Dave Stirling—Painter of the Rockies
Probably he's getting close to the shady
side of fifty now--not that you'd guess it--for despite the unruly shock, of
white hair, the eyes that meet yours are young and wicked and gay. If you've
ever been lucky enough to visit that fabulous country around
“painter-poet” , title will kill Dave if he ever reads
it. He'll bellow: “Gawd A'mighty,
I trusted that gal--figgered she was 0. K.” Well, I 've heard that expression and
have used it myself to describe an artist now and then, but Dave is it! For
thirty-five years he has painted the majestic mountains and glaciers,
trees and lakes of
critics of Modern Art might damn (and with reason) some of Dave's painting's. Sometimes they are too pretty and there are so
many of them. A bewildering array that Dave himself calls
mass production, and he wouldn't give “two hoots” for any adverse opinion.
He has to paint them his way and thirty-five years hasn't taken the edge
off his tremendous soul-satisfying and religious love for that country--his
desire to penetrate its every mood and capture it on canvas. Best of all, Dave's
pictures sell. His particular kind of creation is beauty for home
decoration. He says: “Any one of my pictures is your slice of
I've watched him when a potential customer saunters into his studio. The potential customer enters a fine, clean, spacious room--there are aspen boughs in great vases and a few comfortable chairs--the walls are hung with Dave's painting" and at the far end of the room a “selling platform”, which across the top bears the legend “Big Sale Now Going On.” “Just a come-on,” says Dave wickedly. Dave will ask the potential customer what color schemes he likes. If his home is formal, furnished in traditional style, Dave will suggest paintings that are done in the rich subdued tones of the Old Masters. If his home is modern, Dave will drag out the clear light tones. Literally he drag's them out, one after another to the accompaniment of the most rib-tickling sales talk. When the pictures pile up too heavily and collapse on the floor, Dave shoves them aside with his good leg and starts with a new batch of paintings. (Dave was in an automobile accident a few years back and it left him with a slight limp, almost a swagger, that, together with the red and black checked blazer and the wicked gleam in his eye, give him quite a reckless air.) If you really like a picture and you really can't afford it, chances are he will see that you get to own it. If you go elegant, "Well," as Dave would say, “Gawd A'mighty”, I can be snooty, too.
David Stirling was born in 1889 in Corydon,
Wayne County, Iowa. His father ran the small country newspaper of the town and
Dave was literally brought up on it. He worked on the paper during his early
years and later was editor. Dave always
liked to draw. In Primary School one time the teacher made a sketch on the
blackboard of a butterfly and a bunch of lilacs. She asked her pupils for
comments and, “
one could understand him because of his artistic leanings. He says that it was
terrible to 1ike art ad be an outcast of the county. All that most people could
understand of art was Sears Roebuck calendars, and they seemed ever to poke fun
at him. According to him, he was one of
the most hated boys in southern
After finishing Primary School and High
School he used the little money he had saved to get started in an art School in
had always wanted to go to
he suddenly set out for
of the war he moved his work down into the village from the cabin in the
mountains so that it would be accessible to visitors who were unable to drive
to see him. He rents whatever store is vacant in
His permanent cabin-studio “Up the road,”
has been visited by people from all over the world, including many celebrities.
Among those who have worn an eight-inch deep path to his door are the Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court of the
Stirling works, all the time. He says that he missed so much in the field of
art creation when he was in
picture is worth nothing to him until someone has it and loves it. Having been
a newspaper man at one time, he knows the value of advertising, and it is his
opinion that those pictures already sold will sell many more for him. He states
that his pictures are hung all over the world (some 5000 of them), advertising
the beauty of
Mr. Stirling does not try to be intellectual or astounding. He paints BEAUTY. To him, an Academician, modern art
Is “cock-eyed,” and a kind of a “beaver dam” in the ageless stream of art and beauty. He adds, “Any damn' fool can dlo ‘moderns’. He work on fifty to one hundred pictures at one time. It takes him about one half hour to sketch in a picture in the field, after which he drafts in color, completing it later in his studio. He does not like vivid colors and grays them all down. Each picture is made for home decoration, with color harmonies to fit some particular room. For that reason he frequently waits until pictures are ordered and then incorporates the desired colors.
His studio has always been an experimental laboratory for him. He tries new methods on each picture and changes daily the rules that he has laid down for himself. He comments that one must be absolutely inconsistent and “screwy” to be an artist. But it is his consistent purpose to put in his pictures the place, the time of day, the time of year, altitude, temperature, drift of air currents, and growth of vegetation. Painting landscapes, which he does exclusively, is like painting portraits, he says, in that there is always a central figure. More often than not his "central figure" is a mountain. Someone once pleaded with him to paint a picture of a horse. After much urging he reluctantly agreed, “I’ll paint the horse, but shore enough it will look just like a mountain.” While working on his many pictures almost simultaneously, he paints the object in each for which he happens to be in the mood: Some days mountains, other days, trees, etc.
Dave Stirling is a religious man; but then, he says he never knew a person who lived in the mountains who was not religious. He feels great empathy with the Pueblo Indians in their response to God and Nature, and one can easily imagine him greeting the sun in their manner each morning: “Mornin' Sun, here I am.” “That's fine,” says the sun. And at sunset I am sure he often repeats, “Goodbye, Sun, see you tomorrow.” He states it very simply and sincerely when he says, “He who runs all Nature is the ‘Head Man’ and you can't help but be conscious of His presence every minute in the mountains.”
He believes that art is a divine spark given to some people. Have it you can work like the devil and make a success of it. Those who are not born with it cannot acquire it.” If you do not have it you could study forever and never find it. But he believes that art is food for the soul and there is surely some for everyone.
Al Hall in Feb, 1945 Britannica Broadcaster,
office was, honored (and we mean that in the most sincere sense of the
word!) recently by a visit from none other than that fabulous character of the
Rocky Mountains DAVE
STIRL1NG. We don't know about Art-the capital "A" was
intentional!--might fill almost as many volumes as Britannica, but
nevertheless, even we have heard of the magnificent mountain paintings for
which MR. STIRLING is world-famous. He lives in
Along with his artistry in oils, D. S. is possessed of an easy-going wit, which renders the most commonplace anecdote a gem of humor as related by him. He is himself, with no apologies to anyone and on him, such a complete lack of inhibition looks good, if we may lapse into the vernacular. To say that he has the courage of his convictions is to put it mildly, and his perception of any kind of pretense or sham is so acute as to be indecent! A word-picture of such a dynamic personality is bound to be stereotyped, but as far as we're concerned, it's the privilege of a lifetime to talk to such an intensely vital exponent of rugged individualism !
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
Mr, Dave Stirling,
I wish to congratulate
you on your twenty-five years of painting in
I hope that I will be able to congratulate you when your fiftieth anniversary arrives.
DAVID H. CANFIELD,
The author, Grace Pagano, is Fine Arts Director of Encyclopaedia Britannica, and author of the recently published book, “Contemporary American Art,” and is considered as one of the nation’s leading authorities upon modern art and artists.