W.Richard "Dick" Doherty could be considered the "father" of the City of Delta's mural program. "Delta County Ark," a mural that depicts the wildlife found in western Colorado, paved the way for fellow artists Connie Williams, Virginia Blackstock, Seth Weber, Ginny Allen and Emanuel Martinez.
The sculptures placed in prominent locations throughout the city have further enhanced the city's reputation for beauty and culture.
So it was with heavy hearts that the city's mural committee determined the original mural had become so faded it would have to be replaced.
The loss of "Delta County Ark" is not borne lightly by Doherty or the committee members who commissioned the work in 1987. "Each mural is treasured and appreciated, but the heat and sun on the south and west walls have been brutal," said committee chairman Gayla Clay. "After 26 years, the decision was made to replace The Ark with another mural."
After working with Dick on three other murals for the city, the mural committee decided to again showcase his talent on the city's newest mural project, "Gateway to the Canyons." But because Doherty no longer feels comfortable climbing up and down scaffolding, the artwork will be executed by Seth Weber.
In the three murals he has completed for the city, Seth has shown the same attention to detail Dick exhibited on "The Hardware Store," which he completed in 1996.
"The friendly, authentic likenesses of the painted hardware attendants lure residents and visitors alike to stand beside the men in the mural, to have a picture snapped as if they, too, were painted into the work of art," Gayla said.
In 1999, Dick painted "The Opera House" on the north side of the same building at the corner of 3rd and Main.
"We've always been able to count on Richard's accurate research of the mural to be commissioned," Gayla said. "His artistic talents have been respected, appreciated and enjoyed by the citizens of this county and neighboring counties."
The theme for the new mural was chosen to highlight the city's proximity to the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and the many outdoor recreation opportunities available in the rugged desert canyons west and north of Delta.
When first approached for design ideas, Doherty began pulling out some of the sketches he'd done over the years. A drawing depicting an encounter between a white man and the Utes quickly piqued the interest of committee members. Doherty had anticipated using that sketch as the basis for a mural on the south side of the Wells Fargo parking lot. Instead, the commission went to Connie Williams who painted "Ute Country." Dick was devastated, not because he had lost the commission to a fellow artist, but because he lost the opportunity to use the expansive wall as his canvas. "Oh, I wanted that wall!" he said.
Painting on a large scale has its challenges, but those are challenges Dick has embraced as he's been commissioned to complete murals indoors and out, from Paonia to Crawford to Grand Junction. First is the need for research. To flesh out his conceptual design of Dominguez and Escalante, he turned to Ken Reyher, the author of "Wilderness Wanderers," the story of the 1776 expedition of the two Franciscan priests. With his input, Dick was able to put the finishing touches on the life-size figures of Dominguez and Escalante being greeted by three Ute Indians on horseback.
Then comes the challenge of creating a proportionally pleasing piece of art. Some artists mark grids across the surface of the wall; others project the design onto the wall. Doherty selects a key element, then takes measurements from the sides and top of the wall to make sure the image is accurately placed. "Then you start putting everything else in place, in relationship to the main object.
"The way I work, the realism I portray, doesn't leave me any room for mistakes," he said. "People who look closely at my art can start noticing mistakes real quickly. It's not like looking at a little picture — they'll end up walking around the mural, looking at details."
The weather can be another challenge. It might be too hot, it might be too cold. A sudden rainstorm can cause water-based paints to run.
With a wall reaching 20 feet or higher, maneuvering into position frequently requires scaffolding or a bucket truck. Sometimes there are physical obstacles on the wall, like eaves or a downspout.
Perhaps that's why one of Dick's best murals was done at his home, then moved into the spacious living room of a Crawford residence. "That to me was as good a piece of work as I can do. Maybe I can still beat it, I don't know — I'm real proud of that! You usually don't say that about your own work because you can seem conceited . . ."
In that mural, Dick was able to incorporate many of his favorite subjects — western landscapes, wildlife and horseback riders. Judging from the authenticity of his art, one would think Dick was a born and bred westerner, but he was actually raised in New York City. His family scraped by during the Depression years, which meant there was never money for art lessons or top-quality art supplies, despite the talent Dick exhibited at a