Charles Hargens, American (1894 - 1997)

Charles Hargens

Charles Hargens, Jr. (1893- 1997) was born in Hot Springs, South Dakota and grew up in the Black Hills of the West. The son of a country doctor, Charles early discovered his talent, and to earn a bit of his own spending money would sell sketches of neighbor’s houses and barns for a quarter each. His experiences growing up in the still rough and ready Black Hills gave him first-hand knowledge for his later western illustrations.

At age 10 he moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa with his mother and brother. When older he did odd jobs in the Omaha studio of Albert Rothery, a portrait painter, in exchange for painting lessons. His interest in art was furthered by trips to Chicago during which he spent entire days at the Chicago Art Institute while his father conducted business.

Hargens studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. One of the most distinguished awards available to the students of the Academy was the Cresson Fellowship to study abroad. Although World War I delayed his departure until 1921, the scholarship allowed him to study in Paris.

In 1940, Hargens and his wife Marjorie moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania where he worked for the rest of his life. Though Hargens never returned to live in his beloved South Dakota, he returned to Hot Springs each summer, where he spent time at rodeos with the cowboys and visiting the Sioux Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Many of these cowboys and Indians became subjects in his paintings. Hargens felt his work produced in South Dakota 'had an authentic look which could be obtained in no other manner'.

An accomplished painter and illustrator, Hargens was renowned for his scenes of the Old West. Authors and publishers specifically asked for Hargens to illustrate their works because of his attention to detail and his accuracy. In his lifetime Hargens was commissioned to produce paintings and drawings for over 300 books and 3000 magazines. He illustrated books for more than fifteen publishers, including Lippincott, Scribners, MacMillan and Doubleday, among others.

By no means limited to western art, Hargens also did numerous other book illustrations and covers for the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Liberty, Rotarian, Western, Open Road, Country Gentleman, Farm Journal, Boy's Life and other magazines. His most famous advertising illustrations were done for Stetson Hats, Atwater Kent radios and beer companies. He also created many historical paintings of the American Revolution.

Hargens had a long-standing relationship with Leland Case, founder of the Friends of the Middle Border, Inc. in 1939 and editor of The Rotarian and Together magazines, who used his talents to illustrate articles and covers. Case encouraged Hargens to donate his original illustrations to the museum. In 1982, Dakota Wesleyan University of Mitchell, South Dakota recognized Hargens’ illustrious career and support of the museum with an Honorary Doctors Degree in Fine Art.

Charles Hargens died in 1997 at the age of 103 after a prolific career that spanned 80 years, twice the productive time of most artists. Hargens willed his studio furnishings and collections and more than 40 original works to the Friends of the Middle Border, Inc. His studio has been recreated in the Charles Hargens Studio and Gallery at the Dakota Discovery Museum. Visitors can view his art and experience the studio environment in which he worked. Much more than a chair and an easel, the studio exhibit showcases artifacts collected by the artist and used for inspiration.

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