OKLAHOMA CITY — “Will James: The Hays Collection” opens at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Dec. 9 and will be on display until Oct. 14, 2012, in the Eldridge Gallery. The exhibition brings together many works of art and memorabilia of renowned Western artist and author Will James.

A.P. Hays, an authority on historic Western art, has studied and collected James’ work for more than 60 years. His collection is comprised of original oil paintings, watercolors, pencil,  pen and ink illustrations and a complete set of Will James’ 27 first edition books, displayed along with at least one illustration from each. The collection also includes movie stills and publicity photographs, movie posters and lobby cards for the films adapted from three of James’ books, Smoky, Sand, and Lone Cowboy. Rounding out the collection is a group of Western objects owned by Will James. The exhibition is the largest ever presented of Will James.

“We are grateful to Mr. and Mrs. A.P. Hays of Scottsdale, Ariz., for generously sharing through this exhibition their outstanding collection of Will James,” said Anne Morand, chief curator for the project.

Will James began drawing at an early age and dreamed of becoming a cowboy. At 15 he left his home in Canada, and began working for large and small cow outfits in the West. He later joined several movie companies in Hollywood performing as a stuntman on horseback in Westerns. Desiring formal training, he attended the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Sunset Magazine published a full-page drawing in 1920. Success continued with a short story and illustrations for Scribner’s Monthly Cowboys North and South, a collection of short stories. His first novel in 1926, Smoky The Cowhorse, received the Newbery Medal, cult status among horse stories and three film adaptations.

James settled in Montana and in 1940 he began his novel, The American Cowboy, a long and difficult text encompassing more than 100 years of cowboy life throughout the West. He completed the project in 1941, but emotionally and physically exhausted, he soon fell to physical deterioration causing liver and kidney failure from which he died at age 50.