Best known for his comic strip Red Ryder and Little Beaver, Fred Harman was also a noted painter of scenes of the American West.
He was born in St. Louis, Missouri and as an infant moved with his family to Pagosa Springs, Colorado where his father was a lawyer. He grew up on a ranch in Indian country where he associated with Ute, Apache, Navajo, and Paiute Indians, and as a child he spent much time sketching these people. As an adult, he traveled and painted throughout the country inhabited by them.
In 1916, he moved to Kansas City as a teen ager but returned regularly to Colorado to work as a cowboy and to serve in the National Guard during World War I. For about twenty years he worked both as a cowboy and artist and received little recognition for his art abilites. In Kansas City in the 1920s, he made slides for silent movie houses. He also formed his own animated cartoon company with a friend and local artist, Walt Disney, but they were not successful, and Disney left for California. In 1924, Harman worked for an engraving company in St. Joseph, Missouri, illustrating catalogs for cowboy wear.
In 1933, Harman moved to Los Angeles, and lived there until 1938, the year he started the syndicated cartoon of Red Ryder and Little Beaver, which was published for twenty-four years in 750 daily newspapers and reached 40 million readers. He also had a successful illustration career with book commissions. He moved back to Colorado where he built a cabin in Pagosa Springs, and, with a long-term Scripps-Howard newspaper contract, continued his Red Ryder strip until 1962. From that time he devoted his artistic talents to western easel paintings, and an exhibition venue for this work, which was in traditional style, was the Stendahl Gallery in Los Angeles. His first series of paintings sold out.
He became one of the first members of the Cowboy Artists of America and was also a member of the National Cartoonist Society and the Society of Illustrators.
A book about his art, The Great West in Paintings, was published by Swallow Press in 1969, and in that publication he is quoted as saying: "With my hair showing many winters, each morning before sun-up finds me hurriedly returning to my easel."
Harman died in Phoenix, AZ on Jan. 3, 1982.
Collections include the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, and the Missouri Bar Association.
Sources: Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940 Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West