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Artist Doug Hall settled in the most remote part of Southwestern Missouri's Ozarks.
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Doug Hall 2
Doug Hall's log cabin doubles as a studio.
By Rose Hansen
For the past three months, Doug Hall has carried his current painting-in-progress from his remote McDonald County home to his on-site studio in the Log Cabin Gallery in Neosho. He’s usually alone when he arrives, but that doesn’t last long. Almost everyday, someone drops by to tempt him into an afternoon of riding horses or shooting blackpowder in the backyard. In foul weather, visitors beckon from rocking chairs near the potbellied stove. At age fifty-six, Doug is soft-spoken and professorial in his mannerisms, but he doesn’t mind the interruptions.
“It gives me time to look at it from a different distance,” he says. “I can just sit here and study while I visit with people and prep for the next step.”
That study usually involves capturing light on canvas, a technique that has made him one of America’s most revered living painters of woodland Native Americans. His pieces often depict quiet moments—men plotting their course in the dirt or crossing streams speckled with light. Look away, and they just might step out of the frame.
Doug doesn’t claim any Native American ancestry, but his work earned accolades from the Eastern Shawnee Tribe in 2013, when Chief Glenna Wallace coated him with a traditional blanket.
“That was a great night, being honored by the people I paint,” he says. “I do the best I can to portray a time period that’s gone. Otherwise you wouldn’t see it in the modern world.”
Doug tries not to work on Sundays. Instead, he goes shooting with his buddies. They prefer muzzleloaders—the same guns used two hundred years ago. It might seem an odd pastime for an artist, but it fits him.
“The frontier and Indians and horses and log cabins—it’s just consumed me my whole life,” he says. “I never have grown out of that. Painting it just isn’t even enough. I want to experience it, too.”
That’s challenging in today’s world, but Doug tries. For instance, he quit high school to become a fur trapper, much to the dismay of his mother, a schoolteacher herself.
“Before I dropped out, I had spent that whole summer in the woods. I felt free,” he says. “When school came back around, I had to sit. I couldn’t do it.”
Soon after, he traveled from southwest Missouri to Iowa on horseback just to see how it would have felt to be a frontiersman. He makes his own bullets. He’s lived in log cabins for most of his adult life, though there was a two-season stint in a teepee.
All the while, he painted. He can’t remember a time when he didn’t. His first sale, which went for $2.50, was of a horse. He was ten years old. At the time, pursuing an art career felt impossible.
“As a little kid, I would look at paintings in books, and they were all by dead artists,” he says. “I didn’t know anyone who painted or sculpted or anything. It just seemed like a daydream.”
During his twenties, to supplement trapping, he sold landscape paintings at the mall. One day, he attended a $5 demo by Carthage painter Bob Tomney, and it changed his life.
“He did more in an hour with a paintbrush than I could in days,” Doug says. “I just couldn’t believe it. He could paint sunlight.”
Afterward, Doug took lessons with Bob and quietly started showing his work at the Midwestern Gathering of the Arts.
In 1987, he built a log cabin sporting goods store that specialized in muzzleloader and archery supplies. He hung his paintings inside, but they didn’t garner much attention.
“I doubt most customers ever put the pieces together,” he says.
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Courtesy of Doug Hall
Red Coat Doug Hall
Red Coat depicts three Shawnee warriors before the Battle of Thames during the War of 1812. Originally priced at $16,000, it sold for $29,000.
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Courtesy of Doug Hall
Doug Hall’s oil painting Stone Bridge Crossing sold at the American Western Art Auction in 2007 for $15,000
The business ran until a 2001 tornado flattened it. The following year, he entered a competition at the Phippen Museum in Arizona. Of the more than two hundred submissions, he won the Phippen Family Award, and his painting sold for $10,000. That was all it took. Since then, his work has shown at the State Capitol, the Springfield Art Museum, and more, and he’s won countless awards. In 2012, his painting Red Coat showed at the Buffalo Bill Art Show in Cody, Wyoming, and broke auction records with a $29,000 bid.
Doug was married for three years, but it didn’t last. He says he doesn’t get lonely, not even at his secluded Ozarks cabin, which sits alone at the end of a long valley flanked by limestone bluffs. There, his black and white horse grazes in the fields, birds pluck seeds from feeders on his porch railing, and a gray cat keeps him company.
“I like the quiet,” he says. “I’ve got this big picture window here, and I look out over the hills and watch the coyotes and deer come up and down the valley. Then, I can go right back to the painting.”
He completes at least six commissioned works each year. He says his career has its ups and downs, job security being a downside.
“As long as I can pay my electric bill, I’m good to go,” he says.
That’s enough to make his coffeepot work. For most everything else, he lives off the grid like a true frontiersman. Doug might be trapped in the wrong century, but at least his passion for honoring the past helps keep the lights on.
For more information, follow Doug Hall’s Log Cabin Gallery on Facebook, visit altermann.com, or call 417-669-8339.