Byron Wolfe was not the type of artist who painted the American West because the work sold well in galleries. He would have been a Western artist even if the collectors could be counted on one hand and only sailboats were selling. Wolfe painted the Old West because he loved the drama and color of that chapter in our country's history. “I do not paint anything but Westerns,” he said. “I was once asked to paint a prize bird dog and I said I'd be glad to if I could put him on a horse.”
Wolfe was born in Parson, Kansas, in 1904. As a youth, he worked on a ranch, “keeping water tanks filled, riding fence, and repairing the damage done to fences by restless bulls seeking strange pastures.” The margins of his school notebooks were filled with sketches of horses, cowboys, and Native Americans. After studying art at the University of Kansas, he worked for a publishing company as a freelance illustrator, and eventually as an art director for a Kansas City advertising agency. Wolfe's interest in the West grew when he was commissioned to do a series of Western illustrations for the Goetz Brewing Company of St. Joseph, Missouri, and cattle scenes for the American Royal Livestock, and Horse Show & Rodeo, which were published in the Kansas City Star.
Michael Kennedy, who was then director of the Russell Gallery in Helena, Montana, soon became interested in Wolfe's work. With Kennedy's direction and help, Wolfe's career as a Western artist got its first and most important boost. In 1966, Charlie Dye asked Wolfe to join the Cowboy Artists of America.
Wolfe's studio was always filled with cowboy gear, guns, and Native American artifacts. He created his paintings surrounded by these many objects; constant reminders to him to keep his work as authentic as possible. Dean Krakel, former managing director of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, once described Wolfe this way: “He's original . . . he ain't no one else.”
Buffalo Bill Historical Center; National Center for American Western Art; National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum; Sangre de Cristo Arts Center; Woolaroc Museum