Born near Boston, Massachusetts, Robert Farrington Elwell became one of the better-known late 19th and early 20th Century illustrators, painters and sculptors of western subjects. He is credited with having great respect for the culture and traditions of Indians, and with sculpture that reflects his perception of their "dignity and beauty". (Broder 207)
His career began in 1890 when he was on assignment for the Boston Globe newspaper to sketch at Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in Boston. He was so fascinated that he attended all the performances and developed a friendship with Buffalo Bill Cody.
In turn, Cody was impressed with Elwell's talents and the next year he invited him to accompany him to his ranch, the T E, in Cody, Wyoming. This experience allowed Elwell to sketch while earning money working on the ranch.
In 1896, he became ranch manager, a job he held with Cody Enterprises for the next 25 years. Elwell's responsibilities included management of the cattle and horse ranches and Cody hotels and serving as engineer of irrigation projects.
He also sketched constantly and completed paintings illustrations that were used by Winchester Arms and United States Cartridge, as well as for calendars and advertisements for Cody's Wild West Show. The Buchanan Company of Boston used his sculpture models for Winchester Arms, Tower Slicker and Samoset Chocolate companies, and his illustrations appeared in the Ladies Home Journal.
At the Cody ranches in Wyoming and Nebraska, Elwell met many of the great western personalities of the day--Frederic Remington, Diamond Jim Brady, Theodore Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, and Sioux tribal chief Iron Tail, who made him a member of the Sioux tribe.
He also spent time in Wickenburg, Arizona, painting illustrations for Little Brown & Company, and his last years, he lived in Phoenix. Although he lived most of his life in the West, he retained his Boston accent and mannerisms. After the years of working for Cody and the end of the Cody 'empire', Elwell went back East but continued to paint and sculpt from western subject matter. However, his heart remained in the West, and he moved again, first to Wyoming, then Utah and finally to Phoenix, Arizona, where he died in 1962 at age eighty-eight.
Source: Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West Patricia Broder, Bronzes of the American West