Untitled watercolor by Miles Maryott

Untitled watercolor by Miles Maryott, watercolor, 14 inches by 20 inches.

KEARNEY — The Museum of Nebraska Art collects artwork by Nebraska artists. While the artwork often tells a vivid story, the details behind the life of the artist often add more to the story.

Miles Maryott spent most of his youth in Cozad. Born in 1871, after he finished his schooling, he found a passion for nature and the outdoors along the Platte River. During that time he started sketching the scenes he saw on his daily outings.

An interest in baseball led Maryott to Minnesota where he signed to play semiprofessional baseball. He stayed with that passion for the next seven years until a broken ankle ended his career.

An expert marksman, Maryott worked as a traveling ambassador for the Peters’ Cartridge Company. He participated in shooting exhibitions around the country until his social life caught up with him. He spent more time at parties than he did representing the company.

He returned to central Nebraska where he bought 480 acres in the Sandhills near Oshkosh and supported his mother and his family guiding hunters, doing taxidermy and painting the wildlife that he encountered. Maryott made a name for himself. “The History of Western Nebraska and its People,” published in 1921 listed the artist as one of the region’s prominent persons.

Even during this time, his alcohol abuse affected his life.

His hunting parties often lasted several days, primed with plenty of liquor. His pleasant nature often would unravel under the effect of his drinking, revealing a Jekyll and Hyde personality.

By 1926, Maryott’s behavior pushed the limits of the residents of Oshkosh. George Albee, the town marshal, confronted Maryott after the artist took the car of the local judge for a drunken joy ride. Told to go home and sleep it off, Maryott went to the hardware store and bought a Colt .45-caliber automatic pistol and a box of cartridges.

The confrontation escalated and Albee told Maryott he was going to jail.

Gunshots erupted, resulting in a wounded Maryott laying on the ground. The marshal told him to throw his pistol down but the artist said he couldn’t do it because of his wounds. After Albee approached to render aid, Maryott shot the lawman in the chest, killing him instantly.

Maryott was given a life sentence. Because of his good behavior and the guard’s affection for him, they let him set up a small painting studio in an empty part of the prison commissary. Maryott, unable to see the scenes that inspired him, painted many landscapes and nature scenes from memory.

Maryott died in 1939 while still in prison.

To learn more about the artist and to see more of his paintings, visit mona.unk.edu.