Culture / Out West

Edward Borein: Etched by the West

Cattle Drive by Edward Borein

A new book by historian B. Byron Price dives deeply into the vaquero life and work of artist Edward Borein.

Edward Borein loved to cowboy. It was all he ever wanted to do growing up in San Leandro, California. He also loved to draw. It was something that he would fill free time with – drawing on anything he could find – paper bags, shoe box lids – anything. He got pretty good at it. Good enough that some of the fellow vaqueros he worked with on the sprawling Rancho Jesus Maria, in northern Santa Barbara County (now the Vandenberg Space Force Base) nudged him into sending some of his sketches to publisher Charles F. Lummis. Lummis took a liking to him and published a number of his drawings in an 1896 edition of his magazine, The Land of Sunshine. Borein received $15 for his work. 

Such was the beginning of a burgeoning art career for one John Edward Borein (1872 – 1945). His art career helped bring the imagery of the Southwest vaquero to a world rapidly moving into the future – where automobiles were replacing horses and electricity was bringing light to the dark. Borein worked in the era of Montana artist, Charles M. Russell, Frederick Remington, Will James and Joe De Yong, among others.

Edward Borein in front of his studio in Santa Barbara, California.
This portrait of Ed Borein in front of his studio in Santa Barbara, California, was taken in 1930 by Carolyn and Edwin Gledhill.
Image courtesy Santa Barbara Historical Museum

In acclaimed Western historian Byron Price’s new book, Edward Borein, Etched by the West, we are treated to an in depth look at the artist, his life and his work. The author should be familiar with anyone who loves the history and art of the American West as Price is one of the subject’s foremost scholars. His new book will be published in October by the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. The 336-page work, will include more than 400 images, many never before published. Michael Grauer, Curator of Cowboy Collections and Western Art at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum introduces the book with a gracious essay on its subject.

The book shares in great detail the story of Borein’s life and career path from working vaquero to successful illustrator to revered recorder and interpreter of the West “that was passing.” There is no one better to tell Borein’s story than Price, who brings more street cred to the project than any Western scholar living today. Price held the Charles M. Russell memorial Chair and was the director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma, prior to his retirement in 2020. He is the former director of the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas; the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City; and the Buffalo Bill Historical center in Cody, Wyoming. He is the author of numerous articles and books on Western American history and art – including Charles M. Russell – A Catalog Raisonne, the definitive reference for scholars, collectors, curators, art dealers, libraries and anyone who appreciates the art of Charles M. Russell.

Western artwork by Edward Borein
Some of Borein’s great works include (from left) Cattle Drive, Scratchin’ High and California Vaquero.
Images courtesy Santa Barbara Historical Museum

With that background, Price has woven together many little-known details of Borein’s experiences in his native California, as well as his time in Mexico and New York, into a fascinating and uplifting story, with an in-depth look at the artist’s abilities in numerous art mediums, especially in etching. Borein’s Western scenes were in many cases romantic depictions of the cowboy world “before the wire.” That being the West before it was fenced with barbed wire eliminating a wide-open West that was the cowboy’s dream. The region he focused on was early Spanish Colonial California, and subjects included the Spanish Missions, Native Americans and cowboys and their ways of living. They were romantic to be sure, but like his friend Russell, the scenes depicted were what they knew and lived and didn’t want us to forget.

Etched by the West is a new book by B. Byron Price
The new book by historian B. Byron Price details the life and work of California artist Edward Borein.

The last part of Borein’s life was spent in Santa Barbara, California, where he was very productive – including teaching etching at the Santa Barbara School of Art. He and his wife, Lucile, became important members of the community. He worked to keep the Spanish influence alive in Santa Barbara and was instrumental in creating the Santa Barbara Fiesta and Parade as well as being a founding member of the riding group Los Rancheros Visitadores. Borein’s El Paseo studio was a gathering place in the town and he enjoyed great popularity until his death in 1945. Following his passing, Lucile selected the Santa Barbara Historical Society (now Museum) to be the repository of his legacy, and the Museum holds the largest known collection of Borein’s body of work and personal possessions. The book contains many incredible pieces from the Museum’s collection as well pieces from many private collections and museums around the country.

Edward Borein with Leo Carillo
Borein (left) poses with his friend Leo Carillo on the Rancheros Visitadores ride in 1936.
Image courtesy Santa Barbara Historical Museum

Borein’s era was a time of change. Technology was changing the face of America and the world. Yet those who didn’t want the ways of the early West to fade away greeted Borein’s art with open hearts. Author Price has done the artist – and us – a great service in his research and presentation through his writing and so many wonderful images, drawings and photographs. To be sure, Byron Price believes in the West – in its placed people, their adjacency to animals and the traditions of a root-based culture that is uniquely American. With that, he has given us a new and studied look at an artist who believed that the West must be remembered, treasured and celebrated.

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