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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Photographer, book creator Jim Yarnell dies

BY Amy Renee Leiker
The Wichita Eagle

If a material was fibrous, Jim Yarnell saw paper.

"You had to guard your cotton and silk really careful," his daughter, Barbara Yarnell Chamberlin, said with a laugh.

One time, Mr. Yarnell fished Chamberlin's new jeans from the hamper. He had a project in mind.

"They made a lovely, light blue paper" in one of her father's miniature books, Chamberlin said, which were smaller than 4 inches in size.

R. James "Jim" Yarnell — well-known photographer, pilot, artist and bookmaker — died Tuesday in Wichita. He was 94.

To Eric Engstrom, a longtime friend, Mr. Yarnell was much like the miniature books he crafted —"one of the great treasures of the city."

Mr. Yarnell was born Jan. 18, 1917, in Little River. At 10, he moved to Wichita with his parents, Roy and Ruby Yarnell.

His lifelong love of hand-crafting art started young. As a Boy Scout, he built a kayak by hand.

"It was really something," said his son, Richard Yarnell.

After graduating from North High School — where he met his future wife, Ann Holmes — Mr. Yarnell opened a photography studio.

Mr. Yarnell joined the Army in February 1942, working through the ranks to become a staff sergeant. He served as a World War II combat photographer and earned a Bronze Star for his service in Burma and India.

Mr. Yarnell returned to Wichita in November 1945. In 1952, Beechcraft hired him as supervisor of photography.

While working at Beechcraft, he flew to numerous American landmarks, capturing the landscape on film for a 1961 book called "This Is My Land."

He was excellent with a camera, said Al Higdon, a co-worker of Mr. Yarnell's at Beechcraft in the 1960s. He loved people, too, Higdon added.

"His ability to relate to all levels and types of people just made him a very valuable guy for the company," Higdon said.

"He... easily fit the moniker of the most unforgettable man I've ever met."

Mr. Yarnell retired from Beechcraft in 1982. He spent the last 30 years of his life making books, painting and presenting slide shows of whimsical mailboxes he photographed over the years.

His work has been featured in several local art shows, including a 2010 Wichita Art Museum exhibit of his photographs from "This Is My Land."

"He was a Wichitan that helped the city's light shine brightly nationally," Higdon said.

"He was a true renaissance man."

Mr. Yarnell was preceded in death in August 2005 by his wife of 64 years, Ann. He is survived by his two children.

Mr. Yarnell's family is planning a celebration of life event in mid-August in his honor.

Memorials may be made in Mr. Yarnell's name to the Kansas Humane Society, the Wichita Historical Museum or the Wichita Public Library.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com.

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