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Quiet Pride: Ageless Wisdom of the American West, Photography by Robert Alan Clayton

June 19 to October 10, 2004

 

(above: Robert Alan Clayton, WALTER NORTHWAY (HAA CH'IINIL'AA), Athabaskan Chief)

 

Robert Alan Clayton spent more than three years photographing elderly men and women living in the rural American West. His 30,000-mile journey from the high plains of North and South Dakota to the lush vineyards of California is documented in the exhibition, QUIET PRIDE: Ageless Wisdom of the American West, at The Dayton Art Institute. (right: Robert Alan Clayton, RICHARD & WINONA HAUGHT, Miner/Tracker, Ranchwife/Artist)

Clayton chose subjects ranging in age from 57 to 114. Many of them lived through the Great Depression and World War II. "By their own account, these individuals have led common lives. What is extraordinary is their self-reliance and their ability to live life on their own terms," said Dayton Art Institute Director and CEO Alex Nyerges. "Robert Alan Clayton's images offer a glimpse of rural, western Americana. They honor a simple and pure way of living that has not changed with the passage of time."

Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Clayton was a student of The Dayton Art Institute. For QUIET PRIDE: Ageless Wisdom of the American West, he photographed and wrote down the stories of more than 40 people. "All through my professional career as a location photographer, I have admired the beauty and character of the American West and the rugged individualism of older Americans," explained Clayton. "They, like my father, are products of a world full of experiences that come to us now as stories with the power to make our eyes grow wide with wonder as we glimpse a bygone era we can never know again."

In QUIET PRIDE: Ageless Wisdom of the American West, each black and white portrait is accompanied by a short narrative that is a kernel of the individual's life, values, and worldview. The exhibition consists of 37 black and white photographs and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.

QUIET PRIDE: Ageless Wisdom of the American West is on view in The Dayton Art Institute's North Gallery from June 19 to October 10, 2004. Admission is free.

 

(above: Robert Alan Clayton, HENRY STUREK, Rancher, Farmer)

 

AGELESS WISDOM

Clayton introduces the viewer to such memorable individuals as rancher and farmer Henry Sturek from Bartlett, Nebraska. Born in 1905 to Polish immigrants, Sturek has been no stranger to hard times. "There were some years we damned near starved to death," recalled Sturek. "We ate more jackrabbits than you ever thought of. The price of a bullet was such, I couldn't afford to miss. I became a damn good shot." (right: Robert Alan Clayton, FRANK FOOLS CROW, Lakota Medicine Man)

Sturek met his wife May when she was a schoolteacher and he was running cattle for his father. They started 60 years of marriage with a dollar in their pockets. The years ahead would hold many challenges -- drought, tornadoes, and hailstorms. In the winter of 1948-49, more than 100 inches of snow fell. "The winds blowed drifts up to 30, 40 feet high," said Sturek. "But I walked over there, fed 150 head with a pitchfork, then walked home. Not one of 'em died."

During a lifetime of pain as well as pride, Sturek developed great wisdom. He worries about the country's future. "Japan, they're educating their kids to make money. United States, they're educating them on sports," Sturek commented. "What's going to happen? I'm in pretty good shape, old as I am. What about those little guys, what are they gonna do?"

Margie Crawford Schaaf has spent most of her life educating young minds. Clayton met the former teacher of a simple, one-room schoolhouse in Bowman, North Dakota. "With the passing of our little one-room country schools, we are losing a part of what America really meant to us," Schaaf explained to Clayton. "For in this little haven of learning you learned the beauty of life. Then, everybody knew one another and everybody was happy. Now, people aren't a community anymore."

Schaaf saw the potential in each of her students. "I never taught a child without talent for something. Each child, to be a responsible adult, needs the support of all of us. Children are our future and our greatest resource for tomorrow. A child is the product of what you have given him in knowledge, love, kindness, understanding, and cooperation."

When she wasn't teaching, Schaaf helped her husband ranch and raised three children. "If man could only understand the further he gets away from the soil, the less he will understand about life," she commented. "Everyone must set a goal and try to accomplish it. One grows sick from idleness and feels worthless." (left: Robert Alan Clayton, FRANK FOOLS CROW, Lakota Medicine Man)

During his visit to North Dakota, Clayton also met Father Adam Englehardt. A priest in the small community of Esmond, Englehardt takes a practical approach to his ministry. "You have to go out to people," said Englehardt. "You can't sit in the rectory behind your desk and start at nine o'clock and quit at four o'clock. You can't convert the damn desk."

Going out to the people has not always been easy. In the early years of his priesthood, community roads were often undependable, so Englehardt took to the air. Some trips were more dramatic than others. "Years ago, a young boy lost his thumb in the usual way that these people lose their thumbs -- stick it in a machine. So we loaded the boy and his mother, put the thumb into a bucket of ice water, and flew to Minot." The Minot hospital refused the patient, as did another hospital hours later in Bismarck. "I loaded up with gas and took off again and went to Rochester. They sewed on the thumb. It's still on." (right: Robert Alan Clayton, FATHER ADAM ENGLEHARDT, Priest)

Most of Englehardt's work took place on the ground, helping to bring together a community divided by differences handed down from previous generations. Catholics were divided from Protestants; Irish, Germans, and Polish Catholics were at odds; Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Lutherans had their differences.

"Everybody came here to seek a better life, but they brought their bigotry with them -- or what sounded like bigotry. When I got it sorted out in my mind, it was no longer bigotry, it was fear -- a natural defensiveness coming from fear of what's different from you."

(above: Robert Alan Clayton, BILL BAILEY, Farmer, Rancher, Soldier)

 

ROBERT ALAN CLAYTON

An award-winning photographer who shoots with both the eye and the heart of an illustrator, Robert Alan Clayton's career spans nearly three decades, and as many continents. For Clayton, photography became a natural extension of his childhood desire to draw, paint, and observe. He credits his early training in these disciplines for his keen sensitivity to the human figure.

Clayton is a pioneer in the development of modular audio-visual presentation systems and programming, particularly for the financial services industry. His clientele include Air France, Bank of America, Bank of Montreal, Citibank, Chevron, and Arco. Robert and his wife, Judith, are partners in their own business, DOT Systems, Inc., a Denver corporate communications/design firm.

 

(above: Robert Alan Clayton, MARGIE CRAWFORD SCHAAF, Teacher, Ranchwife)

 

(above: Robert Alan Clayton, BENNY & ROOSTER REYNOLDS, Rodeo Cowboys)

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