William H. Koerner

(1878 - 1938)

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William Henry Dethlef Koerner was born to a German immigrant family in 1878. The Koerners settled in Clinton, Iowa, in 1880, and the young William displayed a talent for the visual arts from an early age. Koerner moved to Chicago at the age of 18 to work as a staff artist for the Chicago Tribune. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Francis Smith Art Academy, and the Art Students League in New York beginning in 1905. After two years at the League he moved to Wilmington, Delaware, to study with Howard Pyle—the man widely considered to be the father of American illustration art. Koerner found great success as an illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post, along with his fellow Art Students League alumnus, Norman Rockwell. When assigned to illustrate the series “Traveling the Old Trails” for the Post, Koerner researched the subject for many long hours in the New York Public Library and the Museum of Natural History before taking to the road with his family to survey the terrain of the American West in person. Koerner died in Interlaken, New Jersey, in 1938, leaving a wealth of paintings, drawings, and sketchbooks, which were preserved by his wife, Lillian. Works from the estate were acquired by many private collections and public institutions beginning in 1964 when Koerner’s daughter, Ruth Ann Koerner Oliver, decided to reintroduce her father’s work to the world. Koerner’s studio, complete with his working materials, furniture, and collection of Western artifacts, is a permanent installation at the Whitney Gallery of Western Art at the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody, Wyoming.