Harry Jackson dies at 87

photo by Chris Gimmeson, Buffalo Bill Historical Center

My father passed away on Monday April 25th, 2011 after a long, rich, tumultuous life.  He was 87.

He was a force of nature, full of rage, love, humor, and madness.  And he burned at an intensity that few could withstand for very long.  A war-decorated WWII Marine who served on the front lines in the Pacific, he endured lifelong consequences from head injuries suffered during the amphibious assault at Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll.  Epileptic seizures and uncontrolled rage marred many episodes in his life after the war.

He was a walking paradox.  He was brilliant in his artistic life, yet unable to recognize and receive proper treatment for his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  One minute, he would bring a complete stranger into his innermost circle; and the next, he wouldn’t trust even those closest to him.

He leaves a creative legacy marked by astounding courage and accomplishment.  His artistic career spans six decades, with work that covers an incredibly wide spectrum: from the early Marine works (we was a combat artist), through the abstract expressionist paintings that were featured in Life Magaine, all the way to his much celebrated western art.

All of his children would like to extend their deep gratitude to his staff (in Italy and in Cody) for their invaluable contributions, especially during these last years of his life.  Their respect and loyalty never wavered during these challenging years, and that is a rarity these days.

I live in Cody and have spent much of the last year with him. My brothers and sisters have been visiting him over the last year.  During the last week several of us were with him almost continually.   We have a complicated relationship with him that resists an easy short summation but we all believe he is finally at peace.  This much is indisputable: He was a profoundly gifted, larger than life, creative maverick, and anyone who met him will remember the mark he left on their lives.

There will be further information on a public service to celebrate his life, in the weeks to come.  I welcome any memories or stories of my Dad or of his art work.  You may leave them in the comments section below.  The comments are moderated so there may be a few days delay before they appear on the blog.

Molly, Jesse, Luke, Chloe and I thank everyone for their warm wishes at this time.

Thank you,
Matthew Jackson

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27 Responses to Harry Jackson dies at 87

  1. Gary H Griffin says:

    My dad was foreman at the Whit ranch in Meeteetse, Wy. and after the war Harry migrated there and worked for a short time, then in 1951 we moved to the pitchfork ranch and dad was the foreman there.
    Harry came for a visit and while he was there he taught my mother how to mix and use paints. She was a good artist but hadn’t got into painting till then. In turn dad gave him a good insight into the cowboy/ranch style of life.
    He was a good friend and we kept in touch all through the years. He painted my dad into his burial painting and also painted his picture. it has been cherished by all the family.
    He will be missed, and we send our condolences to the family.

  2. Liz Gentry says:

    Matthew, I have just learned of the passing of a Giant of the Art World. I met Harry when he came to Cartersville, GA to unveil the two large murals and the sculptures we have here on loan from the Buffalo Bill. I feel we will never see another sculpture nor artist who will fill his shoes. I am so sorry, please extend my condolences to all of Harry’s family and to all of those who loved him. He will be greatly missed. Liz Gentry, Librarian

  3. Rick Lamotte says:

    Hi Matt,

    The World is a lesser place. I am saddened at the loss of such a unique person. I have always been so glad that I had the opportunity to meet and work with Harry – Something that I have not forgotten nor ever will. He was an inspiration to me and motivated me to look beyond the norm in putting what creative energy I have to work.

    I have, on many occasions, remembered my interactions with Harry and it still makes me smile today. I will never forget how he impacted my life and my families life.

    Harry – Until we meet again……

    Rick Lamotte
    Casper, WY

  4. Dear Matthew:

    We wanted to express our sadness at hearing of Harry’s death, and send you love and sympathy. My wife and I were two of those complete strangers you mentioned, and were deeply affected by our time with Harry.

    It was 5am on a cold January morning in the Salt Lake City airport, and we were half-asleep, waiting for a delayed connecting flight, when he rolled up (in a wheelchair pushed by an airport attendant). Although the entire lounge was empty, he transferred to a seat right next to us. He clearly wanted to talk. While we were struggling awake, he turned to my wife, gave her a long look, and said brightly, “You’re half Japanese.” This is true. She occasionally gets this in the form of a question, followed often by less-than-original musings on racial identity. But this was said as a certainty.

    “I am,” she responded, “how do you know?”

