Organizations* : CAA, NAWA, NSS
Known as a bronze sculptor of cowboy figures, either painted or left “natural,” Harry Jackson was born Harry Shapiro on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, and currently makes his home in Lost Cabin, Wyoming as well as Camariorre, Italy.
Brought up near the stables and stockyards, Jackson recalls, “All I was good at was drawing, riding, and running away.” He was often a truant from school and loved to wander around the Harding Museum looking at Frederic Remington bronzes or to hang out at his mother’s cafe listening to stories from the cowboys who had brought their cattle by trains to the stockyards. A teacher noticed his art talent and got him a scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute’s Saturday children’s classes.
At fourteen, Jackson hopped a train for Wyoming and became a cowboy. In the late 1930s, he returned to Chicago and studied at the Frederick Mizen Academy, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and the Chicago Art Institute. In 1942, he entered the Marine Corps. A year later, at Tarawa, he had shrapnel head wounds that caused him epileptic seizures for most of the remainder of his life, and he also took two bullets to the leg at Saipan. He was then, at age 20, ordered back to the U.S. where he was appointed an Official Marine Corps Combat Artist, the youngest in Marine history.
After the war, he studied painting with the Abstract Expressionists in New York City. A trip to Italy in 1954 returned him to realistic themes, and in 1956 he was commissioned to paint two heroic scenes of the American West. Among his studies for the paintings were figures in wax. When the patron saw the waxes, he ordered them cast in bronze, and Jackson became a full-time sculptor. Jackson’s bronzes are now in public and private collections around the world, including the Vatican and Queen Elizabeth, and have been featured in Life and Time, as well as Southwest Art. His commissions, not always of Western subjects, include heroic statues of historical subjects and portraits. Of this variety, he says “Don’t categorize me . . .as a cowboy or Western artist or abstract expressionist artist. I’m an artist.”
In 1966, his entire output of western art was given the first one-man show at the new National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. By 1970, he was spending most of his time in Wyoming, becoming a resident of Cody, and was elected to the Cowboy Artists of America, but got “thrown out” because of his refusal to choose allegiances between it and the Cowboy Hall of Fame - entities that had had a major falling out.
Jackson has been criticized for applying paint to his sculpture, but he stays to his own course and asserts, “It’s just plain jack-ass-ery to say that painting my bronzes makes them look like wood. Hell, nobody complains that painting over canvas detracts from the intrinsic quality of the canvas, but critics still believe I’m defiling bronze when I paint over it.”