Biography of Artist Bill Ferguson by son Gary L. Ferguson, Richland, Washington:
Bill Ferguson was known mostly for his portraits of Indians indigenous to the areas where he lived. He painted mostly oils and mostly Indian portraits and western scenes in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Arizona. His avid interest in Indians led him to study the local tribes of the various regions he lived in. Nobody really knows how many paintings of Bill Ferguson’s are in existence. He always painted, wherever he lived.
Bill Ferguson’s art career began in his ‘teens. He began earning a living as a sign painter in Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Washington. When Walt Disney was visiting his in-laws in Lewiston in 1927, he saw Ferguson painting the marquees for the movie theaters. Impressed with his talent, Disney took Bill to California with him to be a cartoonist when he was still operating out of his Uncle’s garage.
Ferguson later enlisted in the Army Air Corps during WWII. His job was to paint the graphics on fighter planes and bombers, personalizing each individual plane with various scenes, such as pictures of Betty Grable and other “pinup“ girls.
Ferguson married Frances Chapman from Lewiston, Idaho, in 1937. They had three children, Alfred, Arlene, and Gary.
In 1963 Bill painted a large wall mural in the Moose Bar in Dillon, Montana. An August 2001 Montana Tavern Times article written by Paul Vang describes the bar scene which shows patrons playing music, dancing, gambling, a fist fight, and even a dog named “Itch,” “It’s the mural on the wall opposite the bar that makes the Moose Bar unique. …. an artist named Bill Ferguson painted the mural in 1963, and it depicts the regulars of the time, almost all now deceased.” After completing the mural in Dillon, Ferguson was hired by the Lucky Lager Brewery in Butte, Montana, to paint murals on the brewery’s delivery trucks. Ferguson painted more murals in the Colville, Washington area.
Bill often entertained his admirers by drawing cartoons on cocktail napkins. He would simultaneously draw one figure with his left hand while drawing the other with his right. Then he simultaneously wrote the captions for each character, again one with each hand.
During the time he lived in Dillon, Ferguson was commissioned by a local business to paint a large map depicting Nez Perce Chief Joseph’s retreat, complete with battle scenes, along with three separate oil portraits, one of Chief Joseph, one of his brother Olikut, and one of the old Chief Toohoolhoolzote, a chief treaty negotiator for the Nez Perce tribe. The map and the portraits are all on permanent display in the Beaverhead County Museum in Dillon.
Bill Ferguson died in 1985 in a cabin on the Deschutes River in Maupin, Oregon, leaving unfinished canvasses behind.