Robert H. Whitmore. Licking Valley. 1919. Dayton Art Institute.
Bob Whitmore’s Licking Valley painting graced the cover of the Feb. 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, which published a brief biographical essay about the artist (JAMA. 2008;299(8):877).
I had the privilege to know Bob Whitmore at the end of his long, creative life. His son John is a good friend. They were my neighbors when I lived at the Mill. I was one of a group of helpers who cared for Bob at home after he broke a hip in 1978. I remember sitting with him one winter afternoon when he talked and dozed in a bed just a few feet from his studio. The wall beside the bed was covered with the paintings he kept for himself over a 60-year career. One of them, a bright seascape painted at Cape Cod in1919, hangs in my bedroom today.
In the JAMA sketch, , Jeanette Smith writes:
‘We need the tonic of wildness. . . . We can never have enough of Nature’ (Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Henry David Thoreau, 1854). These sentiments aptly describe the lifelong muse of kindred spirit Robert H. Whitmore (1890-1979), whose sympathy with nature emanates from his landscape paintings.
Whitmore’s purchase of land in 1924 overlooking the Little Miami River valley near Yellow Springs, Ohio, allowed him to immerse himself in nature. The acreage was once the property of Horace Mann, who served as president of Antioch College from 1853 to 1859, known for its motto, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” The old house on Whitmore’s land was in such disrepair that sheep freely rambled through it. Undaunted, with his own labor he mended the abode. He savored the wild splendor surrounding him on all sides. In this, his own Walden, he was able to observe nuances of light and temperament in nature close at hand, intangibles conveyed in his art. His teaching appointment at Antioch College began in 1925 and he remained on the faculty for 30 years. His life was further enriched by his marriage in 1926 to Elizabeth Ann Bennett, a graduate of Antioch, and together they raised five children.
A fiery inferno of a fall landscape currently hangs in the Glen Helen Building in park land near the old home place, further evidence that Whitmore unquestionably fulfilled his goal of sharing the beauty he saw in the natural world. In the words of Thoreau, he showed us that “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”