By Lynn Burton
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Before his death in 2000 at the age of 79, Redstone artist Jack Roberts lived to see his western-themed paintings hang in museums, galleries and in private collections across the country – including the colection of Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz.
At the time of his death, however, Roberts had not seriously painted for years and his legacy seemed in doubt. For one thing, nobody had ever devoted an entire book to the artist, whose grandfather was a Methodist minister and circuit rider for the Indian Mission Conference in Oklahoma Territory (pre-1907). Roberts at one point was one of Colorado’s best-known artists, after stints as a cowboy and a railroad hand.
But then, along came Carbondale author Darrell Munsell.
Munsell did not start working on his book about Roberts until three years after Roberts’ death. Through dozens of interviews and extensive research, however, Munsell recently published “Jack Roberts: Painting the West” (Arcadia Publishing/The History Press). At 170 pages, the book contains 14 chapters that chronicle Roberts’ life, plus almost 70 color paintings and more than a dozen other images.
Said a press release from the publisher, “The book rescues him (Roberts) from obscurity and places him among the best of the artists of the American West.”
The Carbondale Branch Library will host a book signing for Munsell at 3 p.m. on Nov. 14.
Munsell is professor emeritus, West Texas A&M, and has written three other books on historical subjects, including “From Redstone to Ludlow,” which covers Redstone founder/industrialist John Cleveland Osgood from 1892 to 1917. When asked to compare the two books, Munsell told The Sopris Sun, “It’s (the Roberts’ book) is not a scholarly work. I tried to make it as informal as possible … I probably broke all the rules. It’s probably the closest to a novel I’ll ever write.”
Munsell had been a fan of Roberts’ work before he even knew the artist lived in these parts. One of Roberts’ most famous paintings is titled “Saturday Night” and it depicts a cowboy taking a bath in a washtub. The original painting hung in the old Buffalo Valley restaurant just south of Glenwood Springs for years, and Leanin’ Tree publishing used it for one of its most popular cards. Munsell bought one of those cards at Buffalo Valley during one of his trips to Glenwood Springs several years ago before he retired.
Flash back to about four years ago. Munsell was talking to Rifle-resident Gary Miller at a Redstone Art Association get together. Munsell learned that Miller was Roberts’ son. Miller offered to show Munsell his father studio, which is still in tact. When Munsell saw a series of political cartoons Roberts drew, which lambasted the proposed Marble ski area and Placita Dam, that did it. “I had no idea he lived in Redstone … I’d always liked his art.” Munsell was already researching the Crystal River Environmental Protection Association, which was founded to oppose the Marble ski area and then the Placita dam. Roberts’ cartoons, which appeared in the Carbondale Valley Journal in the early 1970s, were a key force for the opposition.
“I didn’t know Jack’s role (in CVEPA),” Munsell said.
Munsell asked Miller whether Roberts left behind any materials, such as letters. He said ‘Boxes full’ … It was really entertaining to go through them.”
Jack Roberts was born in Oklahoma City in 1920 and attended the University of Oklahoma for period of time before being accepted into the Grand Central School of Art in New York City, where he studied under noted-artist and teacher Harvey Dunn.
Roberts arrived in Colorado in 1947. Through the years in Glenwood Springs and in Redstone, he become known as somewhat of a character. Today, some might compare him to the late gonzo-journalist Hunter S. Thompson, or Aspen best-known character – Freddy Fischer, who died in the late 1960s. All were known for their quick wit and various antics. For example, when Roberts lived in Redstone in the 1990s, he owned an orange and yellow speckled 1947 Willys Jeep. Silt artist Lanny Grant suggested he name it Speckles. Munsell writes in his book, “’No,’ Jack said laughing. ‘It’s the Whore’s Dream.’ That’s the name of it. It’s my gal catcher.’”
Munsell goes on to recount that when the Whore’s Dream finally died in 1996, Roberts asked friend Steve Benson to get his backhoe and bury it next to the mail boxes on Highway 133. Benson refused to conduct the burial, and in fact later got the ancient Jeep running “ … ‘like a sewing machine’ as Jack liked to say.’” Eventually, Roberts gave Benson the car, “and it still runs like a sewing machine.”
Back to the art front, Roberts’ big break came in 1965 when Equitable Life Assurance commissioned him to do 12 paintings for its next calendar. For the rest of his career, Roberts liked to devote 12 paintings and some times more to a single Western event or topic, such as President Teddy Roosevelt’s visit to Glenwood Springs and the surrounding area.
“He wanted to be a first class historical illustrator,” Munsell said. “So he didn’t want to paint single scenes. … Jack considered himself a historian and an artist.”
Munsell’s book is available in Carbondale at Susan’s Flowers on Main Street, the Book Train on Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs, at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 704-9539, and at the upcoming book signing.
“I might do a power-point, too,” Munsell said.
What: Darrell Munsell book signing
When: Nov. 14 at 3 p.m.
Where: Carbondale Branch Library
Published in The Sopris Sun on November 5, 2015.