Harold Dow Bugbee was born on August 15, 1900, in Lexington, Massachusetts, to Charles H. and Grace L. (Dow) Bugbee. By the time Harold was 14 his family moved to the frontier town of Clarendon, Texas, due to the influence of a cousin already living in the area, T. S. Bugbee. At first the family lived on the cousin’s ranch outside of Clarendon, which was the county seat of Donley County, about 60 miles southeast of Amarillo.
Already showing talent as an artist, Harold began sketching the many components of daily ranch living. At this tender age Harold saw a need to preserve a way of life that was quickly changing forever.
Harold graduated from Clarendon High School in 1917. He then attended Clarendon College which had started out as a Methodist-affiliated college. In 1918 he decided to attend Texas A&M University located at College Station, Texas. Harold spent summers in Taos, New Mexico, pursuing his artistic love. While there Bert Geer Phillips pursued Harold to attend the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines, Iowa, to study under Charles Atherton Cumming, a portrait painter who had established an art department at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. By 1921 Harold graduated from the four-year Cumming School of Art even though he only spent two years as a student there.
After graduating in Iowa, Harold returned to West Texas.
In the 1920s following his graduation Harold was exhibiting at art galleries in New Y0rk, Chicago, Denver, and Kansas City. One early customer was Ernest O. Thompson, an Amarillo hotel owner, mayor, and long-serving member of the Texas Railroad Commission. He commissioned fourteen oil paintings for his Amarillo Herring Hotel. He also sponsored Harold’s first large art show.
During the Great Depression Harold turned to magazine work due to declining sales. During this time frame Harold’s pen and ink illustrations began to appear in publications–Western Stories, Country Gentleman, Field and Stream, Ranch Romances.
Additionally, he began illustrating in 1936 in history books like Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman, by J. Evetts Haley. Harold enjoyed a long association of illustrating with J. Evetts Haley.
Harold was married in 1935 to Katherine Patrick but they later divorced. She died in Los Angeles, CA in 1991.
Harold was approved by Ernest O. Thompson in 1942 to paint eleven murals for the Tascosa Room of the Herring Hotel, which Thompson owned. Harold sketched Christmas card designs available on an international basis. Harold also sold his work to western art dealers and ranchers.
Harold, at the age of 41 in 1942 was drafted into the armed forces. However, he was discharged after a year due to his health problems. Harold painted in 1943 three murals for the Amarillo Army Air Field. Two of the three murals are now in the National Museum of American Art which is part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
Harold was a popular fixture at the Tri-State Fair held each year in Amarillo. Then in 1951, Harold Bugbee became the art curator for the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, which was only a part-time job. However, he kept this position until his death. Harold donated or sold more than 230 of his drawings, prints, and paintings to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society in Canyon, TX.
Harold also did twenty-two murals on Indian life, and ranching for Panhandle-Plains Historical Society. Harold’s trail-driving scene of R. B. Masterson, a Texas cattleman, which Harold painted on wood panels, hangs in the Texas Hall of State in Dallas.
Harold married Olive Freda Vandruff, a successful artist in her own right of wildlife, in 1961. When Harold died in 1963, Olive succeeded him as art curator at Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum until she retired.
Olive lived on the Harold Dow Bugbee Ranch in Clarendon, TX, until her death in 2003. She largely left the ranch as she found it when she first moved there. Upon her death, the Estate valued at $1 million, was donated to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.
There is a Harold D. Bugbee exhibit at Saints’ Roost Museum, Clarendon, TX.