Like Charles M. Russell, E. William Gollings was a cowboy artist who painted the area and way of life that he had come to know in the West. Indeed, Gollings spent nearly all his life in the Sheridan area of north central Wyoming. He knew his country “by creeks and divides,” and he painted the hills and fence corners that he worked on horseback.
Born in the Territory of Idaho, Gollings was sent by his family to Chicago for schooling. In 1896, determined to work his way back West, he traveled to Rapid City, South Dakota, where he signed on as a cowhand for an outfit heading for the Slim Buttes country. After a winter spent herding cattle, Gollings made his way to his brother’s ranch in Montana, on Rosebud Creek near the Yellowstone River. “I realized the cowboy days were about over,” he recalled in his autobiography. “The older men in the game told me as much, and I longed to be a part of at least the last of it.”
He worked as an occasional hand over the next five years, gaining much experience, and began to sketch what he saw, particularly after he became aware of Frederic Remington’s work. Gollings’ early artistic endeavors included carving horse heads out of laundry soap and his first paint set was ordered by mail from Montgomery Wards. He practiced industriously with these materials and his drawings finally earned him a scholarship to the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, where he learned to work in oil and watercolor. He also developed a fine technique in etching, much of which he learned from Hans Kleiber of Dayton, Wyoming. Gollings reached a wide audience with his etchings, as many of them appeared on Christmas cards. His fellow cowboys nicknamed him “Paint Bill,” and his paintings were reviewed in the Chicago press as being “filled with the breeziness of the plains, with spirited delineations of horses and men.”
Gollings loved being a cowhand, but when he found that there was a market for his artwork, he retired from the range and in 1909 built a small studio in Sheridan, Wyoming. He reproduced the scenes that he had lived in earlier days on the plains, signing them in his distinctive way, simply “Gollings,” followed by a pony track insignia. He met several other artists, most notably Edward Borein, W.H.D. Koerner, Joseph Sharp, and Charles M. Russell. Gollings was in awe of Russell’s art, and established a lifelong association with the Montana artist. Golling’s own art, however, was more directly influenced by Sharp, who helped him with his technique, particularly with regard to colors studies. “Every time I go out into the hills I get more and more convinced that there is no more West,” Gollings said in 1926. However, the West that he mourned was preserved in his paintings, a valuable record of the history of Wyoming.
Reference: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, edited by Dr. Rick Stewart, AskArt.com