Alexander Harmer – Artist of the Apaches

Alexander Harmer was born in New-ark, New Jersey, on August 21st, 1856 and is considered to be Southern California’s first great painter in the modern era. Harmer was a pioneer in the fantastical portrayal of the romantic West and the now popular celebration of the California vaqueros.

He began painting as a child and at age of 11 and sold his first piece of artwork for $2, then at the age 13 Alexander left home and wandered into Lincoln Nebraska. He spent three years in Nebraska before joining the army in Cincin-nati, Ohio, at 16yrs old. He had to lie about his age so he could enlist and fight in the Indian Wars of the 1870s. We have a set of Springfield “second Allen” rifles on display that were used during the Indian Wars. Stationed in California for two years, Alexander requested a discharge to study art at the Pennsylvania School of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

In 1881 Alexander wanted to return to the Western states to paint Indians. He re-enlisted in the Army and was assigned cavalry duty in Arizona. His expeditions against Geronimo and the Apaches earned him the title “Artist of the Apaches,” and his illustra-tions were in ”Harper’s Weekly.” After his military service was completed he settled in Mexico and traveled north to Califor-nia and settled briefly in San Francisco where he opened a small studio. It was here that he became enamored with the California Missions and their history and would ultimately begin a person-al journey following the Franciscan mission trail.

Hamer - Newsletter Summer 2022

As Alexander travelled up and down the California coast he was sketching the Missions. A sketch depicting the Mission San Luis Rey would later become a painting in oil and became one of his most well know works. In 1888, working in California, Alexander met a well established artist, Charles Lummis. They would become fast friends. They were both fascinated with the Hispanic culture of old California and both held concerns for the restoration of the California Missions. This mutual passion lead to the creation of the “Landmarks Club of California”, a club dedicated to the rebuilding of the Missions. Following the creation of the Landmark’s Club Lummis began publishing the “Land of Sunshine”, a magazine celebrating the area’s poetry and art. He asked Harmer to contribute his artwork, which he did and created many illus-trations and paintings for publication.

By this time Alexander had settled in Santa Barbara and Lummis had introduced him to the Del Valle family, one of the last old Spanish families in the area. He met and married Felicidad Abadie of the Del Valle family in 1893. They resided in De La Guerra Plaza, which included the Abadie family home and a gallery for his artwork. From 1908 through the 1920s, Harmer had established the first art colony on the West coast. Studios were added to the Spanish-Colonial adobe home of the Harmers, where many up and coming artists worked. Alexander Harmer died on January 10, 1925, supposedly while admiring the sunset from his backyard. This was just six months before the Santa Barbara earthquake, which left the Harmers