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 Wilson Hurley  (1924 - 2008)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico/Oklahoma      Known for: landscape, some western genre, mural painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Wilson Hurley (1924-2008)

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he became a painter in luminist style of the American West, especially known for his depictions of Canyon de Chelly, Yellowstone Park, and the Grand Canyon.

He attended high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where his family moved in 1935.  Knowing his interest and talent, his mother arranged for him to spend time as a teenager with artists Theodore Van Solen, Josef Bakos, and John Young-Hunter.  Hurley studied engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1945, and then served in the Air Force.  He resigned his Air Force commission to go to law school at George Washington University in Washington DC and then practiced law in Albuquerque, New Mexico for fourteen years.

In 1965, he became a full-time painter, an occupation interrupted by serving in the Vietnam War during 1968 and 1969.  In 1972, Hurley became a member of the National Academy of Western Art, and in 1984, he was given the Prix de West Purchase Award by the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.  Other exhibition venues include the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the Rockwell Museum in Corning, New York; the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum; and the Gilcrease Museum.

In 1991, he painted five large murals for the new addition of the Cowboy Hall of Fame, each celebrating the beauty of western landscapes of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, California, and Wyoming.  He titled this series, "Windows of the West" because of the diversity of geographical locations and in his words, to "show a view of the world passed through another's mind" (Hagerty).

Because of his growing reputation as a painter of western landscape, he was a judge in the inaugural 1987 Arts for the Parks exhibition.  Among his own works are depictions of Yellowstone National Park, where he was especially fascinated by the cascades of the Yellowstone River.

In 1996, he completed dioramas for the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. The 15 paintings each depict a sunset over an iconic American vista including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park.  They cover a total of 2876 square feet.

In 2008, Wilson Hurley died of Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Sources:
Donald Hagerty, Leading the West
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
Peter Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone
Editor, Southwest Art, December 2008

Biography from Nedra Matteucci Galleries:
Wilson Hurley, recognized as one of America’s premier landscape painters, was a resident of New Mexico from 1935.  He worked in the great American landscape tradition and has often been compared with Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Church, and Thomas Moran, the great landscape artists of the 19th Century.  Though honored by the comparison, Hurley created paintings which are truly contemporary in their combination of realistic and detailed beauty with the best of 20th century technological achievement, thought, and expression.  Hurley has been credited with bringing Western realist landscapes to the forefront of American painting and his influence on generations of artists has been incalculable.  His work embodies the spirit of Western individualism and presents his experience, enthusiasm and appreciation to all who see his paintings so that they, too, may understand his extraordinary perspective.

Hurley, whose artistic talents were apparent at a very early age, was often described as a “Renaissance Man”.  While pursuing successful careers in engineering and law, Hurley quietly developed his art.  Then, at the age of 40, Hurley turned to painting full time.  The accomplishments he achieved in over forty years as an artist are both numerable and impressive.  Among the awards presented to Hurley by the National Academy of Western Art are the 1984 Prix de West for his painting Los Alamos Country, and the gold medal for oil painting in 1977, 1978, and 1984.  The National Cowboy Hall of Fame presented him with the 1977 Trustees’ Award for his contribution to Western Art.  The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art presented him with the award for Excellence in Western Art in 1991.  He displayed one-man shows at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History; the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas; the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma; the Whitney Museum in Cody Wyoming; the Rockwell Museum in Corning, New York and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, Indiana.

In recognizing Hurley’s unique achievements, these honors have provided an opportunity to showcase the epic beauty of New Mexico to the rest of the country. His magnificent renderings of the Sandia Mountains, Chaco Canyon, Elena Gallegos Park and other regions of New Mexico and the West, have contributed to the development and enrichment of the arts in general.  This exposure has kept New Mexico in the forefront as a state in which the arts are admired and respected.  His beautiful portrayals of the land, sky and special history have significantly contributed to New Mexico’s long-standing and continuous reputation as an important artistic community, but also as an oasis of spectacular scenic wonders and legendary cultures.

Hurley’s expansive interests led him to depict, in addition to the natural beauty of New Mexico, the state’s and region’s unique history and modern technological achievements.  Hurley has often focused his attention on the archaeological wonders around the state and, in collaboration with Walter Briggs in Without Noise of Arms, recreated an important historic record of the birth and development of the Spanish legacy in the region.

Having worked at Sandia National Laboratories as an engineer from 1958 to 1960, Hurley developed a special understanding of the relationship between technology and nature.  Creating highly detailed paintings of the Pioneer Saturn Encounter and the 1981 space shuttle Columbia launch from the Kennedy Space Center, among others, Hurley brought recognition to the aerospace industries in New Mexico. He demonstrated that the technology of New Mexico’s laboratories play an important role in the country and through his paintings has allowed millions to view the extraordinary sight of the universe from spacecraft, something only an astronaut is fortunate enough to experience firsthand.

Hurley’s contribution to the enrichment and development of the arts in New Mexico has been recognized in major public commissions.  Significantly, visitors to the Albuquerque airport are first greeted by his diptych landscape La Cueva Sunset East and La Cueva Sunset West.  These landscapes stand out in every visitor’s mind and inspires them to seek out New Mexico’s natural beauty on their own.  Hurley once said, “Many ask what I see in this country that attracts me so. They insist it is an empty land where nothing ever happens. I tell them I find a poem everyday.”

Source: Nedra Matteucci Galleries, representing Wilson Hurley

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, III:
Wilson Hurley

Representational painter in oil, especially known for broad landscapes of the Western United States, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1924 and living in Albuquerque, New Mexico since 1952.

His early childhood was spent in Leesburg, Virginia, after the family left Tulsa in 1928. In 1936, they were spending summers in New Mexico, and he was enrolled in Los Alamos School where he graduated in 1942. He entered the U.S. Military Academy in that year, graduated in 1945, was commissioned a second lieutenant, and flew in an air-sea rescue unit in the Philippines until 1949. At that time he resigned his commission in the Air Force and entered George Washington Law School where he earned a degree in 1951. He practiced law in New Mexico, primarily in Albuquerque, for thirteen years.

His commitment to painting began at an early age. He was exposed to many fine painters in New Mexico during his childhood, and while practicing law and flying in the New Mexico National Guard, he continued as a Sunday painter. He has devoted himself full time to painting since 1964. Hurley’s interest in broad vistas, mountains, canyons, and clouds is probably the result of his flying experience, although he enjoys painting still lifes and a variety of other subjects. He has been featured in American Artist, Persimmon Hill, Artists of the Rockies, Art West, and Southwest Art.

Resource: Contemporary Western Artists, by Peggy and Harold Samuels 1982, Judd’s Inc., Washington, D.C.


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Wilson Hurley is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Painters of Grand Canyon
Taos Pre 1940
Western Painters

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