7 August 2010
A shallow farm pond of irregular
shape is the main distinguishing feature of a vast weedy field. This is
well past its glory days. There are scattered post oaks, a collapsed
broken down fences. Low conical mounds mark a former prairie. The pond
once have had as its official business cows and horses, and maybe farm
Today it hosts the occasional flock of migrating Double-crested
few American White Pelicans, and sparrows, ducks, geese and whatnot.
unofficial business. I’ll bet Wild Turkeys and bobwhite quail
coveys know this
Most of these are birds that nest
well to the north of Arkansas, all across the great north country of
Canada, the northern US. During their western Arkansas stop over, they
on insects and fish, and then continue on--south to the Gulf of Mexico
South America, or in the other season, north. Some of them know this
pond, in a
big field, under an even bigger sky.
On my wall hangs a hand-tinted
etching, “Savannah Sparrows” by Richard Stauffacher
of Fayetteville. That’s why
I’m thinking now about that weedy field with its generous
pond and welcoming
sky. The small bird’s striped and streaked patterns of brown,
and buff-white blend with the weedy stalks and leaves of smartweed.
This is an
aquatic plant that grows profusely in the pond shallows.
Savannah Sparrows are as typical of
the old prairie grasslands as were the 19th
century herds of bison.
Two birds perch expectantly on twisted stalks in Richard’s
etching. It’s an
intimate look, since the birds are deep in the vegetation, well hidden
view. Well, not from everyone’s view.
Over the years, Richard's etchings
have captured a host of creatures and natural environments of western
Just a few examples: nesting Great Blue Herons on the Illinois River in
spring and maidenhair ferns dripping over lichen-encrusted sandstones.
etched a small flock of White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos in
snow. More subjects: Northern Bobwhites in another old field, flocks of
duck-like American Coots among lotus pads at Lake Fayetteville, a
day cicada on the bark of an oak tree.
He’s also been inspired by the
wildflowers that arise, Lazarus-like, each spring from the forest
jack-in-the-pulpit, trout lily, and the majestic unfurling of hickory
the massive bluffs rising above the Buffalo River.
There is an old joke about the
artist who lures a young woman to his room by promising to show her his
etchings. The joke may date all the way back to the 16th
even further, when artists discovered that an image could be etched
metal plate using acids. It was interesting then, and now.
Once the image is etched, thick ink
is smeared on the plate and then wiped off. Ink remains within the
portions, outlining the picture. The plate is pressed firmly onto
Several plates and different types of ink may be used to create complex
Printed etchings can be hand colored in a variety of ways, using paints
Of course, why go to all the
trouble? Why not just take a digital picture and be done with it? Good
question. A typical camera image reflects what has been viewed, and
else. The handmade image is a one-of-a-kind impression. It bears
witness to the
For an artist to make a living, it
must be sold for a high price. That’s fine if the artwork
achieves the fame of
Van Gogh, but even Van Goghs had little commercial value during the
that artist. On the other hand, what if that impression could be
produced in a
small edition, say 100-300 copies? Since each was printed, colored, and
numbered, each would be the unique work of the artist. Each print could
for a modest price. Fine art then becomes available to the many, rather
just the few.
Back in the mid-1980s, Richard sold
hand-colored pen and ink drawings at Fayetteville’s
Farmer’s Market. One of
these was an image approximately 5 by 7 inches featuring a
skipper perched on a rose vervain. While impressionistic in rendering,
inspiration was identifiable to species. Skippers are among our
butterflies; the vervain does well just about anywhere
There’s beauty in life’s commonplace realities.
This picture features a disciplined
attention to detail. It projects a sense of landscape enlivened by the
and the particular. I have wondered about the sources of this quality.
does not hold a degree in biology, but biologists are enthusiastic
work. The spirit promoting this style has something to do with his
you visit his home in Fayetteville, you will note
a dog, a cat, a bluebird house, fruit trees, vegetable garden, several
an old van. In other words, typically and comfortably Arkansas. But he
grow up here. He was born in Russellville in 1948, but almost
family returned to Africa. He grew up among Africans, missionaries, and
fauna and flora most of us know only from documentaries broadcast on
Educational Television Network.
parents, Gladys and Claudon Stauffacher, were
missionaries. Claudon was born in Kenya in 1910 at Rumuruti, among the
where his parents were missionaries. His father came to Kenya
in 1903 and
married Richard‘s grandmother there in 1906. Claudon returned
as a missionary
in 1933. He and Gladys were married in Kenya in 1942.
shortly after Richard’s birth until 1960, the
family pursued their calling as ministers and social workers in the old
Congo, leaving there only because of chaos accompanying independence.
