34 Robert Zumwalt

ROBERT ZUMWALT

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Abatemarco

55 Years Later: Oils and Acrylics at the Santa Fe Public Li­brary

Fifty-five years af­ter aban­don­ing paint­ing, Robert Zumwalt re­turned to the craft two years ago. Dur­ing a fate­ful trip to the Grand Canyon, he missed the mule ride back to his start­ing point and found him­self, at the age of eighty­five, forced to begin a steep up­ward hike. “I had heat ex­haus­tion,” he told Pasatiempo .“I tried to rent a mule, and I couldn’t. I thought, Well, I’ll just go as far as I can. I got half­way up, and I re­al­ized, I’m go­ing to make it. He com­mem­o­rated the mo­ment in the sim­ple land­scape paint­ing Leav­ing In­dian Gar­dens, Grand Canyon: “I Know I Will Make It.”

There’s noth­ing com­pli­cated about the work of Zumwalt, but there is a fresh­ness about his paint­ings, which are in­fused with ten­der­ness and a bit of hu­mor, whether they’re por­traits, still lifes, or land­scapes. Zumwalt takes great de­light in his art­work, as is ev­i­denced by his pres­ence at the Santa Fe Public Li­brary’s main branch, where a show of his works cur­rently hangs and where he and his wife, Mar­i­lyn, meet with the public ev­ery Wed­nes­day at 2 p.m. dur­ing the ex­hibit’s run to tell the sto­ries be­hind each paint­ing and talk about art.

Zumwalt, a re­tired physi­cian, had a decades-long med­i­cal prac­tice in Te­cum­seh, Ok­la­homa, and the de­mands of his ca­reer led him to stop paint­ing. “I wasn’t re­ally out in the wilder­ness, but I was the only doc­tor in a town of about 5,000,” he said. “I was re­ally busy for a while. The other thing is, with oils, it takes for­ever for them to dry, and I’m kind of an impatient per­son.” He re­tired in his mid-sev­en­ties, when it be­came clear that he needed to slow down. “I was get­ting stupid and for­get­ful — not be­cause of my age, but you can’t do that when you have a pa­tient wait­ing. I went be­fore the state li­cens­ing board; my brother was the direc­tor of the board for 25 years. I told him I wanted to re­tire, and he said, ‘Phew!’ ”

Be­fore mov­ing to the South­west, Zumwalt had to make a de­ci­sion. “We owned a house­boat,” he said. “Wives tend to get tired of toys faster than hus­bands do. She wanted to sell the house­boat. She said, ‘If we didn’t have this house­boat, we could have a home in Santa Fe.’ So we bought a lit­tle condo. When I re­tired in 2000, I to­tally re­tired. I didn’t con­tinue to read med­i­cal jour­nals or any­thing like that. I have opin­ions, but I don’t know any­thing any­more — not any­thing re­cent — so con­se­quently, I have more time for other in­ter­ests.”

Zumwalt isn’t paint­ing solely in­de­pen­dent of aca­demic train­ing. When he took up his brushes again, he en­rolled in a class at Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege, un­der in­struc­tor Jakki Kouff­man, to hone his craft. “With­out the in­struc­tion and sup­port of Jakki, I doubt if I would have had the plea­sure of work­ing in both the acrylic and oil paint­ing the last cou­ple of years.”

There’s a fa­mil­iar­ity to the work of Zumwalt. His de­pic­tions of ten­nis play­ers, sev­eral works in a se­ries, are rem­i­nis­cent of the paint­ings of David Hock­ney. In Ten­nis Se­ries #3, two fig­ures, friends of Zumwalt, stand on the court. “One of the women in the pic­ture is much heav­ier than I painted her. I asked per­mis­sion to in­clude her in the paint­ing, but she said, ‘Only on the con­di­tion that you make me thin­ner.’ ”

Zumwalt has an eye for mo­ments that are un­dra­matic but atyp­i­cal, such as the woman in his High Style Woman in Ham­burg, whose ex­pres­sion bears a trace of snooty at­ti­tude as she eyes a fash­ion­able dress, and the whim­si­cal Blue Whale, a paint­ing of Zumwalt and his fam­ily vis­it­ing a whale-shaped road­side at­trac­tion in Ca­toosa, Ok­la­homa. In At the

Barnes Mu­seum, he cap­tured an el­derly woman off

guard as she rested in a chair, her mouth agape. “It’s my all-time fa­vorite art gallery,” the artist said. “She was sound asleep.” The im­age, like many of his paint­ings, is made from pho­to­graphs. “I con­sider my cam­era my sketch pad. I don’t try to re­pro­duce the pic­ture, but I use the pic­ture as a ba­sis to work from.” He has a knack for cap­tur­ing fa­cial ex­pres­sions and like­nesses with min­i­mal de­tail. A por­trait of his fa­ther, one of two paint­ings in­cluded in the show that were done when Zumwalt was a young man, bears a strong enough re­sem­blance to the artist that it could pass as a self-por­trait.

A dip­tych ti­tled Jan­uary/June de­picts two views of the land­scape in the San­gre de Cris­tos. One is a snow-cov­ered forested vista with a skier in the mid­dle dis­tance. The other is the same scene as he en­coun­tered it six months later: a sunny day along a trail, only the skier is re­placed by a hiker mak­ing his way through a field of wild­flow­ers. The con­trast, too, is an ex­er­cise in cap­tur­ing sea­sonal views.

In other works, Zumwalt pays trib­ute to mod­ernists. One on view at the li­brary is an ab­stract com­po­si­tion de­rived in part from the de­signs of Frank Lloyd Wright and the grid-based paint­ings of Piet Mon­drian. “I stole from two peo­ple at the same time,” he said. “Not stole, but used.” The paint­ing, which is arched like a stained-glass win­dow (re­flect­ing Zumwalt’s in­ter­est in stained-glass work) is also the first one the artist has sold. “I ran a res­i­dency pro­gram for the Uni­ver­sity of Ok­la­homa. One of the res­i­dents I trained, who was there when I was in charge of the pro­gram, he and his wife come out to see us on oc­ca­sion, and she sent me a check for it. Since they’re friends, I didn’t feel like I could charge them. So I had the check framed in­stead. But I can call my­self a pro­fes­sional artist now be­cause I sold a paint­ing.”

At the Barnes Mu­seum, 2013, acrylic

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