Flaneur’s Gallery: Robert Whitmore (1890-1979)

Robert H. Whitmore. Licking Valley. 1919. Dayton Art Institute.
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.”

Read the complete sketch.

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5 Responses to Flaneur’s Gallery: Robert Whitmore (1890-1979)

  1. tomrobertstennessee says:

    Hi Mark,
    I love that Robert Whitmore painting! I remember visiting his studio in the late 1970’s, and seeing the wall covered with his landscape paintings. You gave me a tour of his studio, showing me the construction he had done with his own hands. I have always carried around the image of his rugged, beautiful paintings covering the wall in a structure he built. And walking in the snow-covered woods has never been the same for me since seeing his winter landscapes, and becoming aware of purple hues as the basis of his winter palette. I was fortunate to discover as a young teenager that I loved painting landscapes and loved hiking in the woods. I clearly see the inspiration I received from self-sufficient pioneers like Robert Whitmore. I am perpetually inspired by your stories of his car trips in the U.S., and the vivid, gestural landscapes he painted on masonite at stops along the way. Speaking about modern-day heroes, Robert Whitmore has always been there for me.

  2. Mark Willis says:

    Yes, Bob’s studio was a magical place. I loved the stone steps descending to a landing with a small drawing table, then down to the stone cellar floor with its litho press, test kiln, and deep hearth. I’ve been thinking about his affinities with various craftsman movements in the art and architecture of his early years. What you write here is so true, Tom. Bob’s pursuit of art and the good life grounded in a conservationist land ethic has been a lifelong inspiration for me, too.

  3. Pingback: Robert Whitmore: A Devoted Sense of Place - Yellow Springs 2.0

  4. Molly Peters says:

    I just received a R Whitmore for an early Christmas! I am very happy, and it is super yummie! The colors are smooth and the texture is chunky! I love it!

    Molly Peters

  5. Teodor "Teddy" E. Atkinson says:

    I was born in 1963, while my parents were living in the Grinnell Mill, and went to Sunday school with Bob’s wife, whom we Atkinson kid’s referred to as “Mokie”. My family moved to town in 1970 to accommodate our third brother, and lived in Yellow Springs till I graduated in 1981. Although we remained friends with the Whitmore’s, all of my family has moved away from YSO, and have lost touch with Jon and his family.
    In short, I possess 2 Whitmore oil on canvas paintings, one by Bob, and one by Jon. As I now live in San Antonio, Tx., I lack the means to have these framed works personally evaluated for condition and insurance purposes. What might you suggest, if your interested? Thanks for your time, Teddy

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