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 William Allen Rogers  (1854 - 1931)

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Lived/Active: New York/Kansas/Ohio      Known for: magazine illustration-frontier reporting

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W. A. Rogers is primarily known as William Allen Rogers

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Ad Code: 3
William Allen Rogers
from Auction House Records.
Gold Mining, Cripple Creek
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Joining the staff of Harper's Weekly in 1877, William Allen Rogers had a distinguished career as a frontier reporter and illustrator of western scenes.  Primarily he worked for Harper's Weekly and Harper's Magazine, but commissions also came from the Washington Post; New York Herald, where he followed Thomas Nast; The Century, Life and St. Nicholas.  As his career progressed, Rogers acquired many prominent friends including Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland.

He was born in Springfield, Ohio in 1854.  When he was a young man, he spent much time reading books from the library left to the family by his father, who died when William was a child.  He was especially interested in the illustrations he saw in those volumes.  At age 13, he took a railway clerk's job with the task of keeping a daily count of railroad cars as they passed through Springfield.  The switchyard fireman, Mike Burke, became his good friend, and, having been an artist who painted decorative scenes on farm machinery, Burke encouraged Rogers to sketch and also gave him pointers.  According to Roger's biography, it was the only art training Rogers ever received.  However, his mother was an amateur painter and likely played a part in stirring the interest that led to his illustration career.

By age 14, Rogers was drawing cartoons for a Dayton newspaper, and two years later, in 1870, he was hired by an engraving house in Cincinnati.  For the next seven years, he worked there as well as in New York City for the Daily Graphic, until taking the apprenticeship with Harper's magazine that led to his long-time illustration career.

His first traveling assignment for Harper's was to the fall, 1878, Minnesota State Fair and the Northwestern Fair in Minneapolis.  There he met an official of the Department of the Dakota, likely John Gibbon, although Rogers did not name him in his autobiography, and this man encouraged Rogers to travel to the Northwest, which at that time was the present North and South Dakota.  Giving him maps, the man (Gibbon?) provided letters of recommendation to army post commanders and stagecoach route and trading post owners to facilitate his travel.

Without permission from his employers at Harper's, Rogers took off, then wired his boss, Charles Parsons, at Harper's that he was going, and spent the next three months on unauthorized travel.  Later he found a letter from a representative at Harper's denying him permission, but it was too late as he had already made the trip. 

On these travels, he spent time in Bismarck, and from there spent three weeks among the Sioux Indians, having traveled to Standing Rock Indian Agency across the Badlands to Fort Yates North, Dakota where he stayed.  Many remarkable illustrations resulted that fascinated eastern audiences, especially scenes of Indian ceremonies and daily life.  The return trip by stage was challenging for him, as the only other person on the journey was an insane man, who was being transported to Bismarck.  Rogers' trip continued to Fargo, where, while waiting for a boat, he observed and sketched a forest fire.  From Fargo, Rogers went to Winnipeg and spent time at Fort Garry, one of the major depots of the Hudson Bay Company.  He recorded many of the scenes, which included "a motley array of voyageurs, Indians and traders in strange and fantastic garb.  In front of a store, in place of barrels of potatoes and cabbages, were heaped a great pile of moose heads with their huge and spreading antlers." (166).  His illustrations became material for Harper's Magazine series, "The Honorable Hudson Bay Company" and "Traders at Fort Garry, Manitoba".  

Returning to New York, Rogers found little enthusiasm for his adventures at Harper's, but his defender became Charles Parsons, head of the art department, whose "mouth dropped open" when he saw Rogers' "three months' accumulation of sketches around the office on tables, chairs and desks".  . . .The day was saved for Rogers and his position on the Harper's staff was no longer open to question." (166)

Within the next twenty-one years, he made six western trips that included Colorado and New Mexico in 1879 via the newly constructed Santa Fe Railroad, which resulted in many Colorado mining scenes; and a return to North Dakota in 1890 on the Northern Pacific Railroad to Fargo, which provided subject matter for illustrations of the many wheat farms that had replaced the buffalo herds developed since his earlier trip.  In the late 1890s, he was sent on assignment by Harper's to cover the discovery of gold in Cripple Creek, and this trip involved some stagecoach travel out of Colorado Springs.  Also, he was back in New Mexico, where he did sketches of Santa Fe, and in December, 1898, he was in New Orleans doing watercolor sketches for Harper's of Jackson Square, Canal Street and the Sugar Exchange.   A few months previous to that time, Rogers was the official artist for Harper's Weekly for the Trans Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha to celebrate the nation's progress, especially the opening up of the western frontier. 

Rogers turned this trip into a much-extended adventure, which included travels to the mining regions of eastern Oregon and into California, and a return through Arizona, Colorado and Texas.  He did watercolor sketches, which were reproduced in facsimile by halftone, meaning replication of exact form in black and white.  Among the resulting illustrations were Conquering a Desert in Southern Arizona, A Faro Game at El Paso, and A Winter Stage-Route in the Mining Regions of Eastern Oregon.

After 1900, he devoted himself almost exclusively to cartooning.  He wrote a biography, A World Worth While, which, published in 1922, is described as "cheerful, if rambling." (Taft, 172)

Professional memberships included the Society of Illustrators, Century Association, Cosmos Club and Guild of Free Lance Artists.  His work was exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association, Boston Art Club and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Illustration artwork by William Allen Rogers is in the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution and the White House.

Robert Taft, Artists and Illustrators of the Old West, 1850-1900
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
John Mahe and Rosanne McCaffrey, Editors, Encyclopaedia of New Orleans Artists, 1718-1918

Written by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier
Society of Illustrators.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born Springfield, OH, 1854; died Washington, DC, Oct. 20, 1931. Cartoonist. Illustrator. Painter. Printmaker. Attended Worcester Polytechnical Institute. He learned to sketch from a railway clerk co-worker, and by age 14 was drawing cartoons for a Dayton newspaper. From 1870 to 1877, he was an engraver and artist in various cities, and then went to work for Harper's magazine. Made numerous trips to the west including trips across Kansas. Among his drawings of Kansas is “First Store in Lakin’” and he wrote an autobiography, A World Worthwhile (1922).
Society of Illustrators.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Taft, Lorado. History of American Sculpture. New edition with supplemental chapter by Adeline Adams. New York: Macmillan Co, 1930.; AskArt,, accessed Jan. 19, 2006.
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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