CORYDON, IA—Dave Stirling, 69, vibrant, snow-topped “old man of
the mountains” is working night and day in his studio here, producing Rocky Mountain landscrapes [sic] to be shown and sold in his log
cabin shop in Colorado next summer.
“There are more than 15,000 visitors at the Estes Park studio every summer.
I get no time to paint. All I can
do is be a quaint old character, pose for camera fiends, and show—and sell—the
paintings,” said Stirling.
“So, I’ve set up a permanent shop here. For eight months I can work,
undisturbed. Then, June through
September, I’m at the cabin—just inside the gate to Rocky Mountain National
the suckers—hmmm, the art buyers,” he said.
A former city editor of the Wayne County Democrat,
which his father owned, Dave first went into Rocky Mountain National
1916, the year after the government took it over. He’s painted the mountains, trees and lakes
from all angels, in all seasons, at all times of day. He could paint the landscapes with his eyes
Stirling has had great success as an artist.
He estimates he’s produced more than 20,000 paintings—and has given 90
percent of them away. Yet, he’s
collected up to $1,000 for a single picture.
Dave credits two factors for sale of paintings: A
sentimental nostalgia—so the buyer can say “I’ve stood right there” or “That’s
how the mountains looked from our cabin”—and the artist’s personality, so the
buyer can say “I know the artist, personally.”
No one knows better than Stirling that modern, progressive artists sniff at his paintings. Mention of my name among modern artists is
like tossing a skunk into the parlor. It spoils their day—but, at least , they never approach me personally," he said.
Nonetheless, Stirling has an
honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Kansas Wesleyan University; he’s been made an honorary mayor of Dallas; he’s got a scroll identifying him as an honorary citizen
Corydon citizens swear “there never was a guy like
Dave Stirling.” His three-room studio
over the bank is always open to his friends.
Each winter he takes over a three-room cottage in a tourist court, a
block off the square. He drives a
powerful top-bracketcar—at present a Lincoln.
But Dave, always gay and talkative, has had his
heartaches. His sister and
brother-in-law died here two years ago.
The same year, his only daughter died.
Last year, his only son, Jack Stirling—who already was
widely known as a commercial artist specializing in horse, Brahma bull and
other Western subjects—fell dead of a heart attack while square dancing. Jack was just 29. Mrs. Stirling, the former Kitty Wolf, died 20
Dave who started art work in childhood, washed dishes
and took other odd jobs to get training at Cummings School of Art, Des Moines, and the Academy of fine Arts and Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, Ill.
Of pioneer stock, his mother had come to Iowa in 1854.
“Strangely enough, the house where I was born here was
an enlargement built around a log cabin—and in Colorado, I still live in a lob [sic] cabin. Lincoln got out of one; I never did,” said Stirling.
Under his gay guise as “a character,” Stirling has a keen, workmanlike knowledge of art. He knows color—and how to make colors
vibrate. In a strange out-of-character
moment, he pointed out the skilled color technique of a George Roualt print hanging
in his studio.
Perhaps Stirling’s paintings are just “big postcards,” as he’s called
them. Perhaps they’ve been “bread and
“Three classes of people visit Rocky Mountain National
Stirling. “There are
the popcorn eaters, showing Aunt Tillie and Uncle Joe the beauties, while they scatter
trash around. There are the rat racers,
taking a quick look before they roar on to California. And there is
the carriage trade, who come to 5,000 cottages and 20 big summer hotels. My time is reserved for the carriage trade,”
And for the carriage trade, Dave has developed a new
angle to his business. From Kodakrome
pictures, he paints some Midwestern scenes.
Showing them in his Colorado
studio, customers are sure to say, “Oh, that’s just like a place back in Ohio”—and they buy it.
“I just can’t get enough of them painted,” says Stirling. But in between mountain
pictures, he spends the whole winter trying.