Call of the Wild

November 04, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

Clyde Roberts believes there's something to the theory that artistic ability can be inherited.

His great-grandfather was a stonecutter in Germany. His grandfather drew for him when he was growing up in Sandusky, Ohio. He calls his artist father an inspiration.

Roberts, 79, says art came easily for him. Kids would ask if he could draw something, and he did - without even thinking about it, he says.

But Roberts nurtured his natural talent. He won a scholarship to the Cleveland Institute of Art and graduated in 1946. He taught art, kindergarten through 12th grade, in Ashtabula, Ohio, for two years, then earned his master's degree at Columbia University in New York.


Roberts came to Hagerstown to teach art in 1949. "They'd never had a high school art teacher," he says.

A friend at Columbia advised him to take the job. "You can't fail," he said.

He didn't.

An exhibit of Roberts' paintings of animals and birds opens today at Mansion House Art Center in Hagerstown's City Park. There are works in watercolor, oil and pen and ink.

The show represents an artistic departure for Roberts, although it makes sense. "I love animals and I like to paint," he says.

Roberts was a teacher and supervisor in Washington County Schools for 34 years.

"I really loved teaching," he says. "I had the greatest kids in the world."

Among his students was Fred Kail, who sculpted the statue of Johnny Unitas unveiled last month at Ravens Stadium in Baltimore.

Another was Hagerstown artist Bob Wantz, who will have a retrospective exhibit of his paintings on display at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts later this month.

Wantz was a junior at Hagerstown High School when Roberts arrived. He was a "great teacher, an inspirational teacher," Wantz says.

"Some teachers talk it," he says. "He could do it."

"He planted the seed," continues Wantz, who taught art and served as principal for many years in Washington County schools.

Roberts continues to teach adult watercolor classes. "It's relaxing for me."

And he continues to nurture his art. "I learn from teaching," Roberts says.

Roberts has painted mostly landscapes, mostly in watercolor during the 60 years he's been at the easel. He says the medium "kind of fits him."

"I paint fairly rapidly," he says. A tree in a Clyde Roberts painting is an "impression of a tree."

He has worked in oils and acrylics. Those media take a lot longer, but are more "forgiving," he says.

Watercolors, done on paper, dry quickly. He has thrown some away and fixed others. "I wouldn't tell you if it's a mistake," he says. "There's got to be some pride in your work."

He says he tries for realism in his wildlife paintings. "It takes more detail."

About two years ago, he began painting images of animals he'd photographed on his travels all over the world. He's been on all seven continents. His world travels started with a trip to Nigeria in the early 1950s on an Agency for International Development grant, training a Nigerian graphic artist.

He's been to Scandinavia, India, Australia, China, Venezuela, Columbia and Costa Rica. Roberts and his wife, Janet, were in Kenya, Africa, in the mid-1980s, rising at 6 a.m. to get up close to a herd of elephants, as close as 10 to 12 feet from a pride of lions.

The couple went on an Elderhostel excursion to Antarctica two years ago - "because it was there," Roberts jokes.

He expected the continent at the bottom of the world to be the least interesting place he's visited, but it turned out to be the most interesting.

"It never really got dark there," he says. It was cold, but on some days, warmer than back home in Hagerstown.

Roberts' work will be on display at Mansion House through November.

He continues to paint, and the Roberts family artistic talent continues in the next generation.

Son Kent Roberts is a professional artist in Shippensburg, Pa., and draws caricatures at events in a broad surrounding area. Daughter Cindy Downs lives in Clear Spring. She and her dad paint together - all over the regional countryside - every Thursday.

You can meet Clyde Roberts at a reception today from 2 to 4 p.m.

Wildlife paintings

by Clyde Roberts

On display through November

Mansion House Art Center

City Park


Hours: Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m.

The Roberts exhibit will open today with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m.

For information, call 301-797-6813.

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