    And the story began. Over the next several hours, Harry took us on the journey of a lifetime — his own — from Al Capone’s Chicago, to the Wild West, to Jackson Pollock’s New York, the South Pacific, to Italy, and finally a return to the pacific islands to attempt to purge some of his PTSD. He told us about his incredible and dramatic childhood, his shared railroad apartment in New York City, his marriages (“I kicked her ass out!”), his artistic career, about the war, about you, his children and grandchildren, and when he heard that we had both done time as editors, he pulled out pages of a typscript memoir and passed them over for inspection. I think it was the first time in our lives that either of us were actually sad to hear the voice announcing our boarding call.

    On the flight back home we talked a lot about Harry, his easy engagement, his peppery energy, and mostly his fantastic sprawling life and career. We both half-assumed he was making it all up, or at least most of it, and we were shocked to discover later, after a little research, that his story was more than an old man’s fancy.

    I kept Harry’s card in my wallet (I still have it now), and occasionally pulled it out and wondered about him. A year later, passing through the Salt Lake City airport again, we remarked about what an extraordinary meeting that was, and wouldn’t it be nice to see Harry again. Just then, who should come rolling by, in a chair pushed briskly by the attendant, but Harry, alert eyes, grizzly white beard and all. We were headed the opposite way this time, but we envied his waiting-room partners their time with him.

    Best wishes to you all,

    Bruno and Melissa
    New York City

  5. Roxanne Williams says:

    The world has lost one of the last, great masters. As a former employee of Harry’s over a span of eleven years, I spent many late night hours listening to his philosphy from God to art and when all is said and done, they are one in the same. Many lives are richer for having known Harry Jackson and the world will be less brightly lit without him. My sincere condolences to you, Matthew, and the other children.

  6. Kimberly Glynn says:

    Matthew Jackson,
    Several years ago my step father Rick Lamotte worked for your company in Cody Wyoming. I had the wonderful, incredible oppurtunity to meet your father and get to know him. He was an incredbile man and will be missed greatly. My prayers are for you and your family.

  7. Kathy Abarr says:

    Matthew and Family-

    I am so sorry to hear about Harry passing on to another realm but it must have been time for him to go as he would not have done so otherwise. Having lived around him when I was a very young person it was interesting to get to know him after I became an adult. What a character.

    I wrote a reply earlier today and do understand it takes time to post but I am not sure if got sent to you or just off in to the ether. If you did not receive it I would like to know so I can do another post.

    Many Blessings to all.

    Sincerely, Kathy Abarr
    Formerly of the Pitchfork

  8. Robert Pike says:

    I met Harry in Cody when I was a young kid. My father met Harry through his cousin and wife, Sam and Kay Decker. Every time I visited Cody over the years, I would stop by and see Harry. Two summers ago on the 4th of July weekend, Harry and I hung out at his place and talked for over two hours. We went to dinner and watched fireworks on the 4th of July. I am so glad I got to see him again. About a year ago, while at my Dad and Mom’s house, I called Harry and handed the phone to my father, Gil Pike. The two of them talked for several minutes and shared some great memories from the late 50’s and early 60’s.

    From my experiences in Cody over the decades I have always viewed Cody as a 2nd home. I will miss Harry a bunch and today have to tell my 96 year old day that Harry has passed.

    As a former United States Marine who served in Vietnam I want to tell Harry, Semper Fi, Jar Head! You will always be an icon to me!

  9. Donald Goddard says:

    Dear Matthew,
    Though I haven’t seen him in years, I will miss Harry more than I can say–as long as I am around. He was a unique and treasured human being, and a wonderful artist.

    • Tina Lear says:

      Hey Don,
      Where are you these days? Are you on Facebook? If so let’s be friends. Thank you for writing such a wonderful book with Larry Pointer about Harry. Hope you’re well and happy.

      • Donald Goddard says:

        Well and happy (most of the time). I’m still in New York and would love to see you if and when you come here or we (my wife Helen and I) go wherever you are. Not on Facebook, and won’t be, but hope I’ll be here for a while. Don G.

