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 Edward (John Edward) Borein  (1872 - 1945)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: western genre and horse painting, illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in San Leandro, California, Edward Borein became one of the most popular artists of western scene painting, equally adept at ink drawing, watercolor, and etching.

He was raised in San Leandro, a western cow town, in a family where his father was a county politician.  Edward had many childhood memories of herded cattle and their cowboys, which he began sketching at the age of five.  He was educated in the Oakland, California schools, and at the age of 17 began working on a ranch near Oakland and then drifted and sketched as a working cowboy throughout the Southwest, Mexico, and Guatemala.

It was said that he practiced his art on anything he could find from bunkhouse walls to scraps of paper.  At age 19, he enrolled at the San Francisco Art School, his only formal art training, and there he met Jimmy Swinnerton and Maynard Dixon who encouraged him in his art career.

The first person to purchase his work was Charles Lummis, editor of The Land and Sunshine magazine in California, and the two became life-long friends.  Borein and Lucille Maxwell were married in the Lummis home.  Borein, a typical westerner in dress and manner, also became close friends with Charles Russell, actor Will Rogers, and President Theodore Roosevelt.  Borein often traveled north to visit Russell in Great Falls, Montana and to travel among Indian tribes.

In 1899, Borein visited Arizona while returning from Mexico.  By 1902, he was a successful illustrator in San Francisco for the San Francisco Call, and in 1907 to enhance his illustration skills, went to New York to learn etching techniques.  There he enrolled in the Art Students League and was a student of Child Hassam.  In the theatre district, he opened a studio that became a gathering place for 'lonesome' westerners such as Charles Russell, Will Rogers, Olaf Seltzer and Oscar Borg.  But Borein did not feel at home in New York, so he moved to Santa Barbara, California in 1921.

This was a final move.  He and his wife built a Hopi-style home, and he taught at the Santa Barbara School of the Arts until his death, and also turned increasingly from oil to watercolor painting.  "On occasion Borein would decorate place cards for dinners with small watercolor skeches of cowboys, vaqueros, Indians and Bucking horses". (Santa Fe Auction)  From his studio, which again attracted many of his friends, he depicted Indians, cowboys, and California ranch life and was financially successful.

Source:
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Santa Fe Art Auction catalogue, 10/2001

Note:

Edward Borein's birth date is often given as 1873.  That date appears in many publications, however, I think now it is generally believed that the correct date is 1872.  Harold Davidson uses the 1872 date, based on a birth notice in a California paper.

Sarah E. Boehme
The John S. Bugas Curator
Whitney Gallery of Western Art
Buffalo Bill Historical Center



Biography from Arlington Gallery:
What sets Edward Borein (1872-1945) apart from other Western artists is the fact that he never took artist’s license to enhance or over-dramatize his pictures.  Borein recorded what he saw. Important to him was recording accurately every detail of the horses, cattle, and gear.  In his own words, "I will leave only an accurate history of the West, nothing else but that. If anything isn’t authentic or just right, I won’t put it in any of my work."

Edward Borein rarely used a model.  This traces back to the years in the saddle, when it would have been impossible to stop and sketch the things he had seen. He developed a phenomenal memory, and no detail was too minute or unimportant for him.  When he set out to make a sketch or even to complete a picture, it was drawn or painted entirely from memory. It is this freedom from the hampering effect of copying that is so apparent in the free style of his work.

Harold McCracken, foremost expert in the field of Western American art, considered Edward Borein as one of the most important of those who portrayed the old-time cowboys and the traditional Indians of the American West.  In his words: "Like Charlie Russell in so many respects, Borein’s ability as an artist was a natural one and by natural desire he developed the talent to a remarkable degree, while working as a cowboy…Borein became a master draftsman and he was highly skilled in the handling of watercolors. Some of his classic ink drawings are equal to the best done by any Western artist…"

Many art historians rank Edward Borein right up there with Charlie Russell. Both were excellent artists, both painted from life’s intimate experiences and observations, and both achieved some degree of success during their lifetimes.

