Texas Archival Resources Online

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Descriptive Summary and Abstract

Biographical Note

Scope and Content Note

Organization of the Papers

Restrictions

Online Index Terms

Related Material

Administrative Information

Description of Series

Series 1. Correspondence, 1948-1990, and undated

Series 2. Photocopies and transcripts, 1952-1955, and undated

Series 1. Exhibition catalogs, 1958, and undated

Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A & M University

Inventory of the H. O. Kelly Correspondence:

1948-1990 (bulk 1948-1958)



Descriptive Summary and Abstract

Creator Kelly, Harold Osman, 1884-1955
Title Inventory of the H. O. Kelly Correspondence
Dates 1948-1990; bulk 1948-1958
Abstract 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, Pennsylvania railroader 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. Kelly died in Blanket, Texas December 12, 1955. The tiny colored drawings found on H.O. 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 are 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. Most of the letters in this collection were written by Kelly to his biographer and close friend, William Weber Johnson, and his wife, Elizabeth Ann Johnson. A smaller group of seventeen letters, fifteen by H.O. Kelly and two by his wife Jessie Kelly after his death, is addressed to another art collector and friend, Dallas lawyer, Rudolph Johnson. Also present is an inquiry by Otto Kallir of the Galerie St. Etienne in New York City regarding an American Primitive artist's exhibition to be mounted in early 1952, and correspondence concerning the donation, appraisal and transfer of correspondence and paintings to Texas A & M University collections. William Weber Johnson's 171 letters formed the basis for his research for Kelly Blue, a biography of H.O. Kelly, first published by Doubleday in 1960, with a foreword by Western writer Tom Lea. 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.
Identification Dykes MSS 00111
Extent .3 linear feet.
Language English.
Repository Cushing Memorial Library,  College Station, TX 77843-5000

Biographical Note

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.

  • Bibliography:
  • Johnson, William Weber. Kelly Blue. College Station: Doubleday, 1979.

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Scope and Content Note

The bulk of the collection is a group of 171 watercolor illustrated letters by H. O. Kelly, written to his close friend and biographer, William Weber Johnson, his wife Elizabeth Ann Johnson, 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. 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 are now on display in the J. Wayne Stark University Center Galleries.

A smaller group of fifteen letters by H. O. Kelly, and two in pencil by his wife Jessie 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, adressed to H.O. Kelly, or, after the artist's death, to his wife, Jessie Kelly.

Of interest too is a letter to H. O. 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 asking permission to refer Kallir to her in order to view the painting she had just purchased from Elizabeth Ann McMurray, William Weber Johnson's wife. Also of note is letter written by John L. Paxton of Fort Worth, Tex., in reply to Rudolph Johnson soon after Kelly's death in 1955. Attached to Paxton's reply is a list of all the known owners of H.O. Kelly artworks at that time, whom Paxton has written to in the interest of collecting funds to aid in supporting the then destitute Jessie Kelly.

Also present are photocopies of the fifteen H. O. Kelly illustrated letters and two Jessie Kelly letters donated by Rudoph Johnson, accompanied by photocopies of transcripts of them made later under the auspices of Catherine A. Hastedt, Registrar/Curator of the Texas A & M University Office of University Art and Exhibitions. Two letters concern the transfer of H. O. Kelly letters and artwork to Texas A & M University collections. Four additional letters relate to: an art exhibit at the Memorial Student Center; a color slide of the painting "Penning Goats," and plans by Texas A & M University Press to publish an illustrated editon of Kelly Blue.

The tiny colored drawings found on H.O. 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 are 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.

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Organization of the Papers

This collection is organized into three series: Series 1. Correspondence, 1948-1990 and undated (bulk 1948-1958); Series 2. Photocopies and transcripts, 1952-1955 and undated; Series 3. Exhibition catalogs, 1958 and undated.

Arrangement of the Papers

This collection is arranged chronologically.

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Restrictions

Access

No restrictions.

Usage Restrictions

Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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Online Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the online catalog of Cushing Memorial Library. Researchers wishing to find related materials should search the catalog under these index terms.
Names
Johnson, William Weber, 1909--Correspondence.
Johnson, Rudolph, 1916- --Correspondence.
Lea, Tom, 1907- .
Kallir, Otto, 1894- --Correspondence.
Johnson, Elizabeth Ann--Correspondence.
Kelly, Jessie--Correspondence.
Organizations
Texas A & M University.
Texas A & M University Press.
J. Wayne Stark University Center Galleries--Exhibitions.
Dallas Museum of Art--Exhibitions.
Doubleday and Company, inc.
Galerie St. Etienne--Exhibitions.
Smithsonian Institution--Exhibitions.
Subjects
Primitivism in art--United States--Exhibitions.
Horses in art--United States--Exhibitions.
Goats in art--United States--Exhibitions.
Animals in art--United States--Exhibitions.
Watercolorists--Texas--Blanket.
Painting, American--Texas--Blanket.
University press publications--History--Sources.
Places
Blanket (Tex.)--History--20th century.
Fredericksburg (Tex.)--History--20th century.
Dallas (Tex.)--History--20th century.
College Station (Tex.)--History--20th century.
Titles
Kelly blue--Sources.
American primitive paintings.