  10. Joe Nelson says:

    Please relay our condolences to the family and friends of Harry Jackson. Three generations of my family knew Harry. My grandfather Sid Nelson was foreman at the Pitchfork Ranch when Harry was a young cowboy there. My grandmother Hollywood cooked for the Pitchfork and my father Jack rode with Harry. I’m glad that my siblings got to meet Harry over these last few years. My wife and I are grateful to Harry for the invitations and the hospitality he extended us at his homes in Italy and in Cody. Harry was one of a kind and we’re going to miss him.
    Joe Nelson

  11. Carrie Coleman says:

    I am sorry for your loss. I knew him when I was very young & lived near Shoshoni.
    Pencil sketches of Harry & his art have been hanging above my bed since I lost my Mother several years ago. My best friend Cindy, whom I lost recently, always liked it. I’m not sure who the artist is but he signed it and added, “for Eldonna, all the best – Harry” Like my Mother & Cindy, he will be missed very much…

  12. Dear Mathew, Molly, Jesse, Luke and Chloe,
    I send you much sympathy over the loss of your remarkable Father- he was indeed a rare, talented and extraordinary individual. What a fine piece you wrote about him Mathew-
    It must be nearly 25 years since I last saw Harry or any of you.
    I wish you all well- you are in my thoughts-
    Yours Chloe

  13. Andy and Geri Anderson says:

    We were so sorry to hear that Harry is no longer with us. Please relay our regrets to the rest of the Jackson clan. Your obituary was priceless. Love and prayers from the Andersons.

  14. Margie Spitz says:

    Matthew, Molly, Jesse, Luke and Chloe –
    I worked for Harry in Italy in the mid to late 70’s and early 80’s. He was entertaining, demanding, multi-tasking, and always strove for the grand effect. He was surrounded with staff, family and friends who were willing to drop what they were doing or drag themselves out of bed to take a trip somewhere or keep him company in the studio at 3 a.m. because he was interesting and, most of the time, it was a lot of fun. Great credit must go to Franco, Angela Menconi and others at the Foundry and in his household for their tireless support. But, as I learned first-hand, if one refused that role, he could take it in stride with equanimity and find another way to relate.
    He could be surprisingly flexible and agreeable.

    Harry tried to represent the idea of the American West and the cowboy way of life in his own life as well as in his later art. I’m sure his association with Thomas Hart Benton helped him to clarify his vision and inform his passion for that part of American life. But it was always the story of the American West and the story of the cowboy that held his attention and which he tried to perpetuate and regenerate in his own way; through his music and art and by riding his horse up the marble steps of the local church to the shock and delight of everyone in the neighborhood. Accuracy was sometimes sacrificed to artistic truth and the older I get, the more I’ve come to accept that exchange as a meaningful part of the world that human beings have created with the help of the likes of your father.

    I met you, Matt, a few times (although I’m sure you don’t remember that) and was present with Molly at Chloe’s birth. I’ve got a few pictures of Jesse and Luke in Wyoming when I came to visit. My regrets to your entire family. Harry was often larger than life and his absence will reverberate.

    • Tina Lear says:

      Margie! How are you? I’ve often wondered what you were up to in the world. You were such a light in our lives when you were with us there in Italy. Be well my friend and get in touch with me when you get a chance. It’s good to know you’re out there.

  15. Leila Renner says:

    He was unique. I worked for HJ for a few years in his NY office and have never again met anyone like him. It is too much for me to describe him except to say — he “got it”.

    His family — in his thoughts — always. My condolences. Leila Renner

  16. Donna Campbell says:

    To all of Harry’s family, co-workers and friends, I send my sympathies for your great loss. My first husband artist, A. Kelly Pruitt, and I met Harry and his staff in Pietrasanta in 1971 or 1972. We were having trouble with the foundry we had chosen and Harry generously offered us his home and foundry while he returned to the States.

    My husband Kelly passed away February 2009. I think we need to separate the person from the genius and then we can still admire them and their work.

    I would love to hear from you.

    Sincerely, Donna Campbell

  17. Ann Guyer says:


    Your dad asked me to accompany you from Boston for the dinner with the Time cover artists at the 100th anniversary of Time Magazine. I was honored by his invitation and awed by the evening. I remember you as being wonderful company.

    Everything about your father screamed artist and free spirit. I met him at LaGuardia airport on a fogged in evening and we hired a limo together gathering two others for one of the most memorable six hours of my life. He called his list of living legends on his cell phone and one by one passed the phone to me to say hello. And he flirted unabashedly.

