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.