Robert Stillwell: artist, sculptor, color aficionado
Artist, sculptor, imaginative color aficionado
Artist Robert Stillwell died at his home at the Claremont Manor on Christmas Eve. He was 93.
The son of Edith Agee Stillwell and Matthew Stillwell, he was born on January 17, 1925 in Grain Valley, Missouri. Bob’s mother died shortly after he was born, and he was adopted by his half-brother and his wife.
He was named Levy by his parents at birth, but his stepmother, Sue, didn’t like the name and decided to call him Robert. “Bob Robert,” she would say when he was being stubborn, “you’re as independent as a hog on ice!”
Bob spoke of his childhood in idyllic terms, like being in a Norman Rockwell painting. He grew up listening to the old timers tell stories, which instilled in him, at an early age, a love of history and a love of old houses and buildings.
In 1943, Mr. Stillwell was drafted into the army at age 18. His assignment was at General McArthur’s headquarters in the South Pacific. As the war advanced, the headquarters moved from island to island. He was impressed with the lush vegetation yet remained fearful of some of its inhabitants: “There were Japanese soldiers hiding in the jungle, but I was only afraid of the snakes,” he had shared.
After the war, Mr. Stillwell studied at Rockhurst College, a Jesuit school in Kansas City, later transferring to the University of Missouri. His college years helped him discover his real purpose: he wanted to be an artist. He enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute to study sculpture, and studied at the Corcoran Art Institute in Washington, DC and the New York City Sculpture Center.
His work as a sculptor was exciting, but it did not support him financially. Then Hallmark Greeting Cards employed him as a full-time artist, where he worked for five years.
He moved to Los Angeles where he worked for 14 years as Art Director at Buzza Cardoza, another greeting card company. Bob loved his years at Buzza Cardoza and it was there he experimented with brilliant fluorescent colors, which brought many awards to the company.
When Buzza Cardoza closed, Bob was 56 and found himself in a precarious situation: He was an artist without a job. He moved toward the shore and opened an art gallery in Manhattan Beach. The gallery eventually morphed into an antique shop, where he honed his business skills and learned to restore furniture.
In 1979, Mr. Stillwell moved to Upland with his friend, Bill Dunn, and his wife Gail. During this time, he worked as a draftsman for Bill, and met Robert Ricker and Jackie Dunn, both interior designers, who employed Bob’s artistic talents. Mr. Stillwell established an art studio off Yale Avenue in the Claremont Village and began painting in earnest.
Although painting and sculpture were his first loves, Bob had a passion for interior design that was recognized by former Claremonter and Ivy House owner Jackie Dunn. They became fast friends and Mr. Stillwell was her go-to artist for drafting and design concept layouts for many years.
“I would go to the house and do a rough sketch, but then Bob would go home and do beautiful renderings,” she said. “?I had the vision and he was the artist who could put it to paper.”
The friends utilized the same crew of painters, wallpaper installers and craftsman for many years. As the team worked from home to home in Claremont, Upland and surrounding cities, the crew affectionately began calling Mr. Stillwell the “beam man”—a nickname Ms. Dunn said he kept his sense of humor about—for his creative approach to ceiling beams, which during that time were typically painted plain white.
“Bob would want to do peach with a grey overlay and toss some green in,” she recalled. “At first I would try to control it, but he understood color. He would do amazing treatments on beams. People just loved them.”
During these years, he served on the board of directors of the Ontario Museum of History and Art, where he had a show in 1992 sponsored by the Chaffey Community Art Association that featured 50 of his paintings.
Although Mr. Stillwell’s early years took him to New York, Washington DC and San Francisco, he embarked on his world travels later in life. England, France, Scotland and Hawaii were among his favorite places. It was through travel that he could revisit his history and art lessons and enjoy the people and the food. Mr. Stillwell loved Mark Twain’s belief that travel is dangerous to prejudice. “I’m a travelin’ man,” Bob used to say with a grin.
Mr. Stillwell loved books and was an ardent reader. He had a deep interest in books on faith, an enthusiasm shared with Ms. Dunn.
“He was conscious of how he wanted to live his life,” she said. “He was special to me—just his spirit and the way he thought about things. He loved beauty in any form.”
A remembrance service will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, January 26 at Claremont Manor in Manor Hall, 650 Harrison Ave., Claremont. Some of Mr. Stillwell’s paintings will be displayed. All are welcome to attend.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations in his name to Chaffey Community Museum of Art, 217 S. Lemon St., Ontario, CA 91761.