J.R. Hamil, a Kansas City area artist lauded for his Midwestern landscapes, dies at 84

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J.R. “Jim” Hamil, a beloved Kansas City area watercolor artists known for capturing regional landscapes, died Friday.

Hamil, whose love for the Midwest was reflected in his work, was 84. He died at Brookdale Hospice in Overland Park after suffering from dementia that followed a stroke roughly a decade ago, according to his family.

Alex Hamil, one of the artist’s sons, told The Star that his father’s work — both originals and the many prints displayed in homes and businesses across the metro — are a reminder of “what it means to be dedicated to one’s passion.“

“My father was fortunate to have blossomed into one of those rare success stories,” said Alex Hamil, who is also an artist. “It required a life-long commitment to his craft in studio art after leaving a 15 year tenure at Hallmark back in the early 70’s.”

Alex Hamil pointed to a quote by fellow artist and curator Jamie Lavin at Buttonwood Art Space: “(Jim) was Kansas City Royalty, but enjoyed belonging to us all. He gave artists true hope. His life was an inspiration; his work, a benediction.”

And that, said Alex Hamil, is his father’s legacy.

The artist’s roots were planted in middle America. Hamil was born in Hastings, Nebraska. As a child, he moved with his family to New York City; Lincoln, Nebraska; and St. Louis before settling down in the Kansas City area as a teenager.

After graduating from Shawnee Mission High School (now Shawnee Mission North), Hamil’s next stop was the University of Kansas where he studied art education and design.

With a degree in hand, Hamil moved back to the Kansas City area where he got a job as a stylist in the art department at Hallmark Cards. In the 15 years that followed, he went on to create hundreds of paintings that were used as illustrations on cards, books, calendars and wrapping paper.

The 1984 watercolor “Loose Park Skaters” was one of J.R. “Jim” Hamil’s favorite works, according to his son Alex Hamil.
The 1984 watercolor “Loose Park Skaters” was one of J.R. “Jim” Hamil’s favorite works, according to his son Alex Hamil.

A highlight of Hamil’s time at Hallmark came in 1961, when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower snuck a peak at Hamil painting with watercolors during a visit to Hallmark Cards, according to an account published in KC Studio Magazine in 2019.

The next day, Hamil, who was just three years out of school at the time, was invited to visit with the former president, who requested a demonstration in watercolors. Hamil used a view of Kansas City’s downtown skyline as the setting, according to KC Studio. Together, they painted.

In 1972 Hamil left Hallmark to open his own art studio. He began publishing books of paintings soon after, highlighting local and regional scenes through his eyes and paintbrush.

Hamil also devoted his time after Hallmark to teaching adult workshops and giving presentations on art to elementary and middle schoolers, eager to teach others about art.

Awards and recognition rained down on the artist throughout his decades-long career, including the American Royal Western Artist of the Year award and the Kansas Governor’s Arts Award for visual artist of the year.

“I’m very lucky that my work is also my hobby — and that it allows me to share the many beautiful things of this world with others,” Hamil once said, in a quote provided by his family. ”Many people have told me that they gain new appreciation of their surroundings through my art.”