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William F. Reese Papers

Identifier: 2002-214

Scope and Contents

Series 1: Blue Raven Publishing (1978-1989) This is the largest series in the collection and primarily concerns the writing, design, and publication of the William F. Reese book by Mary Balcomb. All aspects of the book’s production are covered including Reese’s extensive handwritten drafts of his artistic philosophy and other opinions about art for the Artist’s Notes section of the book, which is perhaps the most interesting material in the collection; working drafts of the manuscript with notes, changes, and corrections; design prototypes for the cloth cover, dust jacket, section titles, and the book itself including a final pre-publication mock-up of the entire book; the selection of a printer and the printing process; contracts with writer Mary Balcomb, book designer Amie Balcomb, and entrepreneur Gene Lynn, who loaned Reese the money to publish the book (to be repaid out of sales profits); and correspondence, including extensive correspondence with writer Mary Balcomb touching on many aspects of the book and its publication. Other aspects of book publication covered in the collection include marketing the book through the placement of advertising, the solicitation of consideration for a variety of book awards, sending books for review, direct mail marketing through flyers and book review reprints, and invitations to book signing events. Bookstore sales of the book are documented by a number of invoices, while several receipt books and a cashbook show sales directly to individuals.

The Balcomb book was published by Reese’s own company under the name Blue Raven Publishing, and so many technical aspects of publishing a book are included such as securing a copyright, an International Standard Book Number, and a Library of Congress catalog number. Several aspects related to setting up Blue Raven Publishing are also covered including the design and registration of the Blue Raven logo and trademark. In addition to the extensive material on the publication of the William F. Reese book, the collection has some additional Blue Raven material such as scattered financial records, material on Reese’s efforts to market his equestrian themed etchings to “horse people,” and a venture to use several of Reese’s paintings as the decoration for “wearable art” shirts.

Series 2: General Correspondence (1973-1991) This series is primarily concerned with Reese and his art-related activities. Correspondents include Clyde Aspevig, Mel Fillerup, Mrs. Wilson Hurley, Ramon Kelly, actor George Montgomery, Ben Stahl, and Hollis Williford. Topics include positive comments about the William F. Reese book, compliments from persons who own or would like to own Reese’s artwork, artist and gallery friends discussing the business of art including compensation and the problems of producing work for which there is no prearranged buyer, gallery and museum correspondence about receiving or returning Reese’s work, requests to do workshops and demonstrations, and appreciative comments about help and critiques given by Reese. Among the most interesting correspondence are letters from Mexican friend Alberto Rodriguez in which he talks about illegally immigrating to the United States; a letter in which Reese critiques the work of Washington artist Clayton Rippey and Rippey’s response, which is both appreciative and defensive; several letters about Reese’s attempts to obtain payment from a gallery that apparently sold one of his paintings and then bounced Reese’s check; a letter from artist Ben Stahl in which he makes a pointed comment about western artist Olaf Wieghorst; and a letter from Oklahoma City businessman Allen Coles that relates positive comments about Reese from guests at a party attended by Reese.

Series 3: Painting Workshops (1982-1991) This series consists of material about a series of painting workshops conducted by Reese in the 1980s in Washington State, Jackson, Wyoming, Scottsdale, Arizona, and other locations. The material is of two types, correspondence from persons interested in attending the workshops and documents relating to the administration of the workshops. Although much of this correspondence is quite repetitive, there are also a number of letters that give insight into Reese’s abilities as an art instructor. A number of letters thank Reese for how much was learned during past workshops and how much his insights are appreciated, including those that favorably compare the quality of Reese’s workshops with other workshops attended in the past. Some letters thank Reese for helping them find their own artistic vision, while others discuss painting theory. The workshop participants seem to be both “weekend painters” and more accomplished artists who have achieved a certain degree of success. Workshop administrative files include class rosters, financial records, workshop information sheets prepared by Reese for his prospective students, some documentation about marketing the workshops through advertising, and a variety of mailing lists and slips of paper containing contact information for potential future workshop participants.

Series 4: Subject Files (1975-1992) This series comprises a small amount of subject specific material collected by Reese. Included are a number of exhibition invitations and programs featuring Reese and others; financial records, including his painters union withdrawal card (dated 1975) and some property insurance records; several art-related newsletters; some scattered notes about the sale of art and other topics; publicity news clippings about Reese; early drafts and correspondence related to Art West and Southwest Art articles on Reese; and two draftsman-like sketches of a chuck wagon that may have been drawn by Reese.

Series 5: Photographs This is a small series mostly documenting the William F. Reese book. Included are the majority of the photographs and artwork images featured in the book, either as print, negative, or 4 x 5 transparency. Many of the prints have crop marks and other notations for the printers. The artwork transparencies are enclosed in Mylar sleeves with notations about the painting title, size, media, size in the finished book, and the page on which the image appears. There are also some notations about the quality of the transparency and several of the images appear in multiple versions of varying quality. Additional transparencies of Reese paintings that do not appear in the book are also part of the collection. A small number of photographs that originally accompanied correspondence are also included, with the source noted on the separation sheets.


