A specialist in western subjects, Harold von Schmidt was an illustrator and painter, known for rendering gripping stories in his art. His work was represented in many noted publications, including the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Liberty, and Sunset magazines. Born in Alameda, California, he was orphaned at age five and went to live with his grandfather, who had been a forty-niner, and his aunt, who encouraged his interest in art. As a young man, he spent his summers working as a cowhand and construction worker.
Inspired by the work of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, von Schmidt studied with F. H. Meyers at the California School of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley, during his last year in high school. On learning that Maynard Dixon had a studio close to the school, von Schmidt went to meet him and eventually modeled for Dixon in exchange for receiving some tips on his own art. In 1913, von Schmidt designed his first cover, for Sunset Magazine. From 1915 to 1918, he attended the San Francisco Art Institute, while also serving as art director at the Foster and Klein advertising agency. He made a number of paintings for the Navy during World War I. In 1920, he became a member of the United States rugby team, participating with the team in the 1920 Olympics. That same year, he set up an agency for artists, along with Dixon, Roi Partridge, Judson Starr, and Fred Ludekens.
In 1924, von Schmidt moved to New York City, where he studied with Harvey Dunn at the Grand Central Art School. Shortly thereafter he became a prominent illustrator of western subjects. In 1929, he produced sixty illustrations for a deluxe edition of Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop. In addition to his work for magazines, he went on to illustrate a number of other books, including December Night (1930), Indian Gold (1933), and Homespun (1937). Von Schmidt created his images in oils, working usually on large canvases as they afforded him more freedom than smaller formats. He tended to bold, energetic strokes rather than tight detail.
At the end of 1944, von Schmidt became a correspondent for the United States Air Force. He flew B-24s and B-25s on bombing runs during the early days of occupation in Japan in World War II. He sketched scenes of action as well as everyday life in Japan.
In addition to his experience as a cowboy and a lumberjack, von Schmidt was a sailor, hunter, and rodeo rider.
Von Schmidt received many awards. He was a life trustee of the Artists Guild, New York, and president of the Society of Illustrators, from 1938 to 1941. He was elected into the Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1959. In 1968, he was given a gold medal by the trustees of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Von Schmidt was president of the Westport Artists, from 1950 to 1951 and a member of the American Indian Defense Association. He gave generously of his time to many local organizations in Westport, Connecticut, where he settled.
Von Schmidt showed his works at the West Point Naval Academy, the Governor’s office, Sacramento, California, the Montana Historical Society, and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His work may be found in the collections of the A. R. Mitchell Museum, Trinidad, Colorado; the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming; the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis; the Montana Historical Society, Helena; the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York; the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas; the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, Corning, New York; the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, Pueblo, Colorado; the Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas; the National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, Rhode Island; the Navy Museum—U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C.; and the United States Air Force Museum, Dayton, Ohio.
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