The Edgar Samuel Paxson Collection

Sacajawea by Paxson

Edgar Samuel Paxson, Sacajawea,
oil on canvas, 1904, 50" x 29"

Edgar S. Paxson (1852-1919)

This collection contains a number of paintings, preparatory drawings, and personal effects donated by Paxson's wife in 1927. Included are major oil paintings such as Sacajawea, Great Falls of the Missouri, and Clark Fork of the Columbia, as well as a number of watercolors, and sketches.  The collection also houses items related to his studio practice-his studio sign, paint set, and medals from military service.

The story of Paxson's artistic career and his life in Missoula are intrinsically linked. Paxson was born near Buffalo, New York in East Hamburg on April 25, 1852. He married Laura Johnson in 1874. They came west the following year, arriving in Montana in 1877, the year after the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Paxson's interest in this battle would become a defining element in his artistic career. Paxson was a contemporary of C.M. Russell, John Fery, and Ralph DeCamp.  Paxson developed a great respect for American Indians and the tribulations they suffered with the expansion of the Frontier. He had friends among the tribes and welcomed several chiefs and tribal members in his studio to pose for paintings.

In 1878, Paxson and his family moved to Deer Lodge, where he painted signs and theatrical backdrops. In 1881, he moved to Butte, where he continued to produce commercial paintings but also established a studio to produce easel paintings of historical subjects and portraits of Indians.  Paxson enlisted in the Montana National Guard.  In May 1898, he was requisitioned into the Army and sent to the Philippines for the Spanish-American War.

The years after the war were productive for Paxson and he completed a number of major works-including Custer's Last Stand, now in the collection of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center-which were exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904 and the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905.

He and his family moved to Missoula in 1906. In 1911, he was commissioned to paint six scenes of Montana history for the Senate chambers at the Montana Capitol in Helena. In 1912, he was commissioned to execute eight paintings for the Missoula County Courthouse.  Paxson worked until his death on November 9, 1919.