Friday, December 20, 2013

How about a David Stirling for Christmas?

Just in case you've been wondering what to get me for Christmas, how about a David Stirling? I fancy this one, entitled early "Potboiler," according to the seller, and available online for $1,595. That's high for a work by the Corydon native, who by his own estimate cranked out more than 20,000 paintings during a career that exceeded 50 years.

That's David and his son, Jack, at left.

I got reacquainted with Stirling earlier this week while Googling something else related to Corydon --- and he popped up. I was headed for brunch with the artists not long after that happened, so was able to hold my head up conversationally in that creative group by talking a little about the guy once known as "the official artist of Rocky Mountain National Park."

Stirling was born in Corydon during 1887, the youngest of a family of eight children, two of whom died young and are buried at Bonaparte, where the family had lived previously. His parents were John and and Harriet (Thomas) Stirling. They had moved to Wayne County about 1885, when John purchased The Wayne County Democrat, which he published until 1910, when it was sold to his son, John Stirling Jr.

After graduating from high school in Corydon, David reportedly studied at the Cummings Art School in Chicago during 1906-07 and the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago during 1908-09. But by 1913, he was back in Corydon working for his brother, John, at The Democrat.

He reportedly passed through Estes Park, Colorado, for the first time while on a trip during 1916 and after his marriage to Kitty Wolf at Corydon during 1918, they established a pattern of spending summers in the resort town where he painted and marketed his work, then returning to Corydon or going elsewhere to paint or work during the other months.

In 1919, they built the first incarnation of "Bugscuffle Ranch" on property they acquired inside what had become Rocky Mountain National Park during 1915 --- a studio and a home.

Stirling developed himself into an artist popular with park visitors and as a "character," who entertained thousands of tourists who visited his studio with lectures and tall tales. He also published a variety of books about mountain lore, also available at the studio.

There's no doubt that Stirling had a good deal of talent, became widely known and was extensively collected by both common folk and celebrities, but cranking out vast amounts of art work for the tourist trade is generally not the route to critical acclaim. Mountain landscapes sold, so that was for the most part what he painted. Depictions of aspens in various seasonal configurations became a trademark.

There was a good deal of sadness involved in Stirling's personal life. Wife Kitty became ill with cancer and died during 1937. His daughter, Harriet, died young of cancer, too. His only son, Jack, who partnered with his father at Estes Park developed into a talented illustrator but was known, too, as a mountain guide, poet, horseman and naturalist. Heart compromised by diabetes, he died of a heart attack at age 29, during 1954, while dancing at the Riverside Ballroom in Estes Park. When David died during 1971, he was survived by four grandchildren.

As late as 1956, when this article was published in the Times-Republican, Stirling was returning to Corydon to paint during the off season, renting a tourist cabin at what now is the Nodyroc ("Corydon" spelled backwards) Motel and painting in rooms above the bank. You can see other examples of his work and find more information about the artist here, at the Old Estes Web site. David, Kitty and Jack Stirling are buried at Mountain View Cemetery, Longmont. A grandson, Dave Schutz, continues to live and create art at Estes Park. The photograph of David Stirling and his son, Jack, earlier in this post is from his collection.

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