Stauffachers then moved to Kenya when Richard was 16. While kids in the
growing up with Elvis, the Beatles, and Mickey Mantle, Richard was
the Masai people of Kenya’s highlands, with elephants and
impalas. Richard’s mother chronicled the family’s
life and work in Faster beats the drum
African Inland Mission, Pearl River, NY 1978).
his parent’s work was remote, Richard was
educated in boarding schools in the Congo and Kenya. He found his own
in a vast landscape. He took a correspondence course in taxidermy, shot
and other small animals, stuffed and preserved them. These are
pursuits of a scientist in the making, a modern day Audubon, or at
active mind concerned with nature’s particulars. He learned
anatomy, color, and
form at first hand. He learned to work by himself, to be creative in an
environment that would be insufferably lonely for people with a more
returned to the US in 1965. After service in
the US Navy, he earned his BS in Fine Art from John Brown University in
Springs (1975). He began producing work like the skipper and vervain
pen-and-ink, but it was apparent that it would be hard to sell enough
at $5-$10 a piece to make a living.
How many of you readers remember the
played violin in the Northwest Arkansas Symphony—and for
flowers on the
Fayetteville Square? Just think back to the early 1980s, when the
struggling. Its heyday was the 1920s. By the 1970s, it was like an
field, full of tumbled bricks, and struggling in what then seemed a
struggle against shiny malls. The
earned some of her living playing her violin for flowers planted as an
attraction, to lure and to comfort shoppers. She played in those years
Fayetteville was rapidly changing into something different.
as now, the flowers represented something of
hope. We learned only later that she was sick during the last year of
on the Square.
you remember the boy with her on those strolls?
That woman, who called herself Free (changing
her name from Lenore Mark), died when her son Isaac was 8. Before her
she had the presence of mind to entrust the rearing of her son to a
did not have children of his own. He befriended the boy, taking him
the National Forest at Wedington while his mother played in the
continued while she struggled for life against the cancer that slowly
her life. The man was Richard Stauffacher.
selling his drawings on the Square, Richard
was framing art for Wendell Cullers at the Art Emporium on Block Street
Jay Emerson at the Frame Place on Dickson. During this time he met
people who would have a tremendous influence on his development.
Bernstein, then in the UA-Fayetteville Art Department, allowed Richard
his studio and equipment. Another influence was Susan Raymond.
who at this time was a regular at the War
Eagle Arts & Crafts Fair, owned a small, professional quality
that she used to produce limited editions of her Ozarks
drawings. She owned a farm in Madison County. Richard made a trip out
learn how the press worked. She also handed him a catalogue from
Chemical and Ink in Chicago, the standard supplier for etching
rest, as they say, is history.
went from the one-of-a-kind drawings like
the skipper and vervain to editions turned out on Susan’s
press. One of these
early etchings was a brown tone of a cloudy wing butterfly among dead
and twigs on the floor of the forest. While the etching measures only
approximately 4 by 5 inches, it encompasses a landscape enlivened by
particulars, attractively organized in a small space.
this milieu of frame shops and working artists,
Richard’s work was introduced to Ria Foster of Island
based on Guemes Island in northern Puget Sound, Washington. Foster and
representatives travel to galleries all over the country with an
Richard’s potential, Foster helped Richard
buy a large press so that he could move up from the compact format of
press. With more potential to make a living, Richard expanded his
1986, Richard and Isaac moved from Fayetteville
to Guemes Island where he assumed the role of master printer for
Raven Press. He made a steady living and Isaac grew up. But beautiful
as it was
on an island in Puget Sound, it was never home. In 1993, he and Isaac
this time not to an apartment, but a house on a few acres in the Mount
area of Fayetteville. They bought the property with Susan Raymond, her
Lester, and their daughter Gayle.
works with many artists who, like Richard,
have learned to draw, but who, unlike Richard, lack technical skills in
and printing. Ria saw in Richard not only the work of an artist with a
nature, but a highly skilled craftsman converting interesting ideas
technically accomplished etchings. After Richard returned to
1993, she shipped drawings by other artists so Richard could make the
She also repeatedly shipped him back to Guemes to work with the artists
themselves during a series of workshops.
and Martha Whelan were married in 1999. Martha
is a hospice nurse whose compassionate professionalism has carried her
lives of folks all over northwest Arkansas. Besides a flourishing
and fruit trees, Richard and Martha share a practical hobby and
living yard art: chickens. They walk the yard, inspect the garden, and
generally keep the place in order.
Richard has gotten into Ozark rocks with
etchings. You’ve been to bluff lines like these if
you’ve hiked in the Ozarks.
