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 William Abraham (Willie) Bell  (1841 - 1921)



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Lived/Active: Colorado/Kansas / Ireland/England      Known for: survey sketch artist, magazine illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Likely born in Ireland, William Bell was an English doctor known as Dr. Willie Bell.  He was an early resident of Colorado Springs, and became an illustrator for Harper's in 1867.   He was also a survey-sketch artist for the Kansas-Pacific Railroad and a photographer during the Indian Wars.

His exploration of the West began in 1867 when he was in St. Louis at an international medical convention and heard about the survey from Salina to San Francisco.  He took a job as survey photographer and spent three days learning photography. He joined General Will Palmer, the survey leader, and others near Pikes Peak, and the party spent nine months fighting Indians, experiencing low rations, weather extremes, and getting lost before making their way back to Denver.

He returned to England where he wrote and illustrated New Tracks in North America, which was published in London in 1869.  The book is a description of the geography, Indians, and adventures of the expedition.  He made the illustrations from his photographs.  According to Peggy and Harold Samuels, his descriptions were delightful, an example being: "What curious freaks of nature these North American buffalo are! The small hind-quarters look out of all proportion to the massive strength of the shoulders and the chest; smooth, and apparently shaven, like the back of a French poodle, they do not seem to belong to the same animal. The huge head hangs low; it is completely covered with long shaggy hair matted together, which hides the features. The little corkscrew tail ends in a tuft" (36).

By 1869, Bell had returned to Pikes Peak to assist William Palmer in the planning of a railroad between Colorado Springs and the tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad. In 1872, he joined the Wheeler Expedition as a photographer, and traveled through the Colorado plateau and the Grand Canyon.  According to James Ballinger in his book Visitors to Arizona, 1846-1980, Bell wrote back to the Philadelphia Inquirer:  "Troubles are constant with . . . gusts of wind [covering the collodion plate with dust and sand until it looks] as though it had been sifted" (17).

Sources include:
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West.

James Ballinger, Visitors to Arizona, 1846 to 1980

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born Ireland, 1841; died Bletchingly Surrey, England, 1921. Doctor. Illustrator. Photographer. Dr. Bell was in St. Louis in 1867 attending an international medical convention when he learned of the Kansas Pacific Rail Survey from Salina to Santa Fe. Bell worked for Harper’s Weekly as the survey photographer. The book, New Tracks in North America, published in London in 1869 has illustrations based on his photographs. Some of Bell’s papers and photographs are available in the Colorado College Library in Colorado Springs.
Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Samuels, Peggy. Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1976., Peggy. Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1976.; Journal of Arizona History (Autumn 1998)
This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

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