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Robert Elwell

 (1874 - 1962)
Robert Farrington Elwell was active/lived in Wyoming, Arizona, Massachusetts.  Robert Elwell is known for cowboy genre painting, illustration, sculpture.

Robert Elwell

Biography from the Archives of askART


Robert Farrington Elwell was born August 24, 1874 in Boston, Massachusetts.  His 24-year-old father, Albion Elwell, was from New Hampshire, and his 23-year-old mother, Alice Farrington, was from Massachusetts.  He was an only child.  They lived at 5 Oakville Avenue. His father was a stone mason.

He studied at a local technical school to become a civil engineer, which taught him skills in drafting and lettering.  He began his career as a letterer and graphic artist at The Boston Globe newspaper.

In 1892 he met William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody when his famous Wild West Show visited Boston.  Elwell illustrated some of the advertising and publicity that Cody arranged with The Boston Globe.  He and Cody became good friends.  According to the artist,"I was associated with Cody for many years in as close a relationship as father and son."  Cody invited the young artist to visit his Montana ranch during the winter to escape the frozen New England weather.  In 1896 he began to contribute some of his training as a civil engineer to the managament of a devolpment project at Cody's Ranch.

In 1897 he married his wife, Mary Ellen Taylor, who in 1882 had emigrated from England with her parents at the age of seven.  At first they lived at her parents house at 66 Rosemary Street in Needham Township, MA.  In 1898 their first child, Alice M. Elwell was born and three years later Grace I. Elwell was born.

Through his association with Cody, he became acquainted with Frederic Remington, Diamond Jim Brady, Teddy Roosevelt, Chief Iron Tail, and Annie Oakley, who taught his daughter how to shoot.

During the first two decades of the 20th century he illustrated several books about soldiers, Indians and cowboys for young readers, such as Born to the Blue, The Boy Who Won, and The Girl From Big Horn Country.

On September 12, 1918 he reported for draft registration in the World War. He was recorded to be tall, medium build, with blue eyes and brown hair.  His occupation was listed as magazine artist and writer.  He did not serve in the military because he was 44 with a wife and two daughters.

In 1920 he lived in a home that he owned on Haven Street in Needham, MA.  His daughters Alice M. Elwell (21) and Grace I. Elwell (18) both lived at home.

During the 1920s he drew black and white interior pen & ink illustrations for Harper's, Century Magazine, American Magazine, and The Outing Magazine. He also drew interiors as well as painted covers for pulp magazines such as Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, Adventure, West, Short Stories, and Frontier Stories.

By 1930 his daughters had married, and he and his wife had found a winter home in the South West in cattle grazing land.  They lived on Camp Wood Road, near Bagdad, Arizona, just West of the Prescott National Forest.  He painted scenes of the Old West and he continued to sell freelance illustrations to pulp Western magazines, such as All Western, Ace-High, Short Stories, and West.

During World War II he was 69, which was too old to register for military service or even volunteer.

After the war he left his primary residence in Massachusetts and moved year round to Wickenberg, Arizona, where he worked as an art teacher for Remuda Ranch.  He also made paintings of the Old West for art galleries.

In the 1950s he illustrated interior stories for the popular mainstream magazine, Arizona Highways.

R. Farrington Elwell died in Phoenix, AZ, at the age of eighty-eight on October 1, 1962.

David Saunders, Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Robert Farrington Elwell became one of the better-known late 19th and early 20th Century illustrators, painters and sculptors of western subjects.  He is credited with having great respect for the culture and traditions of Indians, and with sculpture that reflects his perception of their "dignity and beauty".  (Broder 207)

He studied at a local technical school to become a civil engineer, learning the skills of drafting and lettering.  He then became a letterer and graphic artist at the Boston Globe newspaper.

In 1892, he was on assignment for the Boston Globe newspaper to sketch at Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in Boston.  He was so fascinated that he attended all the performances and developed a friendship with Buffalo Bill Cody.

In turn, Cody was impressed with Elwell's talents and the next year he invited him to accompany him to his ranch, the T E, in Cody, Wyoming.  This experience allowed Elwell to sketch while earning money working on the ranch with responsibilities of management of cattle and horses ranches and in 1896, serving as engineer of irrigation projects. 

He also sketched constantly and completed paintings illustrations that were used by Winchester Arms and United States Cartridge, as well as for calendars and advertisements for Cody's Wild West Show.  The Buchanan Company of Boston used his sculpture models for Winchester Arms, Tower Slicker and Samoset Chocolate companies, and his illustrations appeared in the Ladies Home Journal.

At the Cody ranches in Wyoming and Nebraska, Elwell met many of the great western personalities of the day--Frederic Remington, Diamond Jim Brady, Theodore Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, and Sioux tribal chief Iron Tail, who made him a member of the Sioux tribe.

He also spent time in Wickenburg, Arizona, painting illustrations for Little Brown & Company, and his last years, he lived in Phoenix.  Although he lived most of his life in the West, he retained his Boston accent and mannerisms.  After the years of working for Cody and the end of the Cody 'empire', Elwell went back East but continued to paint and sculpt from western subject matter.  However, his heart remained in the West, and he moved again, first to Wyoming, then Utah and finally to Phoenix, Arizona, where he died in 1962 at age eighty-eight.

Sources include:
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
Patricia Broder, Bronzes of the American West

Biography from the Archives of askART
The following is from Rosalyn Burnett Bullock:

Robert Farrington Elwell was my great grandfather.  He had two daughters, Alice May and Grace Irma whose middle names were the first names of Bill Cody's daughters.  My grandmother, Grace Irma Elwell Burnett, had Annie Oakley as a godmother.  Grace had three sons.  She named her middle son Robert Farrington Elwell Burnett after her father.

Robert F.E. Burnett was my father, and my brother was also named Robert Farrington Elwell Burnett Jr.

I am the only living great grandchild that knew Robert, and we called him "Gradda Bob".  I am lucky enough to have handwritten notes from him with illustrations and two original oils.  I was thrilled to see some of his artwork and the short biography on the internet!  He was a true gentleman with a relaxed manner and a great sense of humor.  I am proud to be his great grandaughter.

Robert Farrington Elwell began sketching as a child under the encouragemant of his father, who painted marines as a hobby, and his mother, who was a musician and also sketched when she had time. But young Elwell failed to find any definite purpose until one day when he was in his middle teens, and Buffalo Bill arrived in Boston and discovered this young boys talent.

Elwell learned to work in pastels and also turned to sculpture. Farrington moved to Phoenix, Arizona where he depicted local characters and genre, and these became his signature paintings. He continued to paint into his mid 80s.

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About  Robert Elwell

Born:  1874 - Boston, Massachusetts
Died:   1962 - Phoenix, Arizona
Known for:  cowboy genre painting, illustration, sculpture