He’s finding spots where the old multi-layered rock strata
have been eroding
for hundreds of millions of years. It’s too rough for
Unfettered nature has been allowed to take her course. Grapevines,
lizards, and small secretive snakes have run of the place. Cave-like
overhangs may once have sheltered Native Americans from a snowstorm.
bears pass through this country.
you are out there in late March, you can just
about bet there will be Black-and-white Warblers there, fresh from the
Neotropics. You can also bet Blue-gray Gnatcatchers will be nearby in
cedars. Even with its frenetic pace of growth, the Fayetteville area is
blessed with such places: it could be Lake Wilson Park, or atop
Mountain in Finger Park. It could be on the long rocky ridge in the
National Forest at Wedington. Many such places grace the Buffalo River
his etching “Rocks In Spring,” lichens are
silver-gray, moss emerald green, massive sandstone outcrops worn and
The rich tangle of trees and vines is essentially leafless. Rooted in
soils atop the rocks is a single serviceberry (or sarvis) tree, small
generally overlooked in an understory among better-known trees, the
and redbuds. It must be March, perhaps middle of the month, because the
serviceberry has burst into a snowstorm of delicate white blossoms,
a winter background of gray. Serviceberries bloom well ahead of redbuds
“Rocks In Spring” contains many more
details when compared to his pieces from the 1980s. We easily share his
interest in this otherwise nondescript tree that now, in March, so
the landscape. Technically speaking, the etching’s format is
large at 12 by 18
inches. The lines are complex, rich, varied, and layered. The hand
refined, elegant, and delicate. Taken in the whole, “Rocks In
the viewer out for a last visit with winter, a first commune with
The most striking of the birds that nest
Great Blue Herons. You’ve seen them out there along the river
where they fish
for frogs and minnows. I’m thinking about this while looking
etching “Great Blue Heron.” A solitary bird stands
along the water’s edge. The
background is an expansive open country horizon, with masses of sedges
the water’s edge. The alert bird dominates psychological
space -- a giant in
the landscape, cameo of ancient reality.
is the bird seen as we hurry to work and
struggle to be on time--at a farm pond, in the far field, along the
It’s at a distance, from our car windows, without
binoculars--before the bird
flies into its ancient space. It’s a figure in the landscape
etching, “Heronry,” encompasses the nesting
season’s onset. Leafless upper boughs of sycamores arch and
twine into an early
sky. Above, a single Great Blue Heron —could be that bird we
saw as we were
rushing up the highway--approaches the creek bottom with wings set and
curled, gliding toward stick masses that seem rearrangements of the
twining of an old sycamore’s upper boughs. Down among the
arches and twines are
the stick masses themselves, attended by other birds.
could be a future generation of herons in the
making there. It could be our vital connection with time in the far,
future. We could stop for a while and try to figure this out, but we
own livings to make—our own versions of small fish and
tadpoles to catch, our
own young to rear.
seems relatively simple. Taken in one way,
this etching of herons nesting may be construed as an impressionistic
nature’s annual cycle, and nothing more. The biology is
there’s an essential theme. The grove of trees is fishing the
decades of etching have passed. We have moved from the 1970s to the new
millennium. I get the distinct impression that my friend Richard is
to his roots. I don’t mean he’s moving back to
Africa. Rather, he is recreating
Africa in Fayetteville. It turns out Africa has always been there.
been waiting to express itself.
sprouting up all over his studio and the three acres he shares with
his website, Richard refers to this as “the Africa
connection.” Boy, it’s
really getting connected. For example, Richard has recently taken a
class at UA-Fayetteville. Swahili is the trade language for central and
coast countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Richard spoke it as a
almost completely focused on themes local to the Ozarks in western
most of the years I’ve known him. Early on there were a few
hints of his roots
in Africa. Now I’m noticing a strong flow of Africa coming
out of his studio.
hint came from an early etching (1986). It was not a bluff scene or
serviceberries. Richard set “Two Trees” within a
savannah in Kenya’s Kedong
Valley. Richard’s father and other missionaries used to camp
in the valley. “Two
Trees” has now been joined by etchings of a fine old Cape
buffalo, an elephant,
and zebras. The elephant etching “In Some Brush”
has been juried into a fall 2010
show featuring artists of northwest Arkansas at the Arts Center of the
connection is not just etchings. Kenyan George Ndiritu, is a slime mold
He and Richard hiked the Ozarks when George had time away from his
research at UA-Fayetteville. After finishing his PhD, George returned
research and education for the National Museums of Kenya.
while I was visiting the studio, another Kenyan, Antony Ndugo, stopped
works for Tyson Foods. He has made a vegetable garden near
Richard’s studio. Corn,
collards, and beans growing there would be familiar to all Kenyans.
soon as he entered the room, Antony and Richard engaged in a brief
in Swahili. Richard spoke the Congo version, which is called Kingwana,
kid. It’s back, here in the Ozarks.
big pieces of life’s ecological puzzle, like
Bald Eagles and Ring-billed Gulls, are fairly easy to see. Many of the
pieces are harder and they tend to get buried as time moves on.
miss their potential richness. Whether we are aware of it or not, these
moments in our lives, moments from the stream of our times.
back to his roots, Richard reclaiming life he
knew a half century ago. It is combined now with a rich body of work
celebrating the western Ozarks.
Neal is a native of western
Arkansas. He is coauthor of Arkansas
Birds (U of A Press, 1986) and author of the general history in History
of Washington County Arkansas (Shiloh Museum, 1989). Comments may be
to Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.