For Borein, the old West was rapidly changing. The open ranges of the early cattlemen were being enclosed with barbed wire. The vast herds of buffalo had largely disappeared. The Indian had lost access to his hunting grounds and had been forced to settle on reservations. Ed felt these changes and, developed an insatiable desire to record the disappearing features and character of the early West. Ed was offended with all the romanticized stories that had been written, and by the inaccurate pictures that were being offered as representing the "true" Western scene. Edward Borein, who died in 1945, was one of the last painters to capture the old West from personal observation.

John Edward Borein was born in San Leandro, California, on October 21, 1872, the son of a deputy sheriff. San Leandro in Alameda County was a cow town in those days and, as a child, Ed was fascinated by the daily passage of the cattle and the colorful vaqueros with all their special gear.  At age five, he drew two black horses pulling an old-fashioned, quite heavily ornamented hearse.  He showed it to his mother, and when she asked him why the plumes on the horses’ heads were bent, he answered: "because the wind is blowing".  His mother knew they had an artist in the family.

Ed started school, but his mind was not on his books and lessons. He spent most of the time daydreaming and sketching in his textbooks.  By the time he was twelve, he had learned to ride, rope and drive cattle.  And by the time he was twelve, he had also finished his first oil painting.  After school, he tried out different trades, then apprenticed with a saddle maker for 6 months, and learned enough to braid rawhide, and to make his own saddles and bridles.  Years later Charlie Russell would make model horses, and Ed would fit them with perfectly detailed miniature saddles.

At the age of 18, Ed told his father he wanted to become a cowboy.  Father wanted Ed to have a more "sensible" job, but Ed had made up his mind, and with money he had saved from working, and a little help from mother, he bought a horse and bedroll, and headed south.  He took a job at a ranch near San Jose, California, were he learned to properly handle his horse and herd cattle. But it was a pretty rough life, and after a year, he quit and went home.  Back in Oakland, he showed mother the many sketches he had done at the ranch.  Even more convinced that Ed had talent, she enrolled him in the Art School of the San Francisco Art Association.  But he felt stifled in such a formal environment, and only lasted as month.

Over the next few years he worked on several ranches, one of them the 45,000 acre Rancho Jesus Maria, an old Spanish ranch situated on the present site of Vandenberg Air Force Base in Northern Santa Barbara County.  He learned very quickly that without building on his prior experience as a cowpuncher, he would be no match for the wild longhorns.  During this time, he not only improved his skills as a vaquero, but also improved greatly as an artist, even making his first sale.  Two college boys, so the story goes, saw Ed’s drawings on the bunkhouse walls, and suggested that he send them to Charles Lummis, Publisher of the Magazine The Land of Sunshine, which he did.  No one was more surprised than Ed when he received a check for $15, more than he could make in two weeks as a cowboy.  What attracted Lummis to Borein’s work was its authenticity.

After more than two years at Rancho Jesus Maria, Ed grew restless again, and headed south where he continued to gain experience in becoming both a seasoned vaquero, and Western artist.  All along, Ed had been documenting the gradual transition from the Spanish to the American influence.  A ranch owner recognized Ed’s emerging artistic talent and helped finance his first trip to Mexico.

Borein rode south to Baja California.  It did not take him long to realize how different life in Mexico was, but he adapted quickly.  He could speak some Spanish, and once again, he chose to work as a vaquero.  Every day he would document the people, their customs and the bright colors of the landscape.  One of Ed’s most striking characteristics was his love and understanding of the primitive people.  He helped drive cattle down the Mexican coast and made some of the finest sketches of the rurales and charros with their magnificent horses and gear.  Between jobs, he would go into the countryside to sketch.  He had no trouble finding work. He was skilled, well liked--and unique.  A cowpuncher and an artist! He sketched from his saddle during the day, then in the evening, by the light of a kerosene lamp or a fire, he’d go over the pencil lines with India ink.  It was also during this period that Ed started to experiment with watercolor.