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Related Material

J. Wayne Stark University Center Galleries at Texas A & M University in College Station, Tex. owns and exhibits six H. O. Kelly oil paintings. Of these six paintings mentioned in the transfer of custody letter for the Kelly letters, five of the paintings were donated by Mr. and Mrs. William Weber from their private collection, while the sixth was donated by Mary Longwell, widow of Daniel Longwell, founding editor of Life magazine. As of 1 June 1977, Mrs. Longwell agreed to donate her painting along with the Webers to the same insitution the William Weber Johnsons chose. Mrs. Johnson was aware that Ford Motor Company had already donated four Kelly paintings to Texas A & M which had been put on display in the Memorial Student Center. The Ford Co. paintings had been intended to be used for illustrating an article by Frank Dobie, and Mrs. Johnson thought a new edition of her husband's book on Kelly, Kelly Blue, with illustrations and published by Texas A & M Press would be a good plan. Other watercolors by Kelly, along with books by William Weber Johnson and others about Kelly seem to have come to Texas A & M Library with the letters.

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Administrative Information

Provenance

Received from Mr. and Mrs. William Weber Johnson in 1979 and Rudolph Johnson of Dallas Tex.

Acquisition Information

Custody of a group of 171 letters written and illustrated by H.O. Kelly was transferred to the Texas A & M Library as of 6 March 1979, by Wayne Stark, Director of the Memorial Student Center. The 171 Kelly letters were a gift to the Memorial Student Center by Mr. And Mrs. William Weber Johnson, along with six H.O. Kelly paintings. Other Kelly letters, donated to Texas A & M University by Rudolph Johnson of Dallas, Tex., however, were not transferred to Special Collections in Sterling C. Evans Library until soon after 5 February 1990, by Catherine A Hastedt, Registrar/Curator of the Texas A & M Office of University Art Collections & Exhibits. Apparently, the latter office had kept these letters in order to make copies and transcriptions, with a view to possible publication of the letters. Eventually, Hastedt sent these photocopies and transcriptions, as well as all the original letters Rudolph Johnson donated, to Special Collections. It is unclear, however, exactly when the Rudolph Johnson letters were originally donated to Texas A & M University.

Processing Information

Processed by Aletha Andrew in July 2002.

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Detailed Description of the Collection

 

Series 1. Correspondence, 1948-1990, and undated

box-folder
1/1-9 Correspondence, 1948-1958 and undated
Mainly 171 letters from H.O. Kelly to William Weber Johnson, his wife Liz Johnson, and their family. The majority are handwritten in ink, with a few in pencil, and one typewritten. One postcard and one Christmas card are included. Nearly all of the H. O. Kelly letters are illustrated by him in tiny watercolors. Seventeen other typewritten letters on yellow paper are from Rudolph Johnson to either H.O. Kelly, or, after his death, to H.O. Kelly's wife, Jessie Kelly. Most of the Rudolph Johnson letters are still enclosed in plastic sheet protectors. Two handwritten letters in pencil, written soon after H.O. Kelly's death in 1955, are by Jessie Kelly.
box-folder
1/10 Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1977-1990
Six typed letters concerning the donation and appraisal of H.O. Kelly letters and paintings to Texas A & M University; the publication by Texas A & M University Press of an illustrated editon of Kelly Blue by William Weber Kelly; an exhibition of H.O. Kelly paintings being planned by the Texas A & M Memorial Student Center, with a request addressed to Don Dyal for illustrated letters to be loaned from Special Collections at Texas A & M University; a color slide from Mrs. Tom Montague Meyer of the painting "Penning Goats"; transfer of H. O. Kelly letters to Special Collections by Catherine A. Hastedt, Registrar/Curator of Texas A & M University Office of University Art and Exhibitions.

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Series 2. Photocopies and transcripts, 1952-1955, and undated

box-folder
1/11 Photocopies of 15 H.O. Kelly letters written to Rudolph Johnson between 1952 and 1955, and two from Jessie Kelly soon after her husband died in 1955, with photocopies of the typed transcripts prepared under the auspices of the Registrar/Curator of Texas A & M University Office of University Art and Exhibitions, with a view to possible publication of the letters, 1952-1955, and undated

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Series 1. Exhibition catalogs, 1958, and undated

box-folder
1/12 Exhbition catalog: American Primitive Paintings, [curated by] Otto Kallir. Washinton, D.C.: Circulated by the Smithsonian Institution, 1958; photocopy of "Biographical Note" annotated as being from the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, probably originally printed in an exhibition catalog, 1948-1958 and undated

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