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 William A. Carson  (1867 - 1949)

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Lived/Active: California/Illinois      Known for: landscape and coastal painting

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W.A. Carson is primarily known as William A. Carson

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Ad Code: 4
William A. Carson Grand Vista Canyon with Indian Hunting Camp
"Grand Vista Canyon with Indian Hunting Camp"
40" x 60" oil on canvas over wood hardboard foundation signed

Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
William A. Carson (1867-1949) Iowa/Illinois/California

William was the son of Dr. James, and Sarah Branigar Carson, born 06/06/1867, in Pennsylvania.  Much of his early childhood was spent in Colorado playing with the Indians, whom he loved and later used as subjects in his paintings.  He was a natural self taught talent and pursued painting most of his adult life with no formal training as an artist.

In 1879 the family moved to Maquoketa Iowa, where eventually he maintained a studio, and built a strong local following for his accomplished paintings. He was an extremely prolific and driven artist, known for his romantic (mid) western landscapes, with and without Native American subjects. He was also a fine painter of the allegory, the religious, scenes of historical antiquity, seascapes, and animals, (especially African).  During WW1 he spent time south of Chicago training Indians in sharp shooting, and also invented a part used on guns. He later moved to Chicago where he also set up a studio.  Some evidence suggests some of his paintings were circulating in the Chicago area early as 1900 or so. He likely spent a fair amount of time cultivating Chicago connections while firmly established in his home town in Iowa.  

He worked for or with, The Chicago Portrait Company in the early to mid 20’s, possibly sooner.  By then he had formed connections with huge Chicago based department stores, which could sell great numbers of his idea for mass produced original art productions.  These were essentially black and white litho’s made of his paintings which he then painted in using pastels.  He employed two dozen and more female art students at his studio to perform this tinting using the original oil painting as the model guide.  These productions were mounted to convex cardstock and installed in custom frames with bubble glass.  The biggest majority of these were Chicago Portrait Co. patented frames.  Some of these images show up in a competitors bubble frame design, also from Chicago.  It would seem he was very ambitious about this commercial exposure.  These original unique artworks were very popular, and show up all over the country.  All are signed by the artist.
Wallace Nutting and other photographers of the day also employed the same artist tinted element for their popular hand tinted photo prints. Unlike those Mr. Carson was mass promoting his own painted works.  This had to be a very satisfying reward as a self made artist.  Through all the (later) mass production commercial business he continued to paint large numbers of canvas oils.  A rare known work painted on board are a pair of 4x4 inch 'pocket paintings' associated with California tourist trade works popular in the 40's.  A few of his earlier seascape works seem inspired by early trips to California.  Some of his larger works are various board mounted canvases.  Late in his career (after retiring) during the late 30’s and through at least the mid 40’s he traveled, and spent time in L. A. living with his son.  During this period he painted California spots like Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, and also painted subject matter for a calendar company he made casual employment with.  He returned to Illinois in 1947 where he died in 1949.

Information provided by Mike Huber

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
William A. Carson was born in Pennsylvania in 1867.  A self-taught artist, Carson was associated with the Chicago Portrait Company for whom he painted landscapes (often with Indians) that were reproduced on calendars.  In his Chicago studio he also mass produced hand-tinted monochrome lithographs.  He made many trips to the West and was active in northern California in the 1920s and 1930s.  While there, he painted many small landscapes and coastals.  Duriing the 1940s he lived in Los Angeles with his son.  In 1947 he returned to Illinois where he remained until his death in 1949. 
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
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.

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