After two years in Mexico he headed north, working his way and sketching.  He crossed the border in 1899.  Traveling through New Mexico and Arizona, he made his first contact with the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Pima and other Indian tribes. He arrived back in Oakland in June of 1900 and got a job as staff artist with the San Francisco Call.  It was during this time that he first became aware of Charlie Russell’s work. He said: "The reason Russell’s pictures are so lifelike is because Russell lived the life he painted. I have done the same thing....and that’s the only way you can learn to paint it."

But the open spaces called again, and after a few months, he looked up his friend Maynard Dixon in San Francisco and, together, they took a pack trip into the Northwest.  Ed returned to the Bay area just long enough to get ready for another trip to Mexico.  Ed hired on as a vaquero at Hacienda Babicora in Chihuahua, the half million-acre ranch owned by Mrs. Phoebe Hearst, mother of William Randolph Hearst, and in November of the same year, (1903) the ranch organized a trail drive to move a herd of 3,800 cattle north to New Mexico.  Ed kept a dairy of the treacherous 200-mile drive, in which he talks about numerous stampedes, loss of cattle and horses and the bitter cold nights.  Following the drive, Ed left for El Paso and worked and sketched his way north through Indian Country.  He visited Laguna, Acoma, Taos, Oraibi and Walpi.  These sketches were later used as a source for many of his etchings.

Borein arrived back in Oakland in June of 1904.  He rented a studio and started free-lancing for newspapers and magazines, using mostly his Mexican material.  One of his best customers was Sunset Magazine.  And it was through Sunset that Borein met Edwin Emerson, husband of the magazine’s editor and noted author and journalist.  This friendship proved to be of great value to Borein later as Emerson had a large circle of friends and knew his way around New York.

For the next two years, Ed continued with his illustrations in India ink. He painted a few oils and dabbled in watercolors.  His pictures of men, horses and cattle appeared in magazines and as cover designs.  He had the ability to see and draw but he felt that he should learn more about the how and why of art.  At the urging of his friends and critics, Ed decided to go to New York to learn new methods.

In December of 1907, at the age of 35, Ed arrived in New York and roomed with his friend Edwin Emerson.  An admirer of Borein’s work, Emerson was later to write that: "For every horse this artist has drawn or painted, he has ridden a hundred; and for every long-horned steer depicted by him, he has punched, or roped or branded a thousand.  When he draws the picture of a saddle, bridle or a lasso he knows, more intimately than any other artist could, just what he is drawing, for he himself, in his day, has made saddles and bridles and lassoes with his own hands." Emerson introduced Borein to important newspaper and magazine editors and soon after commissions started coming.

Both Remington and Russell, whom Ed had admired for same time, were at the top of their carriers, and were already illustrating for major national publications.  Shortly after, Ed met Charlie and Nancy Russell for the first time, and Charlie and Ed realized how much they had in common, and their lifelong friendship began.  It was during this visit that Ed first saw Charlie’s oils and decided he - Ed - had "no business" working in that medium.  Ironically, Russell thought that Borein could have been the best in that medium.

Ed set up his studio on 42nd Street and decorated it with his collection of Mexican and Indian artifacts and sketches and immediately went to work.  He had his first major show, mostly of India inks and oils, and sold well.  His studio was so reminiscent of the West that Charlie Russell spent much of his leisure time there.  He became friends with Theodore Roosevelt, artists Childe Hassam, Carl Oscar Borg, James Swinnerton, Joe deYong, Frank Tenney Johnson, and entertainment personalities including Leo Carrillo, Will Rogers, Will James, Annie Oakley, and "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

His illustrations were in great demand, and he was improving rapidly.  His India ink drawings appeared in Harpers, Colliers Weekly, Sunset Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post and other publications.  He did ads for Stetson Hats, Pierce Arrow and Aunt Jemima.  Through Russell’s connection, Ed was commissioned to do promotional posters for the Calgary Stampedes.  Ed sketched most of his bucking horses at these stampedes.  Ed, now in his early 40s, started to experiment with etchings.  Childe Hassam was among the first artists to give him encouragement and advice.  He took etching classes at the Art Student League and during this period did many of his finest etchings.

