Hart Haller “Hal” Empie
Hal Empie was born in a dirt-floored, one-room adobe near Safford, Arizona Territory to pioneer settlers, Allie and Hart Empie. As a young man, he worked at the Best Drug Store while attending grammar school. Upon graduation in 1927, he entered the University of Arizona in pre-med and then the Capitol College of Pharmacy, Denver. After passing exams in Colorado and Arizona, Hal was issued a special license to practice pharmacy before the age of twenty-one, making him the youngest licensed pharmacist in Arizona history.
In 1929, Hal married Louise Reinhardt and in 1934 they purchased the drugstore in nearby Duncan. Determined to refine his artistic talents, he set up his easel in his pharmacy and painted between filling prescriptions. Here he also began and blended his third career as a cartoonist. A self-taught artist, Hal Empie refused to copy photographs. His only art lessons were six weeks studying the old masters’ techniques with renowned European master, Frederic Taubes.
Artistic success began very early in Hal’s career, and his work became increasingly respected. National press brought invitationals, including The Museum of Modern Art, the Polish Embassy, and the Los Angeles County Museum. Hal was in his twenties when first recognized by the American Federation of Arts, Washington, D.C.
As a cartoonist, Hal created the famous Empie Kartoon Kards, one of the earliest western cartoon copyrights. He was a major contributor to early issues of Arizona Highways. Postcards were marketed in thirty-eight states. Original printings are housed in the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian.
After a major Gila River flood in Duncan, the Empies moved to Tubac and built the Hal Empie Studio and Gallery in 1986. Hal and Louise were married seventy-two years, raising three children. Hal painted his entire life. He was an “art for art’s sake artist”. His noted career spanned over three quarters of a century. At his passing, he was the oldest continuous resident artist in Arizona.
Image: Hart Haller (Hal) Empie, “Last Wagon” From the collection of Ann and Peter Groves
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