SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The late artist, Harry Jackson was best known for Western scenes. His sculpture of a hard-riding John Wayne was on the cover of Time magazine in 1969, but he also made abstract expressionist works inspired by his friend, Jackson Pollack. Most of Harry Jackson's work is still with his family at his studios in Cody, Wyoming.
And unless a major donor steps forward, it will be sold piecemeal to pay the bills. From Wyoming Public Radio, Micah Schweizer reports.
MICAH SCHWEIZER, BYLINE: Harry Jackson was born in Chicago, but he always said Wyoming was his spiritual birthplace. In 1938, when he was 14, he ran away from home and started working on the Pitchfork Ranch outside of Meeteetse. That's where he learned the cowboy songs he later recorded for Folkways Records.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE ROUND-UP COOK")
HARRY JACKSON: (Singing) Well, come all you cowboys, I'll sing you a song. Stay back from the wagons, stay where you belong. You think you're right handy with gun and with rope, but I notice you're bashful when handling the soap.
SCHWEIZER: Jackson was also a Marine whose combat sketches captured the brutality of war in the South Pacific. After the war, he was a Hollywood radio actor. And in 1947, Jackson moved to New York and dove into the abstract expressionist scene. John Giarrizzo is a fellow Wyoming painter.
JOHN GIARRIZZO: He was right in the thick of art history, American art history in the 20th century as an abstract expressionist painter.
SCHWEIZER: Jackson exhibited alongside expressionist giants Willem De Kooning and Jackson Pollock. But in 1970, he moved back to Wyoming for good and devoted himself to Western art. Now, Giarrizzo says almost all of it is at the sprawling Harry Jackson Studios in Cody.
GIARRIZZO: We thought of him as somebody who created these beautiful bronze sculptures that, you know, were at the level of Frederick Remington. But then when you walk into that space, you're confronted with the full spectrum of who Harry Jackson was as an artist.
SCHWEIZER: That spectrum is housed in a tan industrial-looking building, ringed by a chain-link fence. It hardly looks like a museum. The sign out front says by appointment only. But inside are 5,000 drawings, 400 paintings, and hundreds of sculptures - essentially Harry Jackson's entire output. His oldest son, Matt, oversees the collection.
MATT JACKSON: We have a complete array of his life's work. So these are childhood drawings that his mother kept.
SCHWEIZER: Plus, more than a hundred journals dating from 1945 to the artist's death in 2011, his annotated library, letters and other archival materials.
JACKSON: These are Marine Corps, some examples of the Marine Corps drawings that we have.
HENRY ADAMS: It's an amazing record of a life.
SCHWEIZER: Henry Adams is a professor at Case Western Reserve University and the author of a forthcoming biography of Jackson.
ADAMS: Which is really quite unusual, if not unique, to have all that stuff together in one place.
SCHWEIZER: But now it's all in jeopardy.
JACKSON: You know, we'll see where it goes. There's just a bit of a funding gap.
SCHWEIZER: Matt Jackson needs to raise about $5 million to pay his current bills and lay the foundation for a working institution.
SUSAN MOLDENHAUER: I think situations like this are very complicated.
SCHWEIZER: Susan Moldenhauer heads the University of Wyoming Art Museum.
MOLDENHAUER: There's the safety of the work, there's the protection of the work. You know, how do you sustain a collection? How do you have it support itself as a collection? And I think those are all questions that Matt is really struggling with right now.
SCHWEIZER: Moldenhauer was part of a group of Wyoming cultural and arts organizations that met at the Harry Jackson Studios this summer. The group drafted a statement affirming the value of the estate as a whole. Painter John Giarrizzo was one of its signers.
GIARRIZZO: The fact that it is still together and that there's a chance of it now dispersing seems like a travesty.
SCHWEIZER: But without a major donor so far, Matt Jackson says he's forced to divide the collection.
JACKSON: It's definitely a money question. And time is running out.
SCHWEIZER: A hundred and forty pieces are already listed for sale on the estate website. Some traveling shows are also planned. But if pieces start to sell, portions of the collection won't be making a return trip to Cody. For NPR News, I'm Micah Schweizer.