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Tom Lovell Papers

Identifier: 2000-035

Scope and Contents

The scope of the collection ranges from before Lovell’s birth in 1909 to his death in 1997. The collection contains personal and family papers; biographical booklets; cards and letters received from friends and publishers; research materials in the form of photocopies and notes; booklets, pamphlets, and catalogues; photographic images in the form of black and white and color negatives, prints, Polaroid prints, slides, and transparencies; sketches; tearsheets; and scrapbooks. There are hundreds of tearsheets of study images, Lovell paintings and illustrations, as well as the illustrations of other artists.


  • Creation: circa 1845-1997


Conditions Governing Access

The Tom Lovell Papers has no restrictions and is available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Tom Lovell 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

Tom Lovell was born in New York City on February 5, 1909. As a boy, he spent hours with his mother at the Museum of Natural History sketching. He worked on several jobs unrelated to art before enrolling in the College of Fine Arts at New York’s Syracuse University. While still working toward his degree, Lovell began working as an illustrator for the popular pulp magazines of the time. He earned a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree from Syracuse in 1931. Lovell met Gloyd Simmons while in college and nicknamed her “Pink” because of the pink smock she wore to art class. They married in 1934 and had two children, David and Deborah.

Lovell said that he was fortunate to earn seven dollars per illustration at a time when most authors only earned one cent a word. In 1937 Lovell switched to the more “glamorous, sophisticated slick” magazines. During World War II, Lovell served in the U.S. Marines as an illustrator for their publication, Leatherneck Magazine. He illustrated the stories for many popular magazines including National Geographic, Life, Time, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion, McCall’s, and Colliers. His illustrations sprinkled the pages of the works authored by Edna Ferber, Louis Bromfield, Paul Gallico, and Sinclair Lewis (Jones, p. 70-71).

In 1944, Lovell joined the U.S. Marines, hoping to be assigned as a combat artist. However, he served two years as a staff artist for the Leatherneck Magazine, the U.S. Marine Corporation Publication. Lovell produced several historical paintings including the Marines’ fight for Belleau Wood during World War I, Admiral Robert E. Peary, Guadacanal!, and the Battle of Tenaru River. Lovell’s painting, Tarawa Landing, is on display at the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C. (Jones, p. 71).

Lovell first began using scale models to study the effect of light and composition for his paintings while researching material for the Tarawa Landing. He was able to move the models about to observe the lighting and shadows they made. This became a habit which he used throughout his lifetime. He researched the landscape, people, the time period, and other important information by “…traveling to sites, making sketches, reading primary sources like journals, logs, and eyewitness accounts” (Jones, p. 68) to have a better idea about an incident he wanted to portray before ever touching a canvas. Friends and family members posed for countless photographs and sketches. Lovell studied these for the components which made up each movement, expression, and costume, along with the angles of light and shadow. Lovell’s study of research material about the subjects he chose and his attention to the smallest detail made his paintings so lifelike.

After the war, Lovell returned to illustrating for major magazines, where his career spanned almost 40 years. During which time, he was commissioned to do a series on the Vikings for the National Geographic Society, followed by a series on the Civil War for Life magazine, and a study of the early history of the Mormon Church for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In 1969, Lovell left the world of illustrations and turned his attention to western art when the Abell-Hanger Foundation commissioned him to do a series of paintings depicting the southwest and early oil industry in the Permian Basin of West Texas.

In the 1970s Lovell moved his family from Connecticut to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to pursue his first love — historical art. As Lovell wrote,

“I had been interested in the American Indian since I was nine years old… That interest never left me, although it was many years before I could really apply it to my work. When I moved West, it seemed all this interest and knowledge had come home to roost. While I had no great desire to be a cowboy, I knew the West was a lot more things than just cowboying. There are a lot of artists who know about the cowboy subject matter well, so they do that. I like the idea of going back in time, so that’s what I do.” (“Tom Lovell 5/25/88 Draft II”). Lovell’s imagination, research abilities, and artistic skill blend perfectly in his artwork to tell a story. The subjects Lovell portrayed in his paintings ranged from ancient to contemporary times. His artwork is a study of human existence and an expression of the emotion tied to an event which actually happened or could have happened. The historical topics Lovell has portrayed range from the ancient Greek athletes and the Vikings, to the Fall of Nicaea and the Battle of Hastings, to the arrival of Admiral Peary at the North Pole, to battles of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and both World Wars, to the vivid images of the Old West and Native Americans.

Throughout his career, Lovell received many honors. He was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1974. His paintings hang in the United States Capital, the U.S. Maritime Academy, the New Britain Museum, the U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters, the National Geographic Society, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the Abell-Hanger Foundation, galleries of corporate offices, and private collections. “He was among the founding charter members of the National Academy of Western Art, the forerunner of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame’s Prix de West Invitational Exhibition.” (VanDeventer, M.J., Prix de West News, May 1998 p.8). And in 1992, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame honored him with its prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award ” . . . during the National Academy of Western Art Exhibition and praised him for ‘capturing the romance and the majesty of the American West’ in his paintings.” (VanDeventer, p. 8). That same year Lovell was awarded the Robert Lougheed Memorial Award for Traditional Painter of Western History.

