The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume VII, Number 1, Pages 13-19
Winter, 1982

Ace Powell on Art

by J.M. Moynahan

]. M. Moynahan, a member of the Sociology/Criminal Justice program at Eastern Washington University
at the time of this article, has written several books on western art and on Ace Powell.
They include
The Ace Powell Book and The Big Sky Art of Ace Powell.

Several images, provided by art collector Neal Smith, have been added to the original article (2008).

Asa "Ace" Powell, untitled Blackfeet encampment at twilight, oil on canvas, 5"x7".

Photo courtesy of Neal Smith

A man who has made his living for many years in the field of art often views his trade with a certain philosophical awareness. The late Ace Powell (1912-1978) was no exception. While most contemporary Western artists were still children, Ace had been sculpting and painting for many years. (See articles in The Pacific Northwest Forum, Fall 1978 and Winter 1979). In his interesting and colorful career which spanned several decades he was exposed to a variety of experiences. Some experiences were good, others bad, yet he weathered them and learned.

These years of experience distilled within him a discerning philosophy and view of art. His philosophy and views were shared with fellow artists and friends alike. Many of these views have survived him and several are presented here. They display a wisdom born from experience…experience that for any man, including Ace, was hard won.

Ace Powell (center foreground) sketching with "dudes" in Glacier Park, 1935.

Powell with artist R. Touraine in Kalispell, Montana, 1974

Importance of art to Ace:

"My whole life is wrapped up in my art. Art is my work, my play, my friend-my everything. I throw all I can into a painting."

Knowing your subject:

"Artists painting the west must know it not only socially but psychologically and philosophically. "
and
"By looking at his art you can tell the artist who has never left his warm studio. An artist who has experienced certain things and been certain places will project them into his art."

Colleges and art:

"I believe that college art appreciation courses could be very good if the instructors didn't normally limit it to their personal tastes in art. Western art books should have equal room in college libraries with the rest, and this is nearly always not the case."

On regional painters:

"There are a few painters as sincere as the regional painters of today. As a whole I think time will show that the great American artist is he who came from the grass roots."

Influence of Russell:

"Russell did influence me with his use of colors, but I try to be everything but Russell."

Teaching artists:

"I’ve taught a lot of artists in my time. I have found that you shouldn't influence a person for too long a period. After awhile they will start to paint like you. When that happens, it's time to throw them out."

Early drawing:

"Drawing was just as natural with me as talking when I was a kid. In fact, if I wanted to explain something, I usually could do better by drawing it out in a picture than by words."

Ace Powell at work on sculpture in his studio

Working the canvas:

"I see a scene in my mind and I put it down on canvas. I want it to look like it came from the land. If at all possible, I try to get a crisp feeling into my paintings. Sometimes I get something into a canvas that is just right, then I work around it. "

The business of painting:

"I’ve painted great ones and some bad ones and r think it will be that way all of my life. I throw everything I can into the painting and I'm not bothered by academic rules."

Importance of art:

"Western art is to be enjoyed and shared. It's part of our heritage. Original Western art is important to all of us."

Art in Montana:

"Western art depicts the American way of life. People are seeking American art and the work coming out of the Flathead Valley (Montana) is as American as that anywhere."

Art as work:

"I think my greatest surprise was to find that 'art' was work and not a lazy man's job."

Ace Powell, Early 1970s

Paintings and the future:

"I feel a lot of things, painting included, might not be significant now, but it might be a hundred years from now. Our paintings have to be true to life. They actually tell the story of our times."

On art reputation:

"You don't make your reputation on one big painting now and then, you make it on a thousand little ones."

Similarity in artists:

"A similarity in all artists is their search for truth."

Returning to art:

"Art never was a 'hobby' with me-Bob Scriver and I illustrated the Browning High School Annual in 1929-that day we both decided to be artists, after that I played cowboy in glacier park and Bob played the horn in bands for a few years, then we both went to work at our trade."

To be born an artist:

"If you are born to be an artist, you'll do it no matter what it costs you in personal sacrifice."

Truth in art:

"Td say truth in my art work is the most important quality I try for."

Ace Powell, untitled Blackfeet Moon, oil on canvas 20"x24".

Photo Courtesy of Neal Smith