For Jim Norton, success was hard-earned, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Born in Price, Utah, he learned the value of hard work from his family early on. His grandfather, Earl Fausett, owned a farm, and as a boy he learned first-hand what it takes to keep one going. His father, a coal miner, moved wherever he could find a job, and the family followed.
Norton’s early years in Price were spent near his grandfather’s farm. His grandfather wasn’t just a farmer. He was also an artist. Norton spent many hours watching him paint in his basement and developed a deep affection for art from his youngest days.
Norton’s father’s work eventually moved the family from Price to Carlsbad, N.M., on to Moab, Utah, and finally to Lyman, Wyo. There, he attended junior high and high school and developed another passion: sports. In fact, when Norton began studying at Western Wyoming College, he majored in coaching and minored in art.
“Art was just something I liked to do,” he says. “I didn’t know you could make a living from it.”
Norton began bringing paintings home from school and selling them to friends and neighbors. His grandfather had shared with him the art of Charlie Russell, Frank Tenny Johnson and Frederic Remington, and now Norton began copying their works and making them his own.
After a quarter at Western Wyoming College, Norton moved to Utah and attended Brigham Young University to study under Bill Whitaker. It was there where he had his first encounter with the Cowboy Artists of America. In the school book store, he came across CAA catalogs for sale.
“I couldn’t afford them,” he remembers, “so I would go in and just look at them.”
Norton continued to hone his skills under artist Conrad Schwiering, who encouraged him to visit museums across the country and around the world to study the great artists and learn from them.
“Connie taught me to work from life and in the outdoors,” he adds. “He taught me to take my time.”
It was Whitaker who encouraged Norton to leave school to pursue art in his own way, free from the influence of his professors. He did, and worked for a food broker while painting a few hours before work and a few hours in the evenings. He sold paintings on the side and began to realize that he would need to dedicate himself full-time to his art if he wanted to succeed at making a living from it. One day in the late 1970s, Norton went to work and quit.
“It was the toughest and best decision I have ever made,” he recalls, “but if you want something badly enough, you have to pay the price.”
Over the next several years, Norton struggled to make it as a professional artist. A recession hit, which tightened the art market. He spent time away from his growing family meeting with galleries and enduring blunt rejection. All the while he kept studying and learning and painting. Slowly, the breaks began to come. He found a buyer who agreed to purchase one painting a month from him. A few years later he found a gallery that purchased three a month and would show his work. Then two renowned gallery owners told him, “You are going to be good,” giving him the boost he needed during a trying time in his life.
“I came up in a time when it was tough and you really had to work at it,” he explains. “You had to pay your dues.”
In 1989, his journey took a positive turn when he was invited to present his art to the Cowboy Artists of America. He attended the meeting without expectation, just grateful for the chance to get his foot in the door of an organization he had admired for so long. He was on his way out the door with his paintings when he realized that he had just been invited to become a member of the CAA.
“When it is something you work for your whole life and it finally happens, I can’t even explain how that makes you feel,” remembers Norton. “I was pretty shaken.”
Two decades later, Norton is thriving as an artist and works out of his main studio in Santaquin, Utah, and his cabin studio in Wyoming. There, he prefers to work with models in natural light, lessons dating back to his early days in Lyman. While he has persevered on the long road to success, he is not content to rest on his laurels.
“If you quit studying and learning, you go stale,” he concludes.
~written by Julie Wilson, JFW Communications