Olaf Wieghorst1899 - 1988
Born: April 30, 1899, Viborg, Jutland, Denmark
Died: 1988, El Cajon, California
As a child and teenager in Denmark, Olaf Wieghorst worked as an acrobat, apprentice shopkeeper, farm hand, and sailor. He jumped ship in New York City in 1918, and because of a desire to work with horses and experience adventures out West, he enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry for duty on the Mexican border. For three years, he served in the Cavalry in Texas and Arizona as a farrier, shoeing military horses. After his service ended, he traveled to New Mexico where he worked as a ranch hand on the Quarter Circle 2C Ranch, using its brand for his insignia on paintings and sculptures for the rest of his life. The cowboy returned to New York City in 1923 and became a police officer with the Mounted Division, performing regularly with the Police Show Team.
Throughout his life, Wieghorst sketched horses regularly, but during this time in New York, he began painting seriously. He also created bronze sculptures and prints (until his etching press was destroyed in a fire). It was difficult to sell his work or promote himself as an artist because of the police department's policy against officers having second jobs. However, once he retired from the police force in 1944, Wieghorst moved to El Cajon, California, and dedicated himself to painting full-time. He continued to send paintings back to the New York Grand Central Art Gallery and began to win prizes in county fairs. After showing in several southwest galleries and organizing a display at his home, private collectors began buying his works faster than he could paint them.
Wieghorst's imagery focuses on scenes of Western life, cowboys, and Indians, but he is best known for his paintings of horses. Although he received no formal artistic training, he studied the animal throughout his life and completed thorough research before beginning each painting. After settling in California, he continued to travel and spend time on ranches throughout the Western states in order to sketch, paint, make notes, and collect research material until his death in 1988.
"I have sat on the rim of some canyon for hours at a time watching rolling thunderclouds, blue summer skies, arid desert, and blue-green mountain country. I have watched herds of cattle drift across the wide prairie, heard the hoofbeats as a band of horses came down some box canyon for water. As I watched nature's wonders, it dawned on me how small and insignificant I was. Here are thousands and thousands of cubic miles of space, of sky, of earth, and millions of living creatures; and my goal was an impossible one, a goal that did not exist. But if I could succeed in putting a tiny fraction of nature's wonders on canvas and into people's homes, whether they be mud huts or mansions; if that painting would give some enjoyment and pleasure to the people, if it would add dignity to the home; I would feel my effort had not been in vain."
(Source: Reed, William. Olaf Wieghorst. Flagstaff, Arizona: Northland Press, 1969.)