|For over three quarters of a century, legendary Arizona artist Hart Haller "Hal" Empie spread aesthetic magic across virtually any surface amenable to paint or pen. His productive hand was backed by a personal philosophy that kept his art fresh, forthright and far-reaching. By choosing to operate solely from the well-spring of experience, he created two-dimensional costumes for the creative thoughts, visions and memories that flooded his brain as a matter of instinct. The timeless nature of his work is as evident as his talent and the adventuresome life that gave it soul.
Born March 26, 1909, a child of the territory who grew up with the state, Empie held the dual distinction of being both the oldest continuous resident artist in Arizona's history and its youngest licensed pharmacist. His paintings, cartoons, drawings and sketches have appeared in countless publications, numerous nationally juried and invitational exhibitions, as well as in the permanent collections of prestigious collectors, museums and cultural institutions throughout the country. He was also the creator behind the Empie Kartoon Kards and Porqupine Aiggs, highly popular artistic novelties that have now become international collector's items.
Widely celebrated as the Dean of Arizona Artists for the pivotal role he played in fostering the tradition of Arizona art by Arizona artists, Empie's encyclopedic talents earned him coveted citations in Who's Who in the West, Who's Who in American Art, Who's Who in American Art in the Twentieth century, and Who's Who in the World, among others. Feature pieces on his life, art and philosophies have been commonplace in newspapers, magazines, and televised productions for well over half a century.
Empie was born to humble circumstances in a one room, dirt floored adobe house in the rural reaches outside Safford, Arizona, where he took instruction in a country schoolhouse inclusive of all grades. He relocated to the town proper in 1920, when his parents opened the New York Hotel. The times were such that a boy was expected to help earn his keep and he did so through a variety of colorful means ranging from animal trapping to door-to-door sales of homemade cheese and mail order salve.
His big break came at the age of 14, when Amos Cook hired him as his assistant in the Best Drug Store, an association he consecutively maintained until September of 1927, when he enrolled in the medical program at the University of Arizona. He left the college in 1929 to marry his childhood sweetheart, Louise Reinhardt, who preceded him in death on April 26, 2001 after 72 years of marriage. Empie studied at The Capitol College of Pharmacy before becoming Arizona's youngest licensed pharmacist in 1930. Because he was only 20 years old at the time, a special permit had to be issued by the state to enable him to practice pharmacy prior to his official certification. He began his professional career as resident pharmacist/manager of the Best Drug Company in Solomonville during the height of the Great Depression. When a fire destroyed the establishment a few years into his tenure, he supplemented his pharmacy income and opened a successful sign painting business. Hal and Louise moved to Duncan in 1934 when the owner of the Duncan Drug Store approached him to serve as interim manager. He bought the concern in 1937 and eventually moved it to a new location under a new logo, the Art Gallery Drug, which remained in operation until 1986 when the couple closed the pharmacy, relocated to Tubac and opened the Hal Empie Studio & Gallery. In business today, the gallery features his originals and fine art prints.
Throughout these years, Empie made art on the side and marketed it from the pharmacy, as well as through galleries and exhibitions. For many years, he conducted nationally advertised art classes in his studio and at various locations across the region. His own paintings selling professionally since his teenage years, Empie's work continues to be collected and sold today, over 80 years later. Aside from two brief three week seminars under the aegis of renowned European teacher/author Frederic Taubes during the 1950's, Empie was a self-taught "art for art's sake" artist, whose highly individualistic palette, colorful themes and diverse array of styles earned him an eclectic audience whose demands for his work far outreached his traditional, painting-per-week output.
In 1998 Empie was diagnosed with macular degeneration, which left him with only peripheral vision. Rather than abandon his passion to make art, he bought a magnifying lens and modified his routine to fit his new circumstances, producing an endless array of paintings and drawings extracted from the continuous loop movie perpetually playing in his head centered upon all things Arizona. He never copied photographs - everything he ever created was from memory or imagination.
The Arizona Historical Foundation, which was founded by the late Senator Barry M. Goldwater "to collect, preserve and disseminate the history of Arizona and the Southwest," honored the resident master's legacy with a critically acclaimed biography, entitled Arizona's Hal Empie, His Life, His Times and His Art. The foreword is written by Justice Sandra Day O'Conner. Legions of friends and fans, magazines, newspapers, television, radio, USA Today, The Associated Press Service worldwide paid tribute March 26, 2002, to the passing of Hal Empie - creative genius, and gentleman.
Evelyn S. Cooper, Ph.D.
Director Arizona Historical Foundation
The gallery remains in business and the Empie family continues to invite the public to his studio and gallery on Tubac Road in Tubac, Arizona.
We are always seeking to buy or consign original works by Hal Empie.