Kansas City artist James R. Hamil, known for his Kansas prairie landscapes and Country Club Plaza watercolors, died Friday at age 84.
For decades, Hamil’s watercolors of regional landmarks and landscapes were everywhere – in shop windows in the Plaza and Brookside, in malls, and on the walls of the homes of area residents.
“The phenomenal thing about Jim was that he was for every man and woman. He was their excuse to buy something they loved,” said artist Jamie Lavin, director of the Buttonwood Art Space in Kansas City. .
In a 2015 interview with KCUR, Hamil recounted being recognized at the local hardware store.
“The Ace Hardware employee, I gave her my name because I didn’t have my card with me. And I told her and she said, ‘Are you the artist?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ She said, ‘Oh, I have one of your paintings.’ And then the lady behind me said, “I’ve got some too.” And then the third man said, “Hey, I’m in a hurry. Can you move on?” And I was a little embarrassed, but I was also pretty happy. It gives you a real boost.
Hamil’s career spanned over six decades.
Hamil was born in Hastings, Nebraska. His father was a journalist, and the family moved to New York, then Lincoln, Nebraska, then St. Louis, Missouri, before settling in the Kansas City area in the early 1950s.
He graduated from Shawnee Mission (now North) High School in 1954 and studied art at the University of Kansas. To support himself, he sold pen-and-ink drawings of campus buildings, as well as pastel portraits, to other students.
In 1958, Hamil began a 15-year career with Hallmark Cards, Inc., designing books, calendars, greeting cards, and wrapping paper. Her time at Hallmark included a watercolor lesson for President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the mid-1960s.
“Things happen that you don’t even expect, and sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not so good,” Hamil told KCUR of his watercolor work. “But watercolor will do that. It will surprise you. And I like it for that reason.”
Hamil opened his own studio in 1972 to focus on painting full-time for galleries, such as American Legacy Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri, and Colony Bistro in Overland Park, Kansas, and commissions.
Over the decades, Hamil collaborated on several books with his father, Harold Hamil, contributing to “Farmland, USA” and his father’s two memoirs. He also created watercolors for two books written with his late wife, Sharon Hamil, “Return to Kansas” and “Colorado Treasures”.
Lavin, who started in the art world as a teenager in his parents’ gallery, said Hamil’s work was accessible.
“Let’s say we would have a Marc Chagall print. And they were watching it,” Lavin recalled as she watched people browse the gallery. “And then they would see Jim Hamil’s fingerprints on our wall. And that’s what they wanted. They wanted something they could relate to.
Hamil is survived by his two sons, Andy and Alex.
Alex Hamil, who is also an artist, said his father was battling dementia following a stroke a decade ago. He said “things have kind of taken a nosedive over the past few months.”
JR Hamil died Friday at Brookdale of Overland Park, an assisted living facility in the palliative care unit.
Hamil’s legacy, Alex said, continues through his artwork, as well as inspiring artists of all ages.
“He would go to schools and demonstrate his watercolor techniques,” Alex said, “and certainly inspire kids to, you know, see this in action.”
He added: “And it’s one thing to see something on the walls, but it’s another thing to see it actually developed.”
Julie Denesha of KCUR contributed to this report.