Collection 35 - H. O. "Cowboy" Kelly Collection

Zone d'identification



Nom et localisation du dépôt

Niveau de description



H. O. "Cowboy" Kelly Collection


  • 1948-1979; undated (Création/Production)

Importance matérielle

2 boxes (7.5 linear inches)

Nom du producteur


Notice biographique

Born March 6, 1884 in Bucyrus, Ohio, but lured out West as a youth, Harold Osman Kelly (1884-1955) traveled a long, hard road before turning his hand to painting as a means of support. Kelly's father was a Lancaster County, Pennsylvaniarailroader and his mother an Ohio born German. In Kelly's own words he loved animals and felt a desire to work with them from his earliest years, leaving school at 16 to work in stables around his home. H.O. Kelly's great American dream, however, was to own Western land and raise fine stock, particularly horses. For nearly 40 years of his life he worked in thirty states as a muleskinner, farmer, logger, bull-whacker, mill hand, sheepherder, freighter, and rancher. With the help of family, H.O. and his wife Jessie, whom he met and married in Arkansas, finally bought a farm in the Texas Panhandle in 1921. By 1939, however, the Dust Bowl swirled H.O. Kelly's dream into a bank foreclosure. Health broken after years of hard outdoor work, Kelly and his wife settled in Blanket, Texas, where he turned more and more to his painting, first with watercolors, then in oils by 1947, not only to occupy his mind and time, but to provide a modest supplementary means of support for himself and Jessie. His first one-man show was held at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1950 at the invitation of Jerry Bywaters, the museum director and Kelly's early champion. Kelly died in Blanket, Texas December 12, 1955.

Zone du contenu et de la structure

Portée et contenu

This collection contains 171 watercolor illustrated letters by H.O. Kelly, written to his close friend and biographer, William "Bill" Weber Johnson, his wife Elizabeth Ann (McMurray) Johnson, Mary Longwell (Lady), and their family between 1948 and 1955. These letters formed the basis for William Weber Johnson's research for Kelly Blue, a biography of Kelly, first published by Doubleday in 1960, with a foreword by Western writer Tom Lea.

A smaller group of fifteen letters by H.O. Kelly, and two in pencil by his wife Jessie (Bowers) Kelly, are addressed to another art collector and friend, Dallas lawyer, Rudolph Johnson. Seventeen additional letters by Rudolph Johnson, typewritten on yellow paper between 1955 and 1958 are included, addressed to Kelly, or, after the artist's death, to his wife, Jess.

Of interest too is a letter to Kelly by Otto Kallir of the Galerie St. Etienne in New York City, requesting some of Kelly's works to be displayed in an exhibition of American primitive artists to be mounted at the Galerie early in 1952. Included is Kelly's letter to Mrs. Daniel Longwell (Lady) asking permission to refer Kallir to her to view the painting she had just purchased from Elizabeth Ann McMurray. Also of note is a letter written by John L. Paxton of Fort Worth, Texas, in reply to Rudolph Johnson soon after Kelly's death in December 1955. Attached to Paxton's reply is a list of all the known owners of Kelly's artwork at that time, whom Paxton has written to in the interest of collecting funds to aid in supporting the then-destitute Jess Kelly.

In Series 2 copies of correspondence between Elizabeth Johnson, J. Wayne Stark, Irene Hoadley, and others relates to the bulk of the letters in this collection, an art exhibit at the Texas A&M University Memorial Student Center, a color slide of the painting "Penning Goats". and plans by Texas A&M University Press to publish an illustrated edition of Kelly Blue.

The tiny colored drawings found on Kelly's letters and cards to friends and family are a foreshadowing of the lovingly detailed scenes in his oil paintings. As a significant primitive artist, Kelly's paintings present a world of rolling, green pastures, tranquil blue skies, and solid farms and farming towns, also populated by a thick dusting of livestock, including wily goats, unpredictable donkeys, fine mules, and lively horses. The robust folk is reminiscent of Kelly's mother's German ancestors in Ohio, similar to those living in Fredericksburg, Texas, a town Kelly often visited for inspiration. As these letters so vividly attest, when Kelly sold a painting, it was the buyer's initiation into a warm friendship with the raconteur artist, not a mere business transaction.

Mode de classement

This collection is organized into three series and arranged chronologically within each series.
Series 1, Correspondence. 1948-1958; undated
Series 2, Texas A&M University Correspondence. 1977-1979
Series 3, Photocopies. 1952-1958; 1077-1979; undated

Zone des conditions d'accès et d'utilisation

Conditions d’accès

This collection is open for research use.

Accès physique

These materials are stored offsite and require additional time for retrieval.

Accès technique

Conditions de reproduction

Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law. It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure those rights when needed. Permission to reproduce does not constitute permission to publish. The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming to the laws of copyright, literary property rights, and libel.

Langue des documents

  • anglais

Écriture des documents

Notes sur la langue et l'écriture

Instruments de recherche

Éléments d'acquisition et d'évaluation

Historique de la conservation

The 171 H.O. Kelly letters were gifted to the Texas A&M University Memorial Student Center (MSC) from Mr. and Mrs. William Weber Johnson circa 1977. Letters were then transferred to Texas A&M Libraries by the MSC Director, J. Wayne Stark on March 6, 1979.

The additional letters addressed to and from Rudolph Johnson were gifted to the Texas A&M University Office of Art Collections & Exhibitions in the late 1980s before being transferred by Catherine A. Hastedt, Registrar/Curator to the Cushing Memorial Libary & Archives in February 1990.

Source immédiate d'acquisition

Transferred to Cushing Memorial Library & Archives, 1979. Transferred to Cushing Memorial Library & Archives by Catherine A. Hastedt, 1990.


Sources complémentaires

Existence et lieu de conservation des originaux

Existence et lieu de conservation des copies

Sources complémentaires

Descriptions associées

Élément de notes

Note générale

Kelly Blue was later published in 1979 in a revised, illustrated edition by Texas A&M University Press. The illustrations for the second edition of Kelly Blue are reproductions of paintings from various private and public collections, including that of Texas A&M University, six of which were donated along with the letters to Texas A&M University in 1979, and have been on display in the J. Wayne Stark Galleries.

Notes spécialisées

Identifiant(s) alternatif(s)

Zone du contrôle de la description

Règles ou conventions

Sources utilisées


Mots-clés - Sujets

Mots-clés - Lieux

Mots-clés - Noms

Mots-clés - Genre

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Sujets associés

Personnes et organismes associés

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Lieux associés