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A Swede who painted the American West

Carl Oscar Borg and the Magic Region, by Helen Laird. Layton, Utah: Peregrine Smith Books. 223 pp. $32.95. Carl Oscar Borg is an anomaly. Rather than the American artist who traveled to Europe to enrich himself in an older culture, Borg was a Swede who emigrated to the United States and became engrossed in the culture of the American Indian and the unspoiled landscapes of the American West.

Born to a poor Swedish family, as a young boy Borg was soon on his own to provide his own livelihood. He was always drawn to art, and whenever possible he worked in art-related jobs. Existing on the edge of poverty, he traveled to England, taking any work he could find. He taught himself English, as well as drawing, and found work coloring photographs and painting commercial seascapes and landscapes.

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His next ports of call were Norfolk, Va., New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto. As in the past, he always used his growing artistic skills to earn his livelihood when possible. Ultimately, Borg found a home, aesthetic encouragement, and companionship in the burgeoning city of Los Angeles at the turn of the century.

It was here that Borg began to paint and exhibit seriously. He came to the attention of the ``Garvanza'' cultural circle and was taken under the wing of Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Mrs. Hearst financed a painting trip to Europe for Borg which lasted several years. He returned to the West Coast as World War I broke out, with enhanced skills and reputation. Mrs. Hearst also backed Borg's annual adventurous trips into the reservations of the Hopi and Navajo tribes, and it was there that Borg found his metier. He was no dilettante. He lived several months a year with Indians and was accepted by them. His best paintings and prints are of the Indians, their ceremonies, and their habitat.

But it was Hollywood that made Borg financially secure. As an art director for early silent classic films, he was well paid, and was able to continue painting his beloved Indians and the landscapes they inhabited.

In his later years, Borg, like many realists, resented the incursion of ``modern art.'' And he, being a romantic, was cast aside by the art community for the more intellectual and less emotional new ``isms'' of abstract art.

It is only today, 40 years after Borg's death, that our cultural interests are once again broadening enough to look back on Borg and the painters of the American scene with renewed interest. Although he returned to Sweden in his last years, Borg's artistic roots were in the Southwest.

Helen Laird is obviously engrossed in her subject, but some editing would have been welcome. One area this reader wishes had been developed was a more thorough study of the ``Garvanza'' intellectual group which had such an important influence on the young Borg.

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