West moved to Santa Fe in 1942 to take a job as a guard at a World War II Japanese internment camp.
“He knew the prisoners were not dangerous men; they were leaders of their communities,” says Hal’s son Jerry. “The guards knew they weren’t trying to escape.” West passed the war years producing sketches of life at the peaceful camp, where prisoners passed their time telling stories, exercising and gardening.
When the war ended, West stayed in Santa Fe, started a family and painted scenes of Southwestern life. He often depicted small figures lost in sprawling landscapes, evoking the free but solitary spirit of the West.
In old age, West was a notorious character on Canyon Road. In his memoir Santa Fe Bohemia, artist Eli Levin describes him as “an unpretentiously dressed old Western dandy” who shook his cane at Canyon Road visitors and sipped hot toddys at the now closed Canyon Road saloon Claude’s.
“He often had a stack of prints the size of postcards in his jacket pocket,” writes Levin. “These were linoleum cuts depicting cowboy life. Hal sold them for a dollar each or gave them to people who bought him a drink.”
West’s son Jerry still lives in Santa Fe and works as an artist.
Pictured: Hal West and artist Tommy Macaione sketch each other outside West's Canyon Road gallery.