Compiled by Paul Cordova, Curator. One in a collection by Allen Bachoroski, Local Historical Writer and author of “Tales Along the Highway of Legends”
Arthur Roy Mitchell was born December 18, 1889, on his parents homestead just West of Trinidad Colorado.
He began to do art work for the Trinidad Chronicle-News, where he was advertising and circulation manager. In 1915, he illustrated with sketches a souvenir travel book for Trinidad.
1917 found him a nattily uniformed but stern-visage drill sergeant at Camp Lewis, Washington, In 1918, he was in Officers Candidate School,but World War I ended before he saw action.
Then, in 1925, he sold his Victrola, cashed his war bonds, drew his savings from the bank, and got on a train for New York City, determined to ” find out if i can be an artist. ” He enrolled in the Grand Central Art School where he had the luck to become a student of famed illustrator and artist Harvey Dunn who became a lifelong friend.
In 1927, having followed Dunn to New Jersey, Mitch established a studio in Leonia–his Bohemia shared with other artists and friends like Charles Chapman, Grant Reynard, Frank Street, and Howard McCormick. During the 18 years he lived in New Jersey, he painted more than 160 magazine covers and illustrated several books.
Mitchell cut short this lucrative career to return to Trinidad when his doctor diagnosed cancer in 1942. He thought he would die and he wanted to be at home. And home, for him, ” more than any house, is these pinion-covered hills, those flat topped mountains. ”
At first, he lived at his sister’s ranch, hauling hay and raising cattle–his contribution to the war effort, he said. In 1945, however, he was tapped to teach art at Trinidad State Junior College, and typically, was soon enthusiastic about his new career.
During this period, Mitchell kept developing his own art. Weekends and summers were usually spent up-valley at his sister’s ranch where he rode, hiked, sketched, painted, talked, joked, and horsed around with friends who came to spend days and weeks in his company — friends such as Harvey Dunn, Harold con Schmidt, and Frank Street. On canvas, Mitch was ridding himself of vestiges of his magazine technique with its flat colors and hard outlines. How far advanced is testified by the admiring remark of noted artist Grant Reynard who said he thought Mitchell ” the best of all Western painters of horses and mountains. ”
Mitch saw a ” for sale ” sign in 1955 in front of the oldest residential building in Trinidad, the former home of Baca, the first settler in the area. The rare two-story adobe house was saved to become a museum, with an additional, complementary Pioneer Museum (started to some extent with Mitchell’s personal collection) in the former stables and wagon sheds out back. The curator of the new museum: Arthur Roy Mitchell, beginning still another career at the age of 67, fourteen years after he came to die.
A few years later, another historic house of the other end of the city block came up for sale, this one the rococo Victorian home of a late-1800’s cattle baron that contrasts sharply with the simple Territorial style of the adobe. After another fund-raising drive, the house was added to the museum complex, which used the entire block
All though this busy time, travelers in the back country often came across a parked pickup and, nearby, a straight-backed, white haired man standing in front of an easel, sighting along his arm, measuring with his brush a distant scene. He never stopped his painting — creating ” his children,” as the old bachelor called them. And he wouldn’t sell them. The small income salary provided for the life he preferred. So, he had to really like a prospective buyer before he would let a painting go.
In 1972 he was elected an honorary member of the Cowboy Artists of America. In 1973, he was elected one of the initial academicians of the National Academy of Western Artists. And in 1977 he received the coveted Trustee’s Award of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center. In 1975, when Mitch was 85, he retired from the museum and moved to Denver to live his widowed sister, Ethel ” Tot ” Erickson. On November 15, 1977, Arthur Roy Mitchell died, one month short of his 88th birthday.
He left all of his personal belongings, including almost 300 paintings and thousands of drawings, to his sister. She knew Mitch would have liked them displayed in the old home town. So, when friends and admirers of his approached her with the idea of forming a corporation for that purpose, she gave the collection to them to start the A.R. Mitchell Memorial Museum & Gallery.
Arthur Roy Mitchell was world known, but down to earth and called Mitch by his home town Trinidad Friends. Mitch was ever ready to hatch an excuse for home brew he’d ever tasted. One Vignette recalls Mitch leaping onto a table during a party, waving a champagne glass and yelling, “This is the best time I ever had with my pants on!” Still, there were long hours in the studio and he was soon selling regularly to the western pulp magazines that were in their heyday. His illustrations became so much in demand that he wrote of standing at a New York news stand and counting magazine covers he had done.
Reasons for his popularity, aside frons craftsmanship and reliability, were the from accuracy of dress, gear and equipage that came from first hand knowledge. Late each Spring, deadlines were met and new assignments were postponed while he got on a train for Southern Colorado where he became what he called a ” Model A Cowboy.” With the top down on his Model A car and easel, canvasses, paints, and sketch pad jammed into the rumble seat along with camping gear, he headed for the foothills and high parks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. With his sister’s ranch 25 miles west of Trinidad as home base, he had weeks of driving up impossible trails, camping under pines, drawing, sketching, painting, jawing with cowboys and cadging meals at lonely ranch houses. He would return to leonia ” full of spit and vinegar,” he said, ready for another winter of work.
“He could be brutal in his critiques,” remembers one of his students. But Mitch wrote, If I merely break a trail for others who will surpass me I will be satisfied, and maybe the footprints of the one who showed them the way need not be rubbed out entirely.” Several of his former students have now established themselves as southwestern artists and have developed a museum in Trinidad to show some of the artistic footprints of ” Mitch “.
Written from documents at Arthur Roy Mitchell Museum.
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