Lovell’s love of history, and his accomplished skill as a painter, blend together to make him a respected and honored artist. Throughout his life, students, friends, and colleagues respected his advice, instruction, and friendship. The public sought his work. Each of Lovell’s well-researched paintings portrays a part of history that romanticizes and preserves an event from an individual’s perspective as if you are standing observing the action or were a part of what was happening. His artwork draws the viewer into it, sparking the imagination of what could have happened and how it might have felt to be there.

On June 29, 1997, Tom Lovell was tragically killed in an automobile accident at the age of 88. As he once said, “I’m a lucky man. I’ve been painting for over 50 years. And I’ve dreamed my dreams” (VanDeventer, p. 8). His life was well spent, doing what he loved best – – illustrating life and history for others to enjoy. Future generations and enthusiasts of the Old West of all ages will benefit from his knowledge of the subjects he painted and the events he portrayed.

Sources: Jones, Byron B., “Stories of Survival: Tom Lovell” Southwest Art. May 1983, p. 66-83) Tom Lovell – a Biographical Sketch (1974) Number One in a series of booklets on the twelve leading American Artists whose paintings were selected as 1974 winners of the Franklin Mint Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Western Art. “Tom Lovell 5/25/88 Draft II” Who’s Who in American Art, 1980 (p 461)


58.4 Linear Feet (72 document boxes, 15 flat boxes, 9 photo file boxes, 7 oversized folders)

Language of Materials



Along with personal papers, pamphlets, booklets, research notes and sketches, the Tom Lovell Papers contain approximately 16,000 negatives, photographs, and transparencies. The collection also contains numerous tearsheets of Lovell’s illustrations and paintings. Scrapbooks and folders in the collection contain the tearsheets of other illustrators.


The Tom Lovell Papers has been divided into ten series. Each series is then divided into sub-series:

Series 1: Personal (ca. 1917-1997) This series contains biographical information, biographical booklets, educational papers, military records, awards, and family papers.

Series 2: Letters (ca. 1923-1997, n.d.) This series is comprised of letters received from publishers, and cards and letters from friends. Many of the cards and envelopes received from fellow artists include original sketches from the sender. This series does not contain any letters written by Lovell, however, there are notes by Lovell for letters as he prepared to compose them. It is unknown if these drafts were ever written or sent.

Series 3: Research Materials (ca. 1845-1997, n.d.) This series contains notes and photocopies of articles from books, encyclopedias, and other materials used in the background research for a particular illustration or painting. Research topics are organized alphabetically. This series also contains notes Lovell made in preparation for his artwork, talks, and seminars.

Series 4: Booklets/Pamphlets (ca. 1884-1996, n.d.) This series contains booklets, pamphlets, flyers, postcards, newsletters and magazines. It is divided into four primary sub-series: Biographical, Trips/Vacations, Catalogues and Magazines. Trips/Vacations contains booklets, pamphlets and postcards of various sites from the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. There are booklets and pamphlets covering many subject areas in this series. Also included are complete issues of magazines and newsletters.

Series 5: Sketches (n.d.) Sketches series includes many types of sketches, ranging in size from a rough sketch on a scrap of paper or the back of an envelope to a full-scale detailed study on large paper. The majority of these are done in pencil. Lovell often added notes about color, size, scale, etc. In many cases, there are several sketches on the same sheet, front and back. In order to facilitate the processing a sketch is counted by the page (front-side only), no matter how many sketches may appear on that page. Please note that sketches also appear on the reverse side of photographs, letters, and on the outside of folders used in filing. In these instances, the primary source dictates the series the sketch is filed in (e.g. a photograph with a sketch on the reverse, would be placed with other photographs). Sub-series include, paintings, illustrations and cover art, illustrated products, and study sketches.

Series 6: Photographs (ca. 1861-1997) This series represents a very large portion of the collection and includes photographs of family and friends, Lovell’s homes, trips/vacations, study photographs of models, animals, movie sets, and movie publicity shots. This series also contains many photographs of Lovell’s illustrations, cover art, and paintings. Images in this series are divided into the image type sub-series of Slides, Negatives, and Transparencies.

Series 7: Tearsheets (ca. 1884-1996, n.d.) This series represents another large section of the Lovell Collection and includes tearsheets of Lovell’s paintings and illustrations, cover art, and many study or reference tearsheets of animals, people, places, and things. Also included in this series are the tearsheets of illustrations by other artists.

Series 8: Other/Misc. (n.d.) This includes slide boxes, Research Center separation sheets, and other miscellaneous items.

Series 9: Scrapbooks (ca. 1889-1915, n.d.) Scrapbooks contain two scrapbooks with illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson and G. R. Switzer.

Series 10: Oversized (n.d.) This series contains oversized materials from the above series.

Processing Information

The Tom Lovell Papers was donated to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2000 by David Lovell.


Under Revision
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