The World of Art

Death Takes Youngest of the Old Masters

By JOHN P. SIMONI WSU Professor of Art

ESTES PARK, Colo. -Reported widely in the American press has. been the death of Dr. Dave Stirling, painter. He died at the age of 84, after spending 56 years in the Rocky Mountain National Park only a few miles from its gateway, Estes Park, Colo.

I first met Dave in 1933 at the opening of an exhibition of his Rocky Mountain landscapes at Greeley, Colo. I was impressed by the youthful stature of the artist. He was then 46 years old, already an old-timer, for he had opened his Bugscuffle Ranch studio and gallery in the Estes Park area in 1915.

Yes, my review is in memory of the "Youngest of the Old Masters," as he was called by Gov. John Love of Colorado and by friends. I was fortunate to spend many hours with him over the years conversing about art and men. Annually, a chat about Dave Stirling had been the theme of my writings for the Sunday Magazine

HE WAS the Estes Park biographer and the Rocky Mountain National Park's officially honored goodwill ambassador. When he arrived at Estes Park there were but a few cabins and stores. He remembered well the history of the community's growth.

And it was in Kansas that Dave Stirling received two honorary doctorate degrees. Kansas Wesleyan University gave him in 1953 the Doctor of Fine Arts and Sterling College in 1957 the Doctor of Aesthetics. He was a humanitarian who enjoyed every moment of interaction with fellowmen who came from the world over to see him and acquire his paintings.

.Not long ago, he said to me: "John, my life has been adventurous in these here parts. The ups and downs in art have been many. Only recently two of my paintings have been reproduced by Western Lithograph of Wichita. Say hello to Otis Wells (the company's president) when you get back. He did a fine job!" And at Christmas when I saw him last he said to me: "I received a print of your large painting from Otis. It is a fine holiday greeting to me. Kansans are good people."

WHILE HE ADHERED to the Rocky Mountain theme for his paintings, many art movements came and vanished. It was only with the coming of abstract expressionism in the 1950s that Dave found It amusing to paint its modes.

His dynamic and emotive sense of form and color produced evocative, vivid abstract motifs. He used these to Illustrate to the many who attended his daily summer talks at. his gallery and studio the significance of the qualitative abstraction In his paintings of the Colorado peaks and colorful aspens.

People enjoyed his talks and his work. The comparative analysis of his two styles proved important for a better understanding of both. John Strange, the Kansas potter, attended several of his talks with me; he said: "I wish that our students at Wichita State could hear these talks!".

On the entrance door to his studio a sign read: “Howdy, Friend! Don't be scairt—this yere Temple of Culture am t no beatnik joint. It's the workshop of a Pore Ole Hillbilly landscape painter," Always an actor as well as artist, he wore a wrangler's hat multi-colored bandana, sweater and striped pants. He was Western Brand.

GREAT PEOPLE visited his studio.  Among Kansans they included in time Dwight Eisenhower, William Allen White, Arthur Capper and Victor Murdock. He possessed fine remembrances from each of them. Among the international set were also people of the theater, musical and political figures, artists and journalists who left him a thoughtful token of friendship.

In the ordinary pursuit of life many people gave little thought to Stirling's highlights in achievement. Many artists of this age could care less for Dave's mountain scenes. Immediately upon his death, however, collectors rushed for his work.

He wrote the Bug scuffle Bulletin for the Estes Park Trail-Gazette. He by-lined himself Pye-Eyed Pete. On April 3, 1969, he wrote a warm and friendly editorial on the death of Dwight D. Eisenhower. He concluded: “Hail and farewell, Ike, our world is now a better place for your having been here.”

The Wayne County Historical Society of Corydon, Iowa, where Dave was born .Jan. 25, 1887, wrote:  “He was much interested in our museum and we have a large picture of him and a case dedicated to him. Will you send us copies or clippings of the events that have taken place…”. FROM DAVE STIRLING I learned the importance of dedication to one's beliefs and calling. Community service was his major contribution. It was in 1910 that Dave sold his first painting. He framed the large $5 bill which he received for it. He started painting when the artist in America was not the most revered person.

But he made art his life's work. His landscapes of the Rockies are painted in a spirit of romantic sentiment. He formed them with rapid and free spontaneity, creating the total experiencing of forests, peaks, and skies in rich and vibrant color.

For Dave, painting was color. He emphasized color rather than form. With him it was a matter of knowing how to use it. At his talks he would say: "Only me and, Michelangelo and Rembrandt know how." He was a gentleman packed with wit and humor. Those who knew him will always remember his sparkling eyes.

Dave enjoyed spending his evenings at Estes Park's high spots where he played the piano and sang his favorite song, "Frankie and Johnnie," which someone recorded. It was played at the memorial service. He had said: "When I die do not spend your money for flowers, but toast me with a drink." The wake was held with champagne for all.

DAVE STIRLING died June II, 1971. On the bulletin board of his studio he had written a note to David Schutz, his grandson and associate artist-companion of several years. It read: "I promised Betty Hedlund a picture for the Estes Park Museum. See she gets it."

This summer the Bugscuffle Ranch Gallery is operating as usual under the direction of Dave Schutz.  It will be a permanent Dave Stirling Memorial Museum overseen by the National Park.  Last year Dave sold his property to the Park.  Dave Schutz will continue at Bugscuffle Ranch the heritage of his Grandfather.  He is a young artist who learned much from Stirling during the past six years as his co-worker.  His modes of artistic expression are in harmony with today's art trends, but the Rocky Mountain landscape and its mood he finds central to his expressive needs as a creative painter.

The Times Republican, Corydon Iowa