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Walters, Emile
b. 1893; d. 1977
Discipline: Painting

Although raised and initially trained in North Dakota, Emile Walters rose to prominence as an artist while living outside of the state. However, he reserved a place for the state in his work and eventually returned to produce paintings of it.

His parents emigrated from Iceland and settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where Walters was born. In 1898, the family moved to the town of Gardar in the northeast portion of North Dakota.

At the age of fourteen, he apprenticed with a house painter. He spent three years after that studying at the Art Institute in Chicago and another three years at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He paid for school with a variety of odd jobs including chores at the institute, ushering at the Chicago Grand Opera, crafting jewelry, and driving cattle between terms.

Walters moved to New York City and, after a failed attempt at a career in commercial art, he was awarded the first Louis C. Tiffany (of Tiffany and Co. fame) Scholarship, which was managed by the Tiffany Foundation. As a recipient, Walters moved into a residency with the foundation and created his first successful painting. “Theodore Roosevelt Haunts, Early Autumn” was the Roosevelt home in Long Island surrounded by Lombardy poplar trees. The painting toured New York City and other parts of the country until it was purchased by the National Collection of Fine Arts at the Smithsonian Institution. At the time, Walters was the youngest artist to have a piece in that collection.
His career took off from there and his work was exhibited all over the United States and other countries including France, Finland, Ireland, Luxemburg, Thailand, and Iceland, among others. He primarily painted landscapes, seascapes, and Arctic scenes. 

In 1937, he returned to North Dakota to paint scenes of the Badlands. He traveled with painter, art historian, and University of North Dakota professor Paul E. Barr on a two month trip. They traveled to Elbowoods, the Killdeer Mountains, the old Roosevelt ranch near Medora, Grassy Butte, Bicycle, Challoner’s Crossing, and other places. He completed the paintings at his studio in New York City. 

Over the course of his life, he would also make frequent trips to his parents’ native Iceland. He produced several paintings of the country.

He died in 1977.

- Ben Nemenoff


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

“Emile Walters.” July 18, 2004. <>.

“Former Dakota Artist to Paint Badlands Scenes.” Fargo Forum, June 27, 1937.

Jackson, Thorstina. “North Dakotan Attracts Nationwide Attention as One of Foremost Artists.” Publication and date unknown.

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