Cowboy artist Bill West was born in 1893 in Benkelman, Nebraska. In 1902 his family became part of the Oklahoma land rush, settling near Lawton. Mr. West’smemories of a pioneering life on the plains of Middle America stayed with him his entire life and provided him with the inspiration of landscapes and characters appearing in his oil paintings.
The West family moved to Modesto, California, in 1908 and Mr. West’s lawyer-father established J.S. West and Company, a business that remains an important part of Modesto’s economy. Bill West’s only formal training in art came at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts and it was while he was living in the City that he met and married his landlady’s daughter, the former Ruth Paul.
Mr. West’s interest in horses, cattle and ranch life culminated with ownership in ranches in Mendocino and Lake Counties. Unfortunately, severe economic conditions of the 1930’s took their toll on the cattle business and the family was forced to liquidate.
A trip to Sonora rodeo in 1935 convinced Bill and Ruth West that they should live in Tuolumne County. Mr. West and his brother, Norman, established a branch of the family firm in Sonora.
Mr. West continued to paint western scenes, many featuring cowboys at work on the range and in competition in rodeos. His imagination, talent and genuine love of his subject matter combined to produce the paintings that you see here. Bill West’s tall, slim physique and ramrod straight posture gave him the appearance of the cowhand he portrayed in his works.
Mr. West’s interest in perpetuating the values of ranch life led to his helping found the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse and his participation in parade and rodeos, usually astride one of his prize quarter horses. He also helped organize the Mother Lode Art Association and served on the Mother Lode Fair Board of Directors in Sonora. His memory is honored in prizes offered by those organizations.
When he died in 1955, he left an artistic legacy, which honors America’s most enduring hero, the cowboy, and celebrates the Wild West days of old.
The Old West, the Wild West and Bill West had a lot in common.