    Over the years we kept in scant touch and while hearing nothing recently I tried to reach out and found out he had passed away. This I know- he made every moment of his life rich and exciting for himself and those he touched. He was an amazing artist in both his process and result. I am grateful to have known him.

    Sincerest love and affection,
    Ann Guyer

  18. Theresa Rose says:

    I’m Geri and Andy Anderson’s oldest daughter. I want to say that in collaboration with Harry, my father did some of the best cinematography and photography he had ever done. In the documentary, Harry Jackson, A Man and his Art, my father really got a chance to shine.
    Harry had dinner at our house in Littleton, Colorado one evening. I remember how he liked his steaks. He liked to pile all the ketchup, mustard, worcestershire, salt, pepper and anything else on the table on top of the steak. Then he would play with the colors just like his paints. Then he would eat the steak!
    It just so happened that on the same evening, there was a Marx Brothers marathon on the TV. There was plenty of good furniture to sit on but Harry sat on the kitchen steps while all of us roared with laughter.
    I was fourteen at the time and aspiring to be an artist myself. I kinda sorta got there and Harry was a big inspiration.
    I have no bad memories of Harry Jackson. None. It was a privilege to have known him.
    Theresa Rose

  19. Barbara & Rick Redmont says:

    We were shocked to learn of Harry.s death. What a fantastic guy!!! We will never gorget him and the great times we had when we were with him.

    Matt please tell Tina we will never forget the dinner in New York with she and Harry.

    We are very sad at his passing and will miss him and all of you!!

    Best Wishes,

    Barbara & Rick Redmont
    Ridgeland, Mississippi USA

  20. Darrell Todd says:

    Sorry about the loss of Harry. He was a true friend to the Todd Family and was very gifted. My uncle Cal was a friend and a subject of one of his works. Harry was a great artist.

  21. Dear Matthew and Jackson Family:

    I met your father when he came to Mexico City, I am the son of mexican sculptor Humberto Peraza Ojeda, they knew each other by old letters and respected each other work.
    One day your father came and visit us, he came to my home and to my father´s studio. We went together for a nice dinner in a fashion restaurante and he ask for a good steak, and cut it with his personal cowboy knife! Just great!
    At that time I was the translator spanish -english in a great conversation between my dad and yours ( my father now is 85 born 1925) I enjoyed that great evening with “Maestro escultor y cowboy Harry”… Tonight I just noticed your loss and I want to express to all your family the best wishes from Peraza family in Mexico. ( I am professional sculptor as well)
    If you want more info about that particular mexican coleagues reunion, (also I have some photos) please let me know by e-mail.
    All my respects Jackon´s family. We always have Harry in a special place in our hearts.
    sincerely yours
    Sergio Peraza Avila

  22. Derek Stebbing says:

    Sorry to hear about the passing of Harry, apart from his obvious talent he had an engaging personality and we warmed to him whilst we were on holiday in Vermont in September of 2007. And we also met the cute little dog of his.
    Derek Stebbing
    Fleet, Hampshire

  23. Mireille Ellsworth says:

    NOOOOOOOOooooo! This CAN’T be! I always wanted to visit him “in his element” in Cody or Italy. He loved enticing me with the potential handsome men I’d meet in Italy. When Harry came to visit me in Guam, I’ll never forget it. My whole life I heard stories about Harry from my dad, Paul Ellsworth, his dear friend and fellow artist, who passed in ’93. Harry made me promise to donate my dad’s painting to be displayed in the Harry Jackson museum in Cody. This was my father’s painting in the room he stayed in my house in Guam. Is the museum going to stay intact?

  24. Ken Hunter says:

    I don’t know how I missed the news of Harry’s passing. I first saw a programme on Harry on BBC TV in 1982 and then met Harry on a special visit to his studio in Italy. He was generous with his time just chatting about his art, new things he was doing with paint and colours on Bronze, life and the universe. I was planning a drive across the USA for this year and Cody was top of my list to try to visit his studio (and with luck to meet him again). How I wish I had more of his work but how much more I miss the opportunity of meeting him again. He was larger than life, a man’s man and reminded me a bit of my Dad. I really liked him.
    Ken Hunter. Chieveley. Berkshire. UK.

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