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 Nicholas Samuel Firfires  (1917 - 1990)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: cowboy-western genre, illustrator

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BIOGRAPHY for Nicholas Firfires
1917 (Santa Barbara, California)


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cowboy-western genre, illustrator

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Portraying western scenes in oil painting and watercolor comes to Nicholas Firfires, directly from experiences of having lived the western life of a cowboy, riding the range and breaking horses. He was a descendant of California vaqueros.

He was born in Santa Barbara, California, and worked on his family ranch near Santa Margarita and on other ranches in Santa Barbara county. As a child, he showed great interest and skill in drawing animals, especially horses, and after graduating from Santa Maria high school, he attended the Art Center School and the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.

In 1941, he enlisted in the Army and was with the Combat Engineers in Europe, where he did many illustrations for military publications and also portraits of Army personnel. After the war, he opened a studio in Santa Barbara and illustrated for Western magazines while working on easel paintings. His illustrations included "Buck Jones," a popular comic strip and "Gene Autry".

He had his first one-man show in 1960, and was so successful that he turned exclusively to fine art painting, depicting both historic and contemporary Western scenes. A particular focus has been the Spanish influence on California culture in a style that is Realist and Impressionist.

In 1969, he won the silver Medal Award for watercolor in the Fourth Annual Exhibit of the Cowboy Artists of America at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. He was a founding member of the Cowboy Artists of America.

"Contemporary Western Artists" by Harold and Peggy Samuels
Cody Old West Show and Auction catalogue, June 2002

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Santa Barbara, CA on Nov. 10, 1917, a descendant of the California vaqueros. At an early age Firfires began riding horses and drawing cowboy subjects. He worked with horses until age 24 and then moved to Los Angeles to study at the Art Center and Otis Art Institute. Following service in WWII, he was a successful illustrator of western magazines until 1957; he then devoted himself to easel paintings. From his studio in Santa Barbara came an abundance of figure studies, western genre, and various other subjects. Depressed due to the death of his wife, he died of a self-inflicted bullet wound on Sept. 22, 1990. Member: Cowboy Artists of America. Exh: Biltmore Gallery (LA), 1960, 1966 (solos); Saddleback Inn (Santa Ana), 1969; Cowboy Hall of Fame, 1969 (silver medal).
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Artists of the American West (Samuels); American Western Art (Harmsen); The Cowboy in Art (Ainsworth); Santa Barbara News Press, 9-25-1990 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

N.S. Firfires "Nick" was born in Santa Barbara, California.

It is said that Firfires makes an immediate and lasting impression of authenticity in his western genre paintings, and this authenticity comes from his childhood when he began riding, breaking and training horses at the age of ten.

Firfires was a member of the Rancheros Visitadores riding group that also included Ed Borein and Joe DeYong, both well-known Vaquero artists of the past.

Firfires was also a member of the Cowboy Artists of America. He had sold out one-man shows in the Biltmore gallery in Los Angeles, California.

In his paintings, authenticity goes far beyond correctness of costume and saddle, even beyond cowboy types, horses and cattle breeds and their anatomies. Firfires had a knowledge which can not be faked, which gives his paintings their striking reality. He needs no arty frills; what he paints is in his blood, the blood of a Vaquero.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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