1908 (Rock Springs, Wyoming)
1984 (Denver, Colorado)
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Often Known For
landscape, mountain scene painting, murals, illustration
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Bill Traher was born in a sod house in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in 1908. A rough frontier mining settlement, Rock Springs was home to murders, mob violence, and magnificent scenery. A photograph (yet to be unearthed from the family archives) shows the artist at eight years old with a shot gun under his arm, guarding a campsite from the back of a flat-bed truck. |
The eldest of three boys, he was responsible for fending off any Indians who might come to steal from their camp site while his father was hunting elk. His father was a mine foreman, a soft-spoken man who played the harmonica, smoked a pipe, and passed along a love of the Rocky Mountain wilderness to all three of his sons. The family moved from Rock Springs to Denver, Colorado, where Bill’s father worked as an automotive mechanic until he retired.
At the age of nine, Bill drew attention to himself as a baseball prodigy, a skinny lad, quick on his feet, who played in games and tournaments with grown men. He remembered later that it seemed to him as though he were watching the action on the ball field in slow motion and had an eternity to get into position to catch flying balls. He mysteriously lost this ability to illness during the great flu epidemic of 1917. Later, as a high-school student, he proved brilliant in mathematics. His high school geometry teacher reportedly wept when Bill let his intent to pursue an art career be known. But by the time he was ten years old, the artist was already on the way toward achieving his career goal. He had completed a series of correspondence courses about illustration and cartooning, and he sketched nearly every day. By the time he was in high school, he had developed impressive drawing skills and a distinctive style that can be appreciated in a high school yearbook he designed and illustrated.
To earn money for his art education, Bill toiled from 1926-1930 as the night custodian for a junior high school in Denver, drawing and painting during the day. The artist then gained admittance to the National Academy of Design in New York City. From 1931-1933 he won enough cash awards in Academy-sponsored composition competitions to pay most of his expenses, and during school breaks he worked at a Manhattan automat, a precursor to today’s fast food services.
Returning to Colorado upon completion of his studies, his most notable accomplishments in the mid-1930s included WPA-sponsored woodblock color prints for the Historical Museum in Sterling, Colorado, and a set of memorial bronzes and tablets.
He subsequently applied and was admitted to Yale University School of Fine Arts. While at Yale from 1938-1939, he saw his first ice skating carnival at a New Haven ice rink. After that, his passion for figure skating served as a balance to his absorption in his art. He traveled to Hollywood at one point to try out for the Ice Follies and spent his last coins on a loaf of bread for the return trip.
In 1941, he painted a still-existing WPA mural for the Post Office in DeWitt, Arkansas. Among his other projects were background murals at the Museum of Natural History (now known as the Denver Museum of Nature and Science). They brought the artist international recognition and generated dozens of feature articles in local, regional, and national publications, including American Artist. Bill worked at the Museum as Chief Background Artist for over two decades. The large murals he painted were backgrounds for dioramas, among the finest displays of their kind in the world today. His last major work, presently in storage at the Denver Museum of Nature
and Science, was a set of four panels paying homage to the Colorado
mountain wilderness, a subject that had captivated him since his youth.
Entitled The Wilderness Murals, these paintings were commissioned by a
bank in Pueblo, Colorado. Bill considered them to be among his best
efforts. They remain jewel-like examples of the artist’s output at the
apex of his career.
Also notable, Bill painted four large landscape murals on canvas, the Four Faces of the West. These were originally installed as an exhibit for The Museum of Westward Expansion located under the Gateway to the West Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. Representing views of the West that would have been encountered by the Louis and Clark Expedition, the murals are now a permanent fixture at the National Park Service headquarters at the Department of the Interior in Washington D.C.
In addition to his enormous murals and many smaller paintings, he explored a diverse range of media, including pencil and charcoal drawings, photographs, woodcuts, lithographs, silkscreens, and bronze reliefs. His approach and techniques were innovative. For example, in his student days at the National Academy of Art and later at the Yale, he perfected the art of drawing and painting postage-stamp-sized “candid” images on calling cards, capturing the likeness of un-posed subjects in minutes.