Edward Borein had been in New York for 12 years with a only a few interruptions, but these twelve years in New York transitioned him from being a cowboy who was also an artist to an accomplished artist who had been real honest-to-goodness cowboy.  He decided he had been away long enough and headed back to California. Ed’s new studio once again became a hangout for his many friends.  Then one day in 1921, he met the future Mrs. Borein.  Ed proposed to her two days later, and they were married on June 27, 1921, at the home of his old friend, Charles Lummis.  Ed was 49 years old and was ready to settle down.  After their honeymoon in Arizona, Ed and Lucile chose Santa Barbara as their home and lived there for the rest of their lives.

By the time Ed and Lucile came to Santa Barbara, Borein’s place as an important Western artist was well established, and it did not take him very long to fit into the arts community.  Ed became a member of the Santa Barbara Art Club, which held regular exhibitions of his work.  But his reputation went far beyond his native state. Already a member of the American Artists Professional League and the Print Makers Society of California, he participated in the 1927 International Exhibition in Florence, Italy, and the following year four of his etchings were shown in Paris by The American Federation of Arts. "Navajo Visitors at Oraibi" was given to the Bibliotheque Nationale.  His reputation continued to grow, and in 1971, Edward Borein was posthumously elected into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame: the first native Californian to be so honored.

Borein’s watercolors started to catch on, but etchings were still his bread and butter. He loved the medium.  For three years he taught an etching class at the Santa Barbara School of the Arts, and he was never too busy to assist or critique a serious student. He spent most of 1922 and 1923 working on new etching techniques. He did a series of etchings of the old California Missions, recording ten of the twenty one. Also in 1922, Gump’s Gallery of San Francisco held a one-man show of Ed’s etchings.  The show received critical acclaim, and soon after he was elected to the Society of American Etchers.

When friends like Charlie Russell, and Will Rogers would get together with Ed, there was never a dull moment.  They would tell stories, which they called "windies" and smoke their self-rolled Bull Durhams, always using the typical, humorous Western lingo, which is quite evident in their correspondence.  Though all were literate and well-spoken men, they would use the most atrocious grammar and spelling.  Charlie liked to write and illustrate his letters, but Ed hated writing and preferred the personal contact, although a few of his illustrated letters do exist.

Ed illustrated a number of books, among them: The Pinto Horse and Phantom Bull by Charles Perkins.  In between sketching and drawing, he would play his guitar, work on his miniature saddles, or braid rawhide.  But mostly he would draw and sketch.  His fingers moved very fast, and with just a few strokes a perfect little horse would appear.  Interestingly enough, neither his style, nor his palate changed much, and he rarely dated his work after the New York period.  Borein produced a vast number of etchings during the Santa Barbara years.

In 1930, Ed became a founding member of an equestrian group known as "Los Rancheros Visitadores", which is based on the old Spanish custom of making group trail rides to visit local ranches.  To this day, every May, with the exception of the war years, hundreds of men come to Santa Barbara from all over the United States to enjoy the fellowship of this event.

On May 19, 1945, while at his El Paseo studio, in the middle of one of his famous stories, Ed complained of chest pains.  He died the same day. Edward Borein was eulogized two days later as the "Last artist of the longhorn era".  To quote from the Santa Barbara News Press: "….With etching tool and brush, with acid and paint Ed Borein ‘wrote’ the history of America’s West, of a way of living and -- all important -- of a way of thinking, that will be part of America’s strength long after the details of the West are forgotten…"

Marlene R. Miller



Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Santa FeTucson:
Edward Borein, along with Charlie Russell, is the most authentic of all the early cowboy artists by virtue of his familiarity with the lifestyle, sites and sounds of the West.  "I will leave only an accurate picture of the West, nothing else but that. If anything isn't authentic or just right, I won't put it in any of my work."

