Western artist Harry Jackson dies at 87

Harry Jackson, an acclaimed Western artist who created the bronze equestrian sculpture of cowboy movie legend John Wayne that was installed in front of what was then the Great Western Savings & Loan office building on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills in the 1980s, has died. He was 87.

Jackson died last Monday at the VA Medical Center in Sheridan, Wyo., after dealing with a number of health issues over the last year, said his son Matthew.

The Chicago-born artist was considered one of the most promising New York Abstract Expressionist painters in the early 1950s before he turned to realism and became a highly successful Western artist in the tradition of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.

"Harry Jackson, in my opinion, was one of the finest sculptors of his day," said Bruce Eldredge, executive director and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo., which contains the largest museum collection of Jackson's work in the United States.

The bearded artist, a self-described "old cowboy saddle-tramp," divided his time between Cody and Camaiore, Italy, where he had a studio and foundry.

By the early '80s, Jackson was one of America's highest-paid artists, his work was collected in museums and three presidents — Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan — had selected his sculptures as gifts to heads of state.

"The Marshall," Jackson's multicolored sculpture of a hard-riding, Winchester-brandishing Wayne in his Oscar-winning role as Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit," appeared on a 1969 cover of Time magazine.

After his friend Wayne's death in 1979, Jackson was commissioned by Great Western to create the landmark sculpture of the actor, who had appeared as the S&L's spokesman in a series of Western-set commercials during the last two years of his life.

Before the sculpture's debut, however, the Beverly Hills Architectural Commission insisted on a number of changes, including stripping the multicolored paint off it and disconnecting a motor in its base that would have allowed horse and rider to rotate once or twice an hour.

Jackson called the rulings "arbitrary and capricious" and referred to the commission members as "those twerps."

The 6-ton, 21-foot-tall bronze monument — three and a half years in the making and called "The Horseman" — was dedicated in a ceremony at the 10-story, smoked-glass Great Western building in 1984.

"The final piece was a spectacular rendition of my dad," Patrick Wayne told The Times last week. "Obviously, it was larger than life, but there was just an aura, a sense of my dad. Harry Jackson did a very commendable job."

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