James Bama was born in 1926 and grew up in the Northeast. He followed his early interest in art through New York’s specialized High School of Music and Art and the Art Students League. As a professional, Bama has earned a reputation for several facets of his talent. He freelanced briefly before spending fifteen years at the respected Charles E. Cooper Studios—at the time, the country’s top firm of illustrators—and more freelancing followed. Bama’s activities during this period were highlighted by artwork for the New York Giants football team, the Baseball and Football Halls of Fame, the U.S. Air Force and The Saturday Evening Post. Fans of pop culture may know him best as the artist who portrayed Doc Savage on sixty-two memorable book covers. Then Bama decided it was finally time to do what he most wanted to do.
He moved west to Wyoming, where an artist “can trace the beginnings of Western history; see the oldest weapons, saddles and guns and be close to Indian culture.” He sold his first Western fine art painting soon after the move. The distinctive work of James Bama combines tradition with modern realities. In his much-acclaimed studies, Bama shows the contemporary West preserving its traditional culture. His portraits of inhabitants of the plains and mountains capture the true character of the West.
Today the paintings of James Bama are part of many prestigious collections. Bama has been represented in major exhibitions throughout the West and has been presented in one-man shows in New York City. Bantam Books published The Western Art of James Bama in 1975 and The Art of James Bama in 1993. Jim was inducted into the Illustrator’s Hall of Fame June 28, 2000. Through his portraits of real people of the new West re-creating their history and heritage, Bama pays homage to the Old West and is renowned in yet another realm of the art world.
James Bama: “This image was inspired by Wes Studi‘s performance in ‘The Last of the Mohicans,’ in which Wes played the villain, Magua. I am proud to be his friend and pleased that he countersigned this print. Here he is, and always will be, Magua.”
The first white men to settle in the West were a hardy breed. They came west to hunt and trap and served as trackers, scouts and guides for later settlers. Facing the dangers of mountain lions, grizzlies, hostile Indians, famine, floods and freezing weather, they earned the name “mountain man.”
Today’s West still includes huge expanses of wilderness, rock-strewn trails and barely accessible mountain passes. Mountain men like Dan Dueter, portrayed here, of Rapid City, South Dakota still travel the old trails on horseback, summer and winter.
“Wyoming, the Cowboy State, conjures images of wide open spaces, cattle ranches, wild mustangs and rugged men in boots and Stetsons,” says artist James Bama. “I had known Buck Norris for many years, he was a strong, quiet man who worked with his parents, owners of the oldest ranch on the North Fork of the Shoshone River west of Cody. The day I finally visited this cowboy and trapper to use him as a model, it snowed three feet. With the snow filling up the corral around him, he carried the tools of his trade: a leather saddle fitted with saddle bags, fringe-decorated bridle, coiled lariat and silver-dollar size spurs. These, the clothes on his back, and, of course, his horse, were sometimes the only possessions a cowboy of the Old West owned, ” explains Bama.
“Sage Grinder” is one of Bama’s most recognized paintings and a perfect example of his vision for capturing the West. “My model for this painting,” begins Bama, “was a young Navajo girl, a student at Brigham Young University. One summer, on the outskirts of Cody, she and a number of other Indians re-created an early native village to demonstrate the manner in which the Indians lived before the arrival of Columbus. Charging admission, they taught such crafts as sage-grinding, cooking and the making of weapons. The entire encampment was all very well done. It was a rare opportunity for me to pose them and to produce a series of paintings (‘Pre-Columbian Indian with Atlatl’ & ‘Pre-Columbian Indian’ are included in this group). Before the summer ended they packed up camp and disappeared. I have not heard from them since.”