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Olaf Wieghorst

(1899 - 1988)

Biography

Olaf Carl Wieghorst was born to Karl and Anna Wieghorst on April 30, 1899, in the village of Viborg, Jutland, Denmark. He learned the rudiments of painting from his photographer father, Karl, but was essentially a self-taught artist. The Wieghorst family moved to Copenhagen when Olaf was seven years old, and he was instructed in acrobatics by a Russian performer. Wieghorst was a stage sensation as "Little Olaf, the Miniature Acrobat," a role which he played until he grew too big to be a "miniature," and World War I disrupted life across the continent.

A horse enthusiast from his earliest days, Wieghorst's riding talents were put to use during his teenage years when he performed in Danish films and in the circus. Dreaming of the American West, Wieghorst arrived in New York in December, 1918, at the age of 19. He had essentially no money and spoke no English. Nevertheless, he was able to join the U.S. Cavalry, and was sent to Ft. Bliss, Texas, for basic training. Following his discharge from the military, Wieghorst stayed in the Southwest and found employment at the ranch of Elton Cunningham in New Mexico, as well as the cipher that was to become the trademark found on his mature works: “2C (under an inverse rocker bar)” —the brand of the Quarter Circle 2C Ranch.

Returning East, Wieghorst joined the New York City Police Department, Mounted Division, in 1924. He was a member of the Police Show Team and rode a beat in Central Park until his retirement in 1944. He moved to California after leaving the NYPD and settled down to paint, steadily gaining recognition. By the 1950s his style had matured and he was being hailed as a master. Arizona Highways devoted its March 1971 issue to "The Southwest of Olaf Wieghorst" and repeated the honor again in 1974. A retrospective of Wieghorst's work was presented at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (now the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum) in 1974-75, at which the artist was presented with the Trustee's Gold Medal of the Hall of Fame.

In the catalogue for a 1982 retrospective of the work of Olaf Wieghorst presented at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Ginger Renner wrote, "In the field of Western American art it was Charles Marion Russell who blazed the trail, set the standards and introduced subjects never before put on canvas... In the three generations of artists who have followed there is one, who, sincerely and with ample justification, can be compared with the great Charlie Russell in this writer's opinion. That artist is Olaf Wieghorst." The same catalogue bore a dedication page with a tribute from President Ronald Reagan, proclaiming that no artist was more successful in capturing the rugged beauty of the American West than Wieghorst.