He Sits in Iowa Painting Rockies

January, 1956

By Herb Owens [Local Corydon Newspaper]


CORYDON, IA—Dave Stirling, 69, vibrant, snow-topped “old man of the mountains” is working night and day in his studio here, producing Rocky Mountain landscrapes [sic] to be shown and sold in his log cabin shop in Colorado next summer.

“There are more than 15,000 visitors at the Estes Park studio every summer.  I get no time to paint.  All I can do is be a quaint old character, pose for camera fiends, and show—and sell—the paintings,” said Stirling.

“So, I’ve set up a permanent shop here.  For eight months I can work, undisturbed.  Then, June through September, I’m at the cabin—just inside the gate to Rocky Mountain National Park—greeting the suckers—hmmm, the art buyers,” he said.

Edited Newspaper

A former city editor of the Wayne County Democrat, which his father owned, Dave first went into Rocky Mountain National Park in 1916, the year after the government took it over.  He’s painted the mountains, trees and lakes from all angels, in all seasons, at all times of day.  He could paint the landscapes with his eyes closed.

Stirling has had great success as an artist.  He estimates he’s produced more than 20,000 paintings—and has given 90 percent of them away.  Yet, he’s collected up to $1,000 for a single picture.

Dave credits two factors for sale of paintings: A sentimental nostalgia—so the buyer can say “I’ve stood right there” or “That’s how the mountains looked from our cabin”—and the artist’s personality, so the buyer can say “I know the artist, personally.”

No one knows better than Stirling that modern, progressive artists sniff at his paintings.  Mention of my name among modern artists is like tossing a skunk into the parlor. It spoils their daybut, at least , they never approach me personally," he said.

Nonetheless, Stirling has an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Kansas Wesleyan University; he’s been made an honorary mayor of Dallas; he’s got a scroll identifying him as an honorary citizen of Texas.

Corydon citizens swear “there never was a guy like Dave Stirling.”  His three-room studio over the bank is always open to his friends.  Each winter he takes over a three-room cottage in a tourist court, a block off the square.  He drives a powerful top-bracketcar—at present a Lincoln.

Son Was Painter

But Dave, always gay and talkative, has had his heartaches.  His sister and brother-in-law died here two years ago.  The same year, his only daughter died.

Last year, his only son, Jack Stirling—who already was widely known as a commercial artist specializing in horse, Brahma bull and other Western subjects—fell dead of a heart attack while square dancing.  Jack was just 29.  Mrs. Stirling, the former Kitty Wolf, died 20 years ago.

Dave who started art work in childhood, washed dishes and took other odd jobs to get training at Cummings School of Art, Des Moines, and the Academy of fine Arts and Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, Ill.

Of pioneer stock, his mother had come to Iowa in 1854.

“Strangely enough, the house where I was born here was an enlargement built around a log cabin—and in Colorado, I still live in a lob [sic] cabin.  Lincoln got out of one; I never did,” said Stirling.

Under his gay guise as “a character,” Stirling has a keen, workmanlike knowledge of art.  He knows color—and how to make colors vibrate.  In a strange out-of-character moment, he pointed out the skilled color technique of a George Roualt print hanging in his studio.

Paints Midwest

Perhaps Stirling’s paintings are just “big postcards,” as he’s called them.  Perhaps they’ve been “bread and butter”—and “jam.”

“Three classes of people visit Rocky Mountain National Park,” said Stirling.  “There are the popcorn eaters, showing Aunt Tillie and Uncle Joe the beauties, while they scatter trash around.  There are the rat racers, taking a quick look before they roar on to California.  And there is the carriage trade, who come to 5,000 cottages and 20 big summer hotels.  My time is reserved for the carriage trade,” said Dave

And for the carriage trade, Dave has developed a new angle to his business.  From Kodakrome pictures, he paints some Midwestern scenes.  Showing them in his Colorado studio, customers are sure to say, “Oh, that’s just like a place back in Ohio”—and they buy it.

“I just can’t get enough of them painted,” says Stirling.  But in between mountain pictures, he spends the whole winter trying.