Gray Bartlett was fifty-two years old in 1937 and still in the engraving business. He had not worked with a sketch pad and canvas for three decades. But in the next fourteen years, until his death, he achieved a lifelong goal and became a foremost western artist.
He grew up with a love for art and a love for the West. Born in Rochester, Minnesota, his parents moved to Colorado when he was a youth. By the time he was sixteen he was working as a cow hand on the open range, sketching western scenes in a battered sketchbook he carried in his saddlebags. These sketches were later transferred to canvas.
At first his ambition was to be a rancher, for the wide-open life in the west seemed to suit him well. Then he began to realize how strongly he felt about his sketches and paintings of the West, and he soon became aware that his true ambition was not ranching, but to be an artist. He left the cattle country to study at the Greeley Art School in Greeley, Colorado, and on a scholarship at the Chicago Art Institute.
The death of his mother forced a decided change in the course of his life. He gave up his art training and went to work as a commercial artist, employed by various photo-engraving companies, to help support the family. He had many such jobs in Denver and other western and Midwestern cities. After marrying, he borrowed $1,800.00 and bought an interest in an engraving firm. The business prospered and, in 1937, Bartlett retired and moved to California where he returned to his first love - art.
His desire to paint came back stronger than ever. Despite being neglected for so many years, his skill with a brush and his eye for color did not fail him, and his early sketches refreshed his memory. With his camera and notebook he traveled extensively in Colorado, Utah, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, capturing the West he remembered so well as a boy. At times he lived among the Indians, while maintaining studios in Los Angeles and in Moab, Utah.
His paintings of the Southwest are in many western collections, including the Santa Fe Railway Collection, Arizona State University, and the California State Library. Bartlett died of a heart attack suffered while in his studio in Los Angeles.
ARTWORK: Gray Bartlett
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