women by will

09.17.2020 – 03.20.2022

Mildred Sandall Scott Galleries

Drawn from the Yellowstone Art Museum’s extensive permanent collection of Will James’ work, Women by Will features works on paper, first edition books, and memorabilia depicting women and girls by Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault (1892-1942), a.k.a. Will James. More than 30 never-before-exhibited drawings depict cowgirls and rugged frontier women shooting rifles, riding broncs, posing on log fences, and strolling down city streets by the celebrated author and cowboy artist.

These drawings, like all of James’ work, combine Western myth with the artist’s personal experience. Likely for reasons of convenience, Will’s male characters are often based on his own likeness: high cheekbones, square jaw, and prominent nose. Many of the women are based on his wife Alice. They met when she was 15 and married in 1920, when she was just 16. Alice was smitten. She gently prodded him to go to art school, to write down his stories, and devote himself to making art. She also tried unsuccessfully to control his drinking.

The original drawings from the 1932 book, Uncle Bill: A Tale of Two Kids and a Cowboy, follow the young wannabe cowgirl and boy, Scootie and Kip as they learn to saddle, rope, and ride. Illustrations from the 1928 story, Sand, depict a female rider barreling her horse into a charging bull to protect a man on the ground. Others depict domestic scenes on the ranch: a woman in an apron and heels curries a horse, Alice and Will watch a new foal take its first wobbly steps, and a cowgirl leans against a log fence modeling her best western attire.

Generous exhibition sponsors have enabled the YAM to photograph, catalog, and properly frame all of the work in the exhibition. Most has never before been shown.


exhibition Sponsors:

Karen Ferguson
The Will James Society
The Lloyd Shelhamer Memorial Endowment

conservation provided by:

The Susan Scott Heyneman Foundation
Ted Waddell & Lynn Campion
Charles Nightengale
The Montana History Foundation