Edward Borein was born and raised in California, where at an early age he showed strong artistic talent and a passion for the life of a cowboy. At the age of 17, he left school to work with a saddle maker and then hired on as a vaquero at a cattle spread in Santa Barbara County. Like Charles Russell, Borein sketched constantly while on the job. He later said “The reason Russell’s pictures are so lifelike is because Russell lived the life he painted. I have done the same thing…and that’s the only way you can learn to paint it.”
Borein spent a month in 1891 at the San Francisco Art Association, where he met Maynard Dixon. In 1897, Borein visited Mexico, sketching and observing life on the frontier while working as a vaquero. After two years, he made his way back to California by way of New Mexico and Arizona, where he came into contact with the Southwestern Indian tribes. In California, Borein set up a studio and began to paint in oils.
He moved to New York in 1907 as an illustrator, working for magazines such as Harper’s, Collier’s, and Western World. During this time, Borein began friendships with Charles Russell and Will Rogers. Over the next few years, he established himself as a first-rate and highly sought-after artist of life in the Old West.
In 1921, Borein married and settled in Santa Barbara, California, where he lived for the rest of his life. He was called the “cowpuncher artist” and throughout his life he lived the part, always wearing the colorful outfit of the cowboy. He painted few oils, probably due to his lack of formal training in the medium. It is said that Charles Russell helped him to a great extent during Borein’s stay in New York, but it is also a matter of record that Borein considered his efforts in oil so inferior to those of Russell’s that he gravitated instead toward watercolor, drawing, and the production of prints; his etchings were of such vigorous, realistic quality that no Western artist has surpassed him in this field.
Borein rarely used a model. This traces back to the years in the saddle, when it would have been impossible to stop and sketch. He developed a phenomenal memory, and no detail was too minute for him. In his own words, “I will leave only an accurate history of the West, nothing else but that. If anything isn’t authentic or just right, I won’t put it in any of my work.” His works were done entirely from memory. It is this freedom from the hampering effect of copying that is so apparent in the free style of his work.
On May 19, 1945, in the middle of one of his famous stories, Borein complained of chest pains. He died the same day. He was eulogized two days later as the “last artist of the longhorn era.” To quote from the Santa Barbara News Press: “With etching tool and brush, with acid and paint, Ed Borein ‘wrote’ the history of America’s West, of a way of living and - all important - of a way of thinking, that will be part of America’s strength long after the details of the West are forgotten…”
Reference: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, edited by Dr. Rick Stewart, AskArt.com