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 James R. Hamil  (1937 - )

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Lived/Active: Missouri/Kansas/Nebraska      Known for: regional watercolor scenes, illustration, teaching

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Ad Code: 4
James Hamil
An example of work by James R. Hamil
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, courtesy of Scott Wilder, was published October 1, 2003.

Acclaimed local artist paints for the people

The Kansas City Star

Jim Hamil has only strayed from watercolors once.  His unfinished oil painting of the Grand Canyon dominates a wall in his Overland Park home. It's been 15 years since Hamil started the landscape and three years since he's touched it last.  Maybe next year, he says with a smile.

The 66-year-old painter -- famous for his Plaza watercolors and Kansas landscapes -- is busy.  He's supposed to paint the Wornall House in Missouri for a holiday greeting card.  A group of recently framed paintings sit next to the front door, ready to hit the market.  And -- after receiving yet another top honor -- Hamil had to take down a display of watercolors at the Johnson County Central Resource Library in Overland Park.

Hamil ducks his rumpled gray head and smiles---another award. Hamil on Sunday donned a tie and escorted his wife, Sharon, to the second annual Party in the Stacks! and accepted the Johnson County Library Foundation's Pinnacle Award for Excellence in the Arts. A handful of red roses -- stolen from the party -- sit on Hamil's breakfast table, a reminder of the prestigious award and the $1,000 contribution the Foundation will make to the library in Hamil's name.

"His gift keeps on giving that way," says Linda Off, executive director of the library foundation. Hamil's contributions to the community -- through his art and the countless workshops he's given to students of all ages -- made him an ideal recipient of the 2-year-old award. "He is a significant artist who documents the land and the community. Everyone who has studied with him speaks so highly of his generous nature and willingness to share all that he knows," Off says, "He's a very quiet, creative genius and one of those treasures living among us worthy of recognition."

Hamil has painted between 50 and 100 watercolors a year for more than 30 years. His works dominate the walls of galleries and homes, universities and corporations. Even bookshelves.  Hamil's paintings are featured in two books, Return to Kansas, produced by Hamil and his wife, and Farmland USA, which he worked on with his father. Hamil flips to page 33 in Return to Kansas and points to Prairie Sky, one of his favorite paintings.  "This one really moves a lot of people," he says. "I guess it evokes more a feeling of empathy."

After showing off his books and his filled-to-the-brim studio, Hamil changes the subject to his plants, his house, anything but his work. But his wife, Sharon, is more than willing to boast about Hamil's talents. "Artists, I think, in any case are modest people.  At least he is," she says. "I think he gets a lot of pleasure out of people.  He loves art, and I think he's done a good job of making other people love art, too."

And Hamil donates his paintings to local charities and keeps prices low, so the majority of the community can afford to display art in their homes, she says. "I just think he is not a businessman.  And maybe that's what makes him a good artist," she says.  "I think it's the fact that, through his prints and through his accessibility in giving talks, I think he's made art real and accessible to people."

Satisfying the customer is the goal, Hamil says. About 15 years as an artist for Hallmark taught him that. "Appeal is what you really have to sell to people," Hamil says.  "They either like it or they don't -- instantly. It's not like acquiring a taste for olives. They have to like it.  They have to believe in it.  You can't make people buy something they don't like." That's why Hamil says his paintings -- especially the watercolors of the Plaza or Kansas landmarks -- have been so popular. "It's interesting because Kansans are real loyal," he says.

Hamil's own loyalty to Kansas began when he moved as a child to Johnson County, where he graduated in 1954 from Shawnee Mission High School. After studying art at University of Kansas, Hamil moved back to Prairie Village and then Overland Park. He recently purchased a house in Lenexa.

Hamil has received local, regional and national awards. He was named the American Royal Western Artist of the Year, one of Kansas City's Best artists by Kansas City Magazine and the "Governor's Artist" by former Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden.  Hamil's advice to art hopefuls: "It's very good to be around the people who are doing it. If a person thinks they want to be something, they ought to try it."

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A native of Hastings, Nebraska, James Hamil was a long-time illustrator for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri. He has also done many paintings of Midwestern landscapes, his true love, with quaint farmhouses and small towns.  A major achievement was 100 illustrations for a book titled Farmland, USA, authored by his father, Harold Hamil, former editor of the Hastings Tribune and a senior vice president of Farmland Industries.

He is a graduate of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Kansas and has traveled extensively in Europe and Mexico on illustration assignments. In 1973, he opened his own studio and gallery in Kansas City to devote full time to painting for exhibitions and commissions.

Harold Hamil and Jim Hamil, Farmland USA
Interview with Harold Hamil

Biography from Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery:
James R. Hamil

The family of James Hamil moved to Kansas in 1951. He attended the University of Kansas from 1954-1958 and graduated with a degree in design.

Hamil created designs for Hallmark in Kansas City for almost fifteen years. His contributions included seasonal and everyday cards, books, calendars and wrapping paper. Among the Christmas designs, one in particular stands out -- an interpretation of former President and Mrs. Eisenhower's living room at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

From his Overland Park studio, Jim does commission work as well as watercolors of Kansas and scenes from travels. Two coffee table books, Farmland USA and Return to Kansas each include more than one hundred original paintings.

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