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Kirkpatrick, James Alfred
b. February 22, 1898; d. 1984
Discipline: Painting

James “Kirk” Kirkpatrick was born in 1898 on a farm near Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. In 1903, his family moved to a 160-acre ranch near what is now the town of Beach, North Dakota near the Montana border.

He attended school in Beach and later studied painting at the School of Applied Art in Battle Creek, Michigan and at a school in Chicago.

When World War One broke out, he enlisted in the Army. When his service was up, he moved to Jamestown and established the Kirkpatrick Sign Company, through which he made his living making commercial art.

Although a commercial artist by trade, Kirkpatrick produced oil paintings on the side. He was exceptionally prolific, creating more 3,000 original paintings over the course of his life. His work was often western-themed and featured scenes of cowboys, ranchers, and American Indians. Obsessed with realistic detail, he filled his Jamestown studio with antique saddles, hats, chaps, tools, and other items from the “cowboy era” that he would refer to when painting. Some of his work includes:

  • “Wrong Side Up”: based an allegedly true story about a plowing exchange between a Sioux man and a New Salem settler named John Christenson. The exchange convinced Christenson to leave his fields unplowed and is said to account for the fact that the New Salem area largely consists of dairy farms.
  • “When Bullets Settled Disputes”: Drunken cowboys ride into town for a night of drinking and gambling.
  • “The Morning Warm-up”: A bucking bronco tosses his rider while the rest of the roundup crew patiently waits.
  • “We Found the Deer”: A hunter indicates to the rest of his party that he found the spot where a wounded deer died.
  • “The Invasion”: Perched on a tall hill, a group of American Indians watch the arrival of covered wagons.
  • “The Trouble Shooter”: A cowboys leaps from a horse to help tie a bucking steer and rescue his beleaguered colleague.

Almost all of his pieces have been sold or donated to individuals and organizations all over the country. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and is part of the permanent art collections of the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Senate. He was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and in 1965, he was the subject of a feature article in Parade Magazine

In 1963, he and his wife Ila Beatrice established the Kirkpatrick Gallery of Art, where townspeople and tourists could watch him work. In 1983, one year before his death, they donated the gallery to the Jamestown Fine Arts Association. Today, it sits in the town’s Frontier Village and is used by the association as a gallery and sales space for local artists.

- Ben Nemenoff

Bibliography:

Barr, Paul E. North Dakota Artists. Grand Forks: University of North Dakota Library, 1954.

Edmonds, Nancy. “The Old West Lives in Jamestown Studio.” Fargo Forum, November 12, 1972.

“Spirit of the Old West on Canvas: North Dakotan Depicts His State’s Past.” Picture Magazine, August 30, 1964.

Other Sources:

Jamestown Fine Arts Association

North Dakota Resource File: Biography, North Dakota State Library

 
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