Author’s new book combines history and art
Darrell Munsell will talk about his book and copies will be available at 7 p.m. Thursday as the Glenwood Springs Branch Library presents its first Winter Lecture Series with the Frontier Historical Society. “Colorado Artist Jack Roberts: Painting the West” is also available locally at Book Train, Susan’s Flowers and directly from firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-704-9539.
Before he achieved national acclaim, Jack Roberts was well known in the Roaring Fork Valley, where his work hung in the bars and restaurants he frequented.
When he moved to Redstone in 1997, historian Darrell Munsell remembers seeing Roberts’ “Saturday Night” hanging in the Buffalo Valley Inn.
“I like it so much I bought a postcard of it, which I still have,” said Munsell, who on Thursday will discuss his new book on Roberts at the Glenwood Springs library.
Munsell never met Roberts before the painter died in 2000, but later connected with his son, Gary Miller.
At the time, Munsell was just wrapping up a book on Redstone founder John Osgood, and was already thinking about another project.
“I asked Gary about Jack and if he had left any papers,” he said. “I got to looking at some of the correspondence, and some of the articles, and some of the sketches, and thought ‘this is an interesting character.’”
That was how Munsell’s new book, “Colorado Artist Jack Roberts: Painting the West” came to be.
“I always select the topics I’m interested in, and then find a publisher. I’ve been fairly fortunate in that,” Munsell said. “I have that in common with Jack. He said he would paint only what he was interested in, then find customers who were interested.”
Originally from Oklahoma, Roberts found his subject of choice in the rural mountain life.
“He always wanted to be an artist, but he was also an alcoholic,” Munsell observed. “When he came to Colorado, he really had to find work that would give him some inspiration.”
Working as a trail guide at Hanging Lake, Roberts gave life to the working class West, particularly cowboys. He later moved up to Redstone, and began to attract more recognition in the mid-1960s through several prominent commissions, including a nationally published calendar.
“That really launched his professional career,” Munsell said.
Over time, his work took on a historical focus, depicting Native Americans and fur trappers. He even did a series on frontier newspapering — perhaps the only one of its kind.
“He wanted really to be noted as a historical illustrator,” Munsell said. “He liked commissions that would combine his artistic skills with historical knowledge to tell a story. He was really conscious of trying to select topics that had never been done before.”
As a historian himself, Munsell found some unexpected challenges and rewards in the not-so-distant past.
“Most of my early works were academic studies on people long, long dead,” Munsell said. “A lot of people mentioned in this book knew Jack and are still alive. I had never interviewed people in my writing before. This was a new experience for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“This is the closest I’ll ever come to writing a novel,” he added. “I tried to write it in an informal, conversational tone, letting Jack and others tell his story.”
The seeds of Munsell’s potential next project are visible in the book, too. Roberts lent is voice to several the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association during the controversies over the Marble ski area and the proposed Placita Dam. Munsell hopes to explore the still-active organization’s history, and the potential impact of the projects, which are well remembered in the Crystal Valley.
“It will be really a local project, but it will have some state and national implications,” Munsell said.
Roberts’ work, meanwhile, remains on display in museums around the West, at the Redstone Castle, and temporarily at the Glenwood Springs Library.
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