Olea Forrest Kirkland, artist, was born near Mist, Arkansas, on November 24, 1892. He attended Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, for a year. After attending commercial art school in Battle Creek, Michigan, he was drafted into the military service during World War I. He was discharged in 1919, after serving in France, and settled in Dallas, where he was employed by an engraving firm. In 1925 he established an advertising-art studio that specialized in drawings of industrial machinery for catalogue illustrations.
Kirkland had begun to paint with watercolors while in the army and continued to paint landscapes and scenes of Dallas slums whenever time permitted. In 1932 he became interested in paleontology and was soon an avid fossil collector. On collecting trips he often found Indian artifacts as well as fossils, and archeology became his paramount interest. In 1933 he was introduced to Indian rock art when he visited the Paint Rock site on the Concho River. He returned the following summer to make exact scale copies in color of these pictographs. Over the next eight years he copied rock art at more than eighty sites. The 160 watercolor copies of rock art that Kirkland painted were reproduced in 1967 in The Rock Art of Texas Indians (with text by W. W. Newcomb, Jr.). The originals are in the collection of the Texas Memorial Museum at the University of Texas at Austin, where most of Kirkland's watercolor landscape paintings are also housed. Kirkland also wrote papers on rock art, including a number of articles for the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society.
Kirkland was a founder and president of the Dallas Archeological Society a director of the West Texas Historical and Scientific Society, a regional vice president of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society (later the Texas Archeological Society), and a fellow of the Texas Academy of Science. He died on April 2, 1942, after a heart attack. He was survived by his wife, Lula (Mardis), and a son and daughter by a previous marriage.