Will James

Will James is seen in this undated photo from the Western Heritage Center. 

Anna Paige's two-part feature on Will James and his legacy in the Yellowstone Art Museum's Snook Collection is an exceptional piece of in-depth and insightful, investigative journalism. I am deeply impressed by her thorough reporting and clear explanation of Will James's mysterious dual identity, spectacular achievements and tragic downfall.

The Snook family receives due credit for the friendship and support they offered him in his last years, and I am touched by the tribute she pays to humble Virginia Snook who, sacrificing selfish interests, preserved the valuable legacy of Will James's art, writings and effects and donated it all to a secure, professionally accredited Billings institution, the Yellowstone Art Museum. She knew and loved Will James and steadfastly believed in the lasting importance of his work. She wanted it to be preserved for the benefit of the larger public, in perpetuity.

I salute museum curator Susan Barnett and registrar Lisa Ranallo for their outstanding work with the collection, rematting and framing key pieces and creating a beautiful new installation in the Museum's permanent collection galleries.

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I hope that this renewed attention to the collection will prompt a much-needed examination and possible revision of the terms of Virginia Snook's gift. She did not understand it, but the restrictions she placed on the museum's ability to loan works or prepare traveling exhibitions compromise its visibility and limit the museum's ability to raise funds for the conservation, care and research of the collection. I hope museum and community leaders will address this dilemma.

Gordon McConnell


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