Born in San Leandro, CA, Edward Borein would often see cows passing the family home as a child.  At the age of five, Edward Borein sketched his first piece of two horses pulling an ornamented hearse.  This kind of doodling would also occupy him once he entered school, as the margins of the page got quite a bit more attention than the answer blanks on any page belonging to Ed.  He knew how to ride, rope and drive cattle at twelve and, upon turning eighteen, took what money he had and bought a horse and a bedroll, setting off down the coast in order to work as a cowboy.  The first time did not take- Edward Borein ended up back in Oakland after just one year.  His mother saw the quality of the sketches he had done while cow-punching and enrolled him in the Art School of the San Francisco Art Association.

Edward Borein didn't last long in art school, dropping out after only a month. However, while in school he met both Jimmy Swinnerton and Maynard Dixon, who were enthusiastic in advising Edward Borein to continue his art on his own.  Borein set out again, this time to the 45,000 acre Rancho Jesus Maria, where he found the work grueling beyond his previous experience.  While at the ranch, Edward Borein sent two drawings to Charles Lummis, publisher of the Land of Sunshine, who bought them both for $15.  After Rancho Jesus Maria, Edward Borein headed to Mexico, where he learned Spanish and sketched the local lifestyle and landscape while working as a Vaquero on a series of large ranches.  Crossing the border back into the United States, Edward Borein came in contact for the first time with Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and Pima Indian Tribes.

In 1900 Edward Borein took an illustrating job at the San Francisco Call and set off an a sketching trip to the Northwest with Maynard Dixon.  In 1903 he went to Phoebe Hearst's ranch in New Mexico and visited El Paso, Laguna, Acoma, Taos, Oraibi and Walpi.  The sketches Edward Borein made during this period would be drawn upon numerous time later in his life for etchings. His India ink drawings appeared in Harpers, Colliers Weekly, Sunset Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and ads for Stetson Hats, Pierce Arrow and Aunt Jemima.

Edward Borein's burgeoning success convinced him to move to New York City, where he would live for twelve years as an artist and illustrator. Edward Borein became friends with Will Rogers and his idol, Charlie Russell, and met many of the major figures in western art and entertainment.  Russell was impressed by Borein's work and told him that he could be the best oil painter of any western artist with continued practice.  Taking this as a thinly-veiled criticism, Edward Borein ceased painting oils for a time and would concentrate on watercolors for the rest of his career. In 1921, tired of the city, he moved back to California, where he married and settled in Santa Barbara, where Edward Borein became a member of the Santa Barbara Art Club.

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery:
Edward Borein was born in San Leandro, California. At the age of 17, he left school to work with a saddlemaker. He then worked for several years as a cowboy, constantly sketching and occasionally sending his drawings to magazines for illustration.

He spent a month in 1891 at the San Francisco Art Association, where he met Maynard Dixon, who would gain notice as an important painter of the desert country. Leaving art school, Borein hired on as a cowboy at the Jesus Maria Rancho in Santa Barbara and then at a ranch in Malibu. The owner, who admired the young man's sketches, staked him to an extended sketching tour of Mexico. When he returned, Borein joined the "San Francisco Call" as a staff artist, earning eight dollars a week - even less than cowboy pay.

With Dixon, Borein toured the Sierras, Carson City, and parts of Oregon and Idaho in 1901, returning to Mexico two years later. It was during this trip that he began making watercolors. In 1904, he settled in Oakland where he painted and produced some sculpture.

After many years of marginal work, he became a very successful illustrator for the great magazines of the day: "Harper's", "Collier's", "Sunset", "Century", and "Western World". He became one of the most popular artists in America, gaining national fame and associating with the likes of Charles Russell, James Swinnerton, Maynard Dixon, Will James, Olaf Seltzer, Carl Oscar Borg, and western celebrities including Will Rogers and Leo Carillo.