  • Creation: 1973 - 1992


Conditions Governing Access

The William F. Reese Papers has no restrictions and is available for research. If you are interested in researching the materials, please contact the Dickinson Research Center to make an appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

The William F. Reese Papers is the property of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Materials, even if owned by the NCWHM, may be protected under third party copyright. It is the patron’s responsibility to research and secure any such additional copyright and pay any required fees or royalties. It is not the intention of the NCWHM to impede upon any third party rights, and the NCWHM cannot be held responsible if the patron is involved in legal action due to violation of third party copyright claims.

Biographical / Historical

William F. Reese was born in Pierre, South Dakota on July 10, 1938, the eldest of five children. His family moved to Seattle, Washington when he was two-years old and later to an apple ranch in Central Washington. Growing up in rural Washington he was exposed to horses and cattle, which instilled a lifelong appreciation and love of animals that is evident in much of his work. Bill started drawing when he was three or four-years old. The Charles Lederer book Drawing Made Easy, given to him by his grandmother, served as his first exposure to art instruction. At thirteen his parents gave him a set of artist’s oil paints to further explore his burgeoning interest in art.

After high school Reese was briefly enrolled in the art program at Washington State University. He later worked on a dam construction project near Wenatchee, Washington, and, after a short time as a sign painter in Los Angeles, California, he worked as a sign painter in Eugene, Oregon. At this point he married his wife Frances, whom he met while working in Wenatchee. The couple would have two children, Dean and Shelly. Later they moved back to Los Angeles, where he worked at sign painting during the day and fine art painting at night. During this period he became very proficient in sign painting and attended a class in pictorial painting at Los Angeles Trade Tech. The new degree of self-expression that was possible in pictorial sign painting further whetted his appetite to fully express his art, which led to his enrollment at the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles.

A decade of sign painting by day and easel painting by night had passed, the Reese family had moved back to the Seattle area, and Reese decided that a career in painting, rather than just sign painting, was what he desired. Fran and Bill started to save a nest egg so he could paint full-time in an attempt to make fine art painting his career. The majority of the nest egg had been saved over a two-year period when, in 1970, near tragedy struck. Reese sustained a ruptured appendix that developed into peritonitis and almost ended his life. This experience changed his outlook on life and he resolved to begin fine art painting full-time as soon as he recovered from his illness, only taking outside work when the money ran out. At this time Reese also developed a friendship with Gene Lynn, a Washington contracting entrepreneur whom he met through his father. Purchases and commissions from Lynn helped Reese through some lean years, although Reese and his wife turned down an offer by Lynn to become Reese’s art patron and support him full-time. Fran assumed the important role of business manager, and her activities in that capacity are well documented in the collection.

In the years since his decision to pursue art as his career Reese has developed into a widely respected artist. He works mostly in oil, but also in watercolor, pastel, sculpture, drawing, etching, and lithography. Reese terms his work as “post impressionist with a touch of expressionism.” He works from live models and in the field, rather than from photographs, relying heavily on personal observation. Reese had his first major exhibition at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle in 1972. His work has since been shown throughout the United States and abroad, including the first exhibition of contemporary western art to be shown in China since it reopened to the West. Reese has had numerous one-man shows and has earned many awards for his work. He has been involved in art education through workshops and demonstrations, which is documented in the collection. Reese’s work has been featured in numerous published articles and in an award winning 1984 book written by Mary Balcomb in collaboration with Reese. The publication of this book was made possible, in part, by the financial backing of Gene Lynn, and its writing, design, and publication is well documented in the collection. After painting in the Seattle area for many years, in 1994 Reese restored an historic building in Wenatchee for his gallery and studio where he continues to paint and sculpt.


4.20 Linear Feet (8 archives boxes, 2 oversized folders)

Language of Materials



The papers and photographs of William F. Reese a contemporary post-impressionist artist and art instructor whose work embraces landscape, portrait, still life, animals and wildlife, and scenes of the contemporary west. This collection covers a relatively narrow slice of Reese’s career, with the bulk of the collection dating from the 1980s. Most of the collection documents the writing, design, and production of the 1984 Mary Balcomb book William F. Reese, which was published by Reese’s own company, Blue Raven Publishing. All aspects of the book are covered from the earliest drafts through final publication. Post-publication marketing and sales are also documented. The painting workshops conducted by Reese during the 1980s are another major focus of the collection. Correspondence with workshop participants provides insight into Reese’s abilities as an art instructor and his philosophy of art and art education. The collection also includes general correspondence primarily focusing on Reese’s art and his art-related activities. Correspondents include artists Clyde Aspevig, Mel Fillerup, Ramon Kelly, Ben Stahl, and Hollis Williford. Other collection material includes some scattered financial records and publicity news clippings. The bulk of the photographs in the collection are from the William F. Reese book project. Included are virtually all the photographs from the book, many with crop marks and other notations, as well as 4 x 5 transparencies of the Reese paintings featured in the book.


The papers of William F. Reese are arranged in five series, Blue Raven Publishing, General Correspondence, Painting Workshops, Subject Files, and Photographs.

Processing Information

The William F. Reese Papers was donated to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2002 by William F. Reese.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the NCWHM Special Collections at Dickinson Research Center Repository

1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City Oklahoma 73111 United States