(1876 - 1960)
Joseph Roy (J.R.) Willis was active/lived in New Mexico / Mexico. Joseph Willis is known for tree landscape and Indian subject painting, photography.
Biography from the Archives of askART
The following is from Scott L Peeler, Jr., Valrico, Florida. He
is the maternal grandson of the artist through his mother, Emily Willis
Biography from Adobe Gallery
The artist, known as J.R., was born in Goloid Community
Screven County, Georgia, near Sylvania, on the 24th of November,
1876. He died December 30, 1960 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
He married Tempie Easterling of Reidsville, Georgia in 1899. They
had a son and two daughters and were divorced. In 1916, he married Violet
Powell of Ontario, Canada.
Willis is best known for his Indian
photographs and paintings and Southwestern landscapes. During the
winters, he spent time in the Miami, Florida area where most of his
brothers, sister, and mother lived, and from there, he made frequent
trips to Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic where he did landscape
painting. He also made frequent painting trips to Mexico and at
least one trip to Guatemala, Central America.
throughout the Southeastern part of the United States where he took
advantage of the beauty of the region to paint many portraits and
landscapes. Near the end of his life, he was faced with failing
eyesight, but continued to paint until the time of his death.
career began as a political cartoonist during the Spanish American
War. He worked at the "Atlanta Constitution" newspaper before
going to New York to study art about 1908. Then he went to
California, where he was a pioneer in the cartoon industry. He
also spent 10 years as a "chalk talk" artist in vaudeville.
1917, he was booked at a theater in Gallup, New Mexico when the owner
of the theater died of influenza. Willis bought the theater and
established a photography studio in Gallup. In 1931, he moved to
Old Town, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in 1938, he built his home and
studio at the corner of Rio Grande and Alhambra Drive South West in the
country club district of Albuquerque. The property is now (2001)
a 'bed and breakfast' named "Casa de Suenos."
Willis was known
as the "Aspen King" because of his many paintings of the beautiful
aspen trees which turn a golden color in the fall of the year. He
was also known for his portraits of American Indians, principally of
New Mexico and Arizona. His work was realistic in style. His
style is very similar to Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.
He studied with Robert Henri in New York. Photography was another
medium for which he was well known. Many of the photographs were
used to make view- master reels and post cards, which have become quite
In addition to the Albuquerque Museum, his
work is found in a Japanese museum in Imabari, Shikoku and a museum in
Valledupar, Cesar, Colombia, South America. Many pieces of his work are
in private collections in this country and Germany.
Joseph Roy (J. R.) Willis (1876-1960)
was a legend in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was a slim gent with
a small mustache. He wore capes. He twirled canes. He
smoked Pall Malls (cigarettes) in an ivory holder. He loved, more
than anything, to discuss his paintings. Albuquerque old- timers,
who were fascinated by his floppish bearing, remember him for his
flair, and a flakiness that today would be considered weird.
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J. R. Willis was just different. He was an artist. He came
from the Southeast to chronicle the Great Southwest. J. R. Willis
learned art on slates. He made fashion drawings for the Atlanta Constitution. He painted backdrops for Universal Studios in Hollywood.
In 1917, J. R. Willis left for New York to discuss cartoon
syndication. He stopped in Arizona to sketch Hopis. He
decided to stay in the Great Southwest. He moved to Gallup and
set himself up as a photographer, and toured the reservations to
photograph Navajos, Hopis, Zunis, Lagunas and Acomas.
He would then use the photos as sources for his paintings.
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