Will James in Magazines

07.06.2023 – 06.01.2024

exhibition sponsors

Lead Sponsor

The Foundation for Montana History

Earl E. Snook Family Gallery

June, 2023 – September, 2024

Will James is well-known for his independent writings, especially “Smoky.” Meanwhile, his work also reached millions via publications in the magazines of his day, beginning with Sunset in 1920 and expanding elsewhere to appeal to a wide range of interests. In addition, his drawings appeared as illustrations for the works of other authors, as one-page contributions rather like New Yorker cartoons, and as images for his own stories.

In January of 1920, at least 70 of James’ drawings were published in Sunset Magazine. Of them, 34 originals in the Virginia Snook Collection show James’ work as it burst on the scene. His storytelling began with the November 1920 series of drawings, “Keno the Cow-Horse,” a forerunner to the chronicling of Smoky. One author, Billy Dohlman, used his illustrations in four of her stories for the magazine. And his painting for the magazine cover in February 1922 was the first to be sold & the third ever made.

James’ work quickly started appearing in other venues, from the cheapest pulp Western magazine to the premier titles of the day, like The Saturday Evening Post and Life Magazine. In 1927, The Blue Book Magazine published the drawings known as “The Cowboy’s Calendar.” Previews of his books likewise appeared in magazine serial form at or near the time of their publication. Many of these short works were later published as full books into the collections from Charles Scribner’s Sons. As he began to concentrate on his novels, less and less appeared in short form, ending this phase of his career in 1935. However, these depictions still provide modern viewers with a unique look at the cowboy and the rancher’s West.