Cowboy artist Jack Roberts dies
Redstone painter Jack Roberts died Wednesday at Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale. He was 79.
For 50 years, Roberts worked as a Western history illustrator, turning out as many as 40 paintings a year.
Roberts’ art captured the frontier spirit, depicting Native Americans, miners, fur trappers, cowboys, farmers, railroaders, saloon keepers, Teddy Roosevelt, newspapermen, whores, housewives, children, horses, cattle and farm animals, all in his distinctive style.
Some of his larger public collections are on display at the Buffalo Valley Inn in Glenwood Springs, the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Athletic Club, U.S. Bank, the Redstone Castle, the Museum of Western Colorado in Grand Junction, the Leanin’ Tree Museum in Boulder, Anderson’s Clothing and Miller’s Dry Goods.
Roberts was born on April 1, 1920, to Jasper and Myrtle Roberts in Oklahoma City.
He studied at the University of Oklahoma, the Chicago Art Institute, the American Academy of Art in Chicago and the Art Students League In New York City. He then studied for two years under Harvey Dunn at the Grand Central School of Art in New York.
“Harvey Dunn inspired me to search for really worthwhile subjects. So, I came to Colorado to become a cowboy. After riding for five years with various cattle associations, I set out to paint pictures and make a living at it,” he said in 1965 for an Equitable Life Insurance Co. calendar featuring 12 of his paintings.
Roberts moved to the Hanging Lake Resort in Glenwood Canyon in 1951, where he worked as a wrangler and painter and pursued his pastime of drinking.
While leading families up the steep trail to Hanging Lake, Roberts pointed out a pair of blue jeans hung out on a line on the canyon rim. “An old man lives up there,” he’d tell them, “and if you listen closely on Saturday night, you’ll hear his beer cans hitting the cliff.
“They’d get out there and listen, and ask me his name. They never asked how he got up there,” Roberts said.
In fact, Roberts had wired the jeans onto a cable because he was curious about just how much baloney tourists would swallow.
“I guess they leave their brains at home,” he said in a 1993 interview. “Now, I’m kind of sorry I done that.”
The fun at Hanging Lake faded in the 1960s, and in 1969 Roberts moved to the cabin he built a mile south of Redstone. The house nudges a red sandstone cliff, and immense north-facing windows in his studio-living room let in the kind of indirect light that artists love.
Long since reformed and sober, he still turned to “drunkards, whores and that whole seamy way of life” for subject matter.
“There’s an excellent market for that kind of piece. It helped me to have the experience of being a chronic alcoholic,” he said last year. “You know, artists are flawed people. Many times, they just don’t fit in the mainstream. They’re screwballs.”
Screwball or not, Roberts was a sought-after artist to the end.
In 1997, he fulfilled a commission for a series of three paintings depicting the Great Train Robbery in Parachute for Dave and Jeanette Troug.
In the past year, he completed a series of pencil drawings to illustrate a forthcoming book by Angie Parkison about the early years in Glenwood Springs, and he was at work on another commissioned painting at the time of his death.
Roberts is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Gary and Monica Miller of Rifle, grandson Wade Miller of Portland, Ore., and shirt-tail cousin Bartlett of Aspen.
An open house to remember Roberts will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday, April 2, at his home and studio in Redstone.
Memorial donations may be sent to the Redstone Art Foundation, 102 Firehouse Road, Redstone, CO 81623.
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