops, “The Bison: American Icon, Heart of the Plains Indian Culture” on October 30 and 31; and “Visual Language of the Plains: Ledger Art” on  Tuesday, November 9 and Wednesday the 10th, including other programming,  call the Museum 406.727.8787 or in person at 400 13th Street North in Great Falls.




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