Back during World War II, Bill was a soldier artist fortunate enough not to be called into action. He put his skills to work painting portraits of the top-brass and creating posters and murals in support of the war effort. During most of the War years, he was stationed at Williams Field, near Phoenix, and later at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
Before he was drafted into the Army, while ice skating on Evergreen Lake near Denver, Bill met his future wife, Frances White of Denver. Following a one-year engagement, the couple married in Phoenix. A strikingly beautiful, high-spirited, and resourceful young woman, Frances immediately hit the scorching pavement of the desert city. She conceived a radio program and sold it to the station manager at KOY Radio. Thus began her career in radio. She hosted the show, served as an announcer, and wrote scripts for other shows and commercials. Eventually she became the station’s Continuity Director, working in close proximity and frequently exchanging banter, barbs, and witticisms with a young, yet unknown announcer, Steve Allen. This young announcer, of course, later made his mark as one of America’s favorite comedians and television talk-show hosts. Artist William Traher met his future wife Frances White on ice at Evergreen Lake, in the foothills above Denver. During the War, artist William Traher’s wife Frances was employed as Continuity Director for KOY Radio in Phoenix. Working alongside announcer Steve Allen, who later became one of America’s best-loved comedians and talk-show hosts, Frances Traher hosted her own show, served as an announcer, and scripted programming for the station.
Bill was subsequently transferred to Fort Sumner, a remote desert outpost. With characteristic finesse, Frances promptly landed an administrative job at the base so she could stay with her husband. Then Bill was shipped off to Hawaii, to an unknown fate in the Pacific Ocean theater. Frances returned to Denver and was hired by an advertising agency to write copy and manage client accounts. The war ended while Bill was stationed in Hawaii. When he returned, he came home to a job as Art Director at the agency where Frances worked. For a couple of years Bill oversaw the design and production of advertising materials during the day and labored nights and weekends on his own art projects. He then left the agency to resume his career as a freelance artist. Frances continued to work at the agency until after the birth of the couple’s first daughter, Anita.
In the 1950s, Frances gave birth to two more children, Elissa and Steven. Her agency days behind her, Frances worked for many years as a full-time mother and part-time freelance magazine writer. The family lived in a small house in Park Hill, a neighborhood in Denver near the Museum of Natural History, (now known as the Denver Museum of Nature and Science). Throughout the years that followed, the family often struggled to make ends meet.
Before he was hired on staff at the Museum, Bill freelanced on a wide variety of assignments, from stage set images that were projected on a screen at Barter Theater in Abington, Virginia, to a series of three-dimensional relief maps for Jeppesen Map Co., and many privately commissioned portraits, as well as an astonishing range of other projects that he pursued on his own.
During this period he was selected along with other leading regional artists from throughout the U.S. to depict their native states for an innovative advertising campaign titled the “State Series,” sponsored by Container Corporation of America. Original prints of Bill’s design representing the State of Wyoming can be found in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.
Bill completed several of his most ambitious works in the 1970s while suffering from Parkinson’s disease. During this period, he worked days on murals at the Museum, and nights and weekends on commissioned paintings in the basement studio of his home. He also devoted much of his time and energy to mobilizing an effort to build a mountain cyclorama, a realistic mural he envisioned that would provide viewers with an illusion of standing on a Colorado mountaintop.
His career cut short by illness, Bill Traher died in 1984, leaving behind a remarkable body of work in museums, government buildings, and private collections.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|William Traher, painter, illustrator, and cartographer was born in Rock Springs, Wyoming on April 6, 1908. Studied at Yale University and National Academy of Design. |
Work located at: Iowa State University; Denver Art Museum; Colorado State Historical Society; Rocky Mountain National Park.
Murals include: Cole Jr. High School, Denver; Williams Field, Arizona; USPO, DeWitt, Arkansas. Natural habitat backgrounds for Denver Museum of Natural History; Design, Container Corp.; set Design, Barter Theatre's The Virginian.
Source: Who's Who in American Art 1953
Submitted by: Katherine Tozier
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