In 1891, Borein started etching. He produced a large number of etchings that were very popular and sold well. At the suggestion of Russell, Borein went to Canada in 1912, where he worked for two years.

In 1921, Borein married and settled in Santa Barbara where he lived for the rest of his life. He continued his etching and illustrating. He was called the "cowpuncher artist" and throughout his life he lived the part, always wearing the colorful outfit of the cowboy. He died in Santa Barbara on May 19, 1945, at the age of 72.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I:
Edward Borein was born and raised in Oakland, California, where at an early age he showed strong artistic talent and a passion for the life of a a cowboy. In 1894, he bagan a series of wanderings by hiring on as a vaquero at an old Spanish cattle spread in Santa Barbara County. Like Charles M. Russell, who later was to become a close friend, Borein sketched constantly while on the job, and soaked up every story of life on the old range.

In 1897, after another stint at a rancho further south, Borein made his first trip to Mexico, riding in Baja California on horseback, sketching his way southward, and observing life on the Mexican frontier. Crossing over to the mainland, he traveled through much of the country, working as a vaquero in order to earn his way. After two years, he made his way back to Oakland by riding through New Mexico and Arizona where he came in contact with the southwestern Indian tribes. After returning to California, Borein set up a studio and began to paint in oils.

He went to New York in 1907 to work as an illustrator, and the following year met Charles Russell on one of the latter’s visits to the city. In the same period Borein also began a long friendship wil Will Rogers. Over the next few years, he established himself as a first-rate and highly sough-after artist of life in the Old West.

Borein settled permanently in Santa Barbara. Borein painted few oils compared to his output in watercolor, probably due to his lack of formal training in the medium. It is said that Charles Russell helped him to a great extent during Borein’s stay in New York, but it is also a matter of record that Borein considered his efforts in oil so inferiour to that of the great Montana artist that he gravitated instead toward watercolor, drawing, and the production of prints.

ReSources include: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, Dr. Rick Stewart,Hawthorne Publishing Company, 1986

Biography from The Coeur d'Alene Art Auction:
Edward Borein (1872-1945) was born in San Leandro, California. He began sketching horses, cowboys and steers at an very early age. By the time he was seventeen, he achieved the main ambition of his youthful life and became a working cowboy drifting through most areas of the West, from Mexico to Montana.

In 1907 Borein went to New York to learn etching techniques. He opened a studio so typical of the West in its atmosphere that he soon attracted the companionship of other homesick Western artists working in the East at that time. Charles Russell came to regard him as a brother. Borein was one of the most popular figures on the Western scene. The fact that he became the intimate friend of such men as Will Rogers, President Theodore Roosevelt, Leo Carillo and others of equal prominence testifies to his attractive personality as well as his talent.

Feeling uncomfortable in New York City, and electing not to return to his more familiar Oakland surroundings, Borein took his new bride, Lucille Maxwell, to Santa Barbara in 1921 and established a studio there. His old cronies and new friends found this studio a delightful place to gather.Watercolors, especially in his later life, was a favorite medium of Edward Borein. He was equally adept at pen-and-ink drawing, and his etchings were of such vigorous, realistic quality that no Western artist has surpassed him in this field.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
Edward Borein was born in the east-San Francisco Bay town of San Leandro, and educated in nearby Oakland.  During his teens, Borein worked as a ranch hand, drifting through the southwestern United States.

Largely a self-taught artist, Borein sketched throughout his itinerant travels.  At the turn of the century, Borein was working in Oakland as a successful illustrator.  In 1919, he made his final move to Santa Barbara, where he taught at the Santa Barbara School of the Arts until his death in 1945.  Borein left a legacy as a master etcher/engraver, a skill he learned at New York's Art Students League.

Source:
William A. Karges Fine Art - Los Angeles




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