James Kenneth (J.K.) Ralston (1896-1987) was a noted western artist who lived in Billings for many years. In 1946, Ralston and his son built a log cabin to serve as the artist’s studio. In 2005, the cabin was moved to the Western Heritage Center and the cabin’s interior was restored to reflect his working environment. Ralston’s oil paintings and sketchbooks include scenes depicting his early years growing up on ranches and riding the range in Montana. He relied on family heirlooms and collected artifacts to help him create accurate depictions of famous western events. The Western Heritage Center merged with the J.K. Ralston Studio and now houses a significant repository of the famed artist’s letters, memorabilia and artwork.
In Voice of the Curlew (J.K. Ralston Studio, Inc.:1986) Ralston is quoted as saying:
In looking back over the years, I must say the art game has been good to me. It has been rewarding far beyond anything I ever dreamed of as a small boy living on ranch along the Missouri River. Art was always the way I found to express myself and of the things that have meant so much to me and to my people.
I’m glad that the dice was so rolled out that to be a cowboy I was born. I saw the curtain rung down on the last of the old time range business in Montana. Like a lot of others, I hated to see it go. Now it is history and I am very, very glad that I lived in time and to see and be part of it.
I have been drawing pictures as far back as I can remember and I have made it my life’s work to try and make the old west live on canvas.