I’d like to share a couple of stories (and there are lots of them!) about Stanton Englehart. He taught at Fort Lewis College for over 30 years where he was the head of the art department.
As a professor, Englehart was known for his love of teaching and his ability to inspire his students, not necessarily as artists, but as people. As an artist, he continually strove to capture the immensity, depth and personality of the Four Corners area.
Englehart’s work has been exhibited at Toh-Atin since 1982, when he first decided to publicly market his work. Prior to that, the only way you got a Stanton Englehart was as a gift, if you purchased it for a nominal price (and promised to sell it back if you no longer wanted it) or if you bought a painting at one of the many charity auctions where he donated paintings.
He turned down galleries in New York and San Francisco, instead trusting his friendship with my parents. We had just opened Toh-Atin when he came into my Dad’s office and said, “I’ve decided that people might like to buy some of my paintings and I have decided to ask if you would like to show them here.”
Since then, his paintings have found homes around the world.
One day, not long after Stanton passed, while I was driving back from a trip on the Navajo Reservation, one of our salespeople called and said, “Jackson, a man just called and he’s sitting in a bar in Singapore looking at Stanton’s paintings on his cell phone. You have to call him right now!”
I quickly signed up for an international plan (not real easy in Kayenta, Arizona) and returned his call. He was an American businessman who did a lot of work in China.
“I went to school at Fort Lewis,” he said, “I never bought one of Stanton’s paintings and I always regretted it. I used to take his classes just to hear him talk about life. He made you feel good about yourself.
“I just heard Stanton died and I realized how much he meant to me. He was the reason I stayed in school.”
The gentleman picked out three large canvases that were on our web site and asked me to ship them to his home on Martha’s Vineyard, where they now hang in a hallway next to paintings by several European masters.
Stories like this are not unusual. Many people who see his work for the first time become absorbed and can’t let go of the desire to have one in their home.
Once, a man and his wife from California were at Fort Lewis College on a tour of cultural sites in North and South America. After the group visited Mesa Verde, The Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College hosted an evening reception for them and the couple fell in love with a large painting in the Center.
They approached the director, Andrew Gulliford, to try and buy the piece which, of course, he could and would, never sell. He referred them to Toh-Atin. For over a month, the gentleman continued to call Andrew about the piece in the center until finally he decided he was not going to be able to buy it and called me at the gallery.
“Can you arrange to have Stanton Englehart show us some large paintings,” he asked. “We will be coming by Durango on a trip from our ranch in North Dakota to our house in Pebble Beach.”
“Sure,” I replied, trying not to get too excited. “What day will you be driving through.”
“We are getting in our plane in about five minutes and we’ll be there by noon,” he answered. “Can you pick us up at the airport?”
My parents didn’t raise a complete dummy, so I, of course, said yes and met them about three hours later. It turned out that they were some of the nicest people we have ever worked with.
Stanton and his wife, Pat, had emptied their storage and had large canvases hanging on the side of the house, leaning against the garage and laying in the driveway. The yard was covered with oil paintings, screaming out the magnificence of the canyons and skies of the Four Corners.
The couple spent a few of hours talking with Stanton and Pat. In the end, they purchased four large paintings that I delivered to their home in California. On the way back to the airport, the woman said it was the best day she had experienced in years.
“That man is special,” she repeated several times. It turned out that she was one of the most successful decorators in Northern California. The paintings were framed and hung, overlooking the Pacific Ocean from the home in Pebble Beach.
There is the other side of the story that is every bit as important as the ones about the big art collectors. In the past 37 years, we have had scores of people who have fallen in love with his work and have put them on layaway, some of them making payments for several years, to own one of Stanton’s paintings. Students and people who rode bikes and fished with Stanton, collect his work. People who never met him but who love the Southwest are drawn to his paintings.
Two recent purchases of his work were made by a Mountain Guide at Silverton Mountain who lives in California and works for the Forest Service. He spent his winters in Silverton and several times a year, for several years, he would stop in to look at Stanton’s paintings. When he decided to relocate to California permanently, he purchased a painting that reminds him and his wife of the Southwest.
Another went to a Marine, who after tours of Afghanistan and Iraq, went to work for a private contractor to train U.S. and foreign troops in the Middle East. He owns land near Moab where he is planning to build a home that is being designed around an Englehart painting.
If there ever was an artist whose work captured who he was and what he loved, this was the man.
We hope you will join us for the Annual Spring Gallery Walk in Durango on May 12. If you can’t be here in person, all the paintings are on our website.