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 Harold R. Wilkins  (1912 - 2003)

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Lived/Active: Iowa/Nebraska      Known for: western, pioneer easel and mural painting, illustration

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Harold R Wilkins
An example of work by Harold R. Wilkins
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Harold R. Wilkins was born in 1912 on a farm north of Tabor, Iowa in Mills County. His parents were very musical and enjoyed the arts. At the age of six he was drawing pictures on butcher paper, and he created pictures depicting American western and pioneer lifestyle through out his life. He would draw on his personal rural life experiences, which included images of Chester, Dan, Maude and Polly, the draft horses, working on the farm and breakfast over a coal-fired stove. His artistic skills were self-taught.

Harold Wilkins did not fully develop his realistic western artistic style until retirement in 1967 as a Lt. Colonel after 28 years in the United States Air Force. Wilkins was a pilot and flew "The Hump" during World War II. In 1979 and 1982 he illustrated two volumes of yearbook history about the pilots, squadrons, missions and aircraft that flew "The Hump" Flying was one of his passions and he flew bi-planes in his free time.

The best description of his art is a historic illustrative style in the vivid colors of the west. Some paintings required months of research. Then once he had the history and images set in his mind, he would paint them. The first art studio after retirement was Bellevue, Nebraska close to his SAC (Strategic Air Command) roots. This was the first major art gallery in Bellevue where he taught eight other artists. After retirement he traveled the art circuit with his studio trailer selling his pictures at art fairs. Traveling to fairs, cattle and horse shows provided him with more ideas for paintings. The majority of his works were of the American west and oil on canvas or acrylic on canvas.

He also illustrated in pen and ink. Illustrating for historical and state calendars like 150 Years of the Oregon Trail. His membership in the Omaha Corral of Westerners provided him with accurate historic information supplied by other western history enthusiasts. One project for the Nebraska Department of Tourism depicted chimney rock and was used to promote Nebraska on a calendar. The visitors at the site of the 1865 steamboat sinking of the Bertrand viewed Wilkins oil on canvas in 1972, which illustrated the event.

The Nebraska Great State Seal Robbery was painted in oil on canvas. This historic painting shows the Nebraska Secretary of State, Thomas Kennard and Nebraska Governor David Butler robbing Omaha of the state seal. They hid the seal under the buggy seat of their wagon and carried the seal to Lincoln. Lincoln remains the capitol today. The Nebraska State Historical Society owns the original studies and drawings for this painting.

He has illustrated many books, calendars, magazines and periodicals. The family owns a letter from Willa Cather requesting Wilkins illustrate her book. The publisher demanded Cather use the in house illustrator for the book, so this collaboration never occurred. Many famous people have work by Wilkins in their private collections including Henry Fonda, Nebraska State Historical Society, and the Leahy family.

Harold Wilkins developed a major mural series for his own pleasure, and the seven- mural project took 23 years. He started the first mural in 1964 and completed the last mural in 1986. The series is seven murals approximate size 4' x 9' depicting the American West. The artist estimated each canvas supports 10 pounds of oil paint. The titles of the murals are: Buffalo & Native Americans, Wagons West, Territorial Dispute, Cattle Drive, Stage Coach & Pony Express, Sod Buster, and Railroads & Town Sites. The murals are historically accurate and painted in vivid colors.

Wilkins last studio was at Harmony Court in Omaha, Nebraska. The scrapbook of his exhibitions, photographs of his production and other career memories disappeared from the studio prior to his death. A reward is offered for return of the scrapbook with no questions asked.

Wilkins art remains a historic treasure dedicated to the beauty of the American west and the American pioneer spirit.



Copyright @ June 2005 Janet Gwendolyn Smith, www.jgsart.com

Submitted by Janet G. Smith, art consultant, art historian, art authenticator and independent curator,

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