Inspired by Western and Indian life, Charles Craig did paintings characterized by detailed accuracy, gained from several years spent living with various tribes and carefully recording the details of their culture. A fifty-year resident of Colorado Springs, he was the state’s first academically trained resident artist, and his paintings reflected many aspects of his region including the Ute Indians. Friends called him “Pink Face Charlie” because his disposition and his paintings were invariably cheerful and sunny.
Charles Craig was born in 1846 on a farm in Morgan County, Ohio. He began painting as a boy, creating his palette from natural materials and canvases made from oil and flour treated cotton cloths. At the age of 19, he traveled West by going up the Missouri River as far as Fort Benton, Montana. For four years, 1865-1869, he explored, sketched and lived with Indian tribes. It was during this time that he realized he needed to further his technical skills in order to record his experiences accurately. He returned to Ohio and set up a studio in Zanesville, where he painted portraits at $75.00 each to earn enough money to finance his art education.
Then he studied for a year in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where Peter Moran, brother of Thomas Moran and a painter of Indians, was influential as one of his teachers. Returning to Zanesville, Charles Craig did a painting titled Custer’s Last Charge, which had detailed descriptions of battlefield weapons, etc. In 1881, at the urging of his friend, Jack Howland, Craig headed West permanently, stopping first in Taos, New Mexico where he became “the first western artist to paint in Taos”. (Samuels 112)
He settled in Colorado Springs for the next fifty years, the earliest resident artist in that resort community and one of the longest to have an active career there. Craig set up a studio in the building of Howbert’s Opera House. He supplemented his income by giving art lessons and made regular visits to the Ute reservation in Southwestern Colorado. One of those trips, in 1893, was with his friend, painter Frank Sauerwein. Craig’s Indian paintings were noted for their detailed accuracy, although many of his later works showed Barbizon influence of Tonalism. He exhibited regularly in the Antlers Hotel of Colorado Springs, but a fire there in 1895 destroyed many of his works.
Craig died in Colorado Springs in 1931.
Michael David Zellman, “300 Years of American Art”
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West