December 2007

A life on canvas: Celebrating the art of Stanton Englehart

By Connie Gotsch

Montezuma-Cortez High School art teacher Sharon Englehart recalls her father, Stanton Englehart, studying art in the 1960s. “I can remember living in a Quonset hut. There was always an easel there.”

OnSTANTON ENGLEHART'S PAINTING "BATTLE ROCK, MCELMO"ce he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Stanton Englehart spent over 50 years founding the art department at Fort Lewis College, becoming a master fly fisherman, and producing more than 5,000 paintings, mostly related to what he loved best, the Four Corners landscape.

This month, the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores opens a show of Englehart’s work entitled, “Seasons on the Plateau.” The exhibition runs from Dec. 9 through March 30.

Put together by Englehart, his wife, Pat, and his son, Michael, as well as Sharon, “Seasons on the Plateau” centers on 10 large oils, 60-by-72-inch paintings from a calendar series inspired by light and landscape of the Colorado Plateau. The exhibit’s name derives from another huge painting in four parts, which will also be on display.

“I think they’re the epitome of his technical ability as an oil painter,” says Sharon Englehart.

They also demonstrate his connection to the land. “The art is tied to his life,” says Pueblo Community College teacher, artist, and writer Jules Masterjohn.

She has assembled a book, “Stanton Englehart: A Life on Canvas,” under the auspices of the Durango Art Center, Fort Lewis College, and numerous private donors. Celebrating his life and work, the volume will complement the show with a biography, chronology of the artist’s life, and essays on his paintings.

Stanton Englehart declined to be interviewed for this article.

“My understanding of Stanton’s work is that his connection to the landscape, and more specifically the horizon line, has been a stabilizing force throughout his art work,” says Masterjohn.

In addition to the large oil landscape paintings, “Seasons on the Plateau” contains 10 long narrow mixed-media landscapes, six or seven figurative images, including one of Pat Englehart at Lake Powell, where the family spent 30 summers, and 25 mixed-media pieces called the Women Series.

Sharon Englehart describes the Women Series as “just incredible drawings of women that have some kind of restrictions with them. There are lines. There are boxes. There are beautiful shapes that they’re emerging out of.”

Created in the 1960s and ’70s, the Women Series expresses Stanton Englehart’s concern with the environment. Masterjohn believes he uses the female figure to symbolize the earth, and to suggest that misuse of technology would destroy the planet.

In addition to the Woman Series, Sharon Englehart hopes to add six or seven of her father’s animal paintings to “Seasons on the Plateau.” In these images, goats, dogs, and buffalo show the scale of Four Corners geologic formations, or explore human folly.

“Animals are doing these ridiculous things,” says Masterjohn. “He used his art as a way to make sense of the world.”

“He is a prodigious reader,” adds his daughter. “As far back as I can remember he was not only reading, but studying other artists’ work. He also writes all the time.”

The son of a Lewis, Colo., dairy farmer, Stanton Englehart grew up understanding that people did not receive educations; but pursued them, both in and out of the classroom.

He also knew how to work for what he wanted. Married to Pat while still in high school, he held many jobs before attending college. While working on his degrees, he held down a night shift at a Conoco station in Boulder. When he finally became a teacher, he considered art a continuous growth process.

As he chose the paintings for “Seasons on the Plateau,” Sharon Englehart saw him touching them, as if considering how he might have better shaped composition or color.

“Stanton Englehart wanted his work to be understood as a whole,” says Masterjohn. “He didn’t consistently title or date his works. He didn’t want to make a living from paintings. He had his living as a teacher.”

“The work also changed and grew rapidly,” says his daughter.

Yearly shows at Fort Lewis College would become “a rite of spring” to see his latest season.

Masterjohn believes Stanton Englehart’s mixed-media pieces served as both emotional and technical studies for his large paintings. Once he knew what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it, he used big oils as a public forum for his ideas.

Stanton Englehart received national recognition in the 1980s. Southwest Art Magazine wrote a feature article on him. He had a solo exhibition in the Kansas Gallery of Fine Art in Topeka, and participated in the Second Annual Western Art Classic at The Art Center of Minnesota, Wayzata. Durango’s Toh-a- Tin gallery began representing his work.

In the 1990s, he had a solo show at CU in Boulder. Denver’s Mile High Center featured him in a one-person show.

“Anybody in the art field who is aware of his work recognizes that he is one of the finest contemporary oil painters in this part of the country, and probably the United States, in the last 50 years,” says his daughter.

Masterjohn believes that coming from an agricultural background that honored work, Englehart understood his place in his community and in the landscape. He enfused the joy of self-discipline and accomplishment into his oils.

“It’s been just like Christmas to go back through these stacks of paintings,” says Sharon Englehart. “He’s just as excited about the show as we are.”

“Stanton’s life is very deep and rich,” adds Jules Masterjohn. “Many things have interested him, topically as well as visually.”