Nicholas S. Firfires 1917-1990
Nicholas S. Firfires was born on the Waunakee Ranch near Santa Barbara, California November 10th, 1917. Firfires was a descendant of the Californios and vaqueros learned all the skills of working cowboys by living on the big ranches north of Santa Barbara, in San Luis Obispo County. Skills such as, breaking horses, herding cattle, and working cow ponies before he graduated from Santa Maria High School. He worked with horses until he was 24. As a child, he showed great interest and skill in drawing animals, especially horses, and after graduating from high school, he attended the Art Center School and the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.
In 1941, he enlisted in the Army and was with the Combat Engineers in Europe, where he did many illustrations for military publications and also portraits of Army personnel. After the war, he opened a studio in Santa Barbara and illustrated for Western magazines while working on easel paintings. His illustrations included “Buck Jones,” a popular comic strip and “Gene Autry” in the 1950s. Portraying western scenes in oil painting and watercolor comes to Nick directly from his experiences of having lived the western life of a cowboy, riding the range and breaking horses.
He had his first one-man show in 1960, and was so successful that he turned exclusively to fine art painting, depicting both historic and contemporary Western scenes. A particular focus was the Spanish influence on California culture in a style that is Realist and Impressionist.
In 1969, he won the silver Medal Award for watercolor in the Fourth Annual Exhibit of the Cowboy Artists of America at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. He was a an early member of the Cowboy Artists of America.
Nick met his wife Maxine Jones Beery at the opening of a Rancheros Visitadores ride at the Santa Barbara Mission in 1947. Maxine was married to Noah Beery the first time she met Nick. Maxine was the daughter of Buck Jones, a early western movie star and famous stunt and trick rider, who Nick had known through his illustrations. Maxine and Noah separated in 1965 and she moved to Montecito where she purchased a home and continued her friendship with Nick. In 1969, 22 years after they first met Nickolas and Maxine were married. In 1971 Nick and Maxine purchased an acre of land at 1330 Pepper Lane and built a house and studio for Nick and lived out the rest of their lives there.
The two were quite the couple and participated in many local events including our Old Spanish Days Fiesta, both would dress in western parade outfits and rode silver parade saddles, just like Maxine’s mother and father Dell and Buck Jones. Maxine passed away on August 22nd, 1990 after a long bout with cancer and sadly Nick was devastated and was never able to come to terms with her passing and sadly passed away a month later on September 21, 1990
Nick, being a member of Rancheros Visitadores (RV) produced many pieces for RV, including cartoons and menus. In our collection, a generous gift from Bill Reynolds, we have this Nicholas Firfires artist proof of the 1982 Fiesta Rodeo poster held at Earl Warren Showgrounds. Nick produced countless pieces of desirable artwork over his lifetime, a collection owned by Dwight Murphy was donated to the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, his artwork can still be found today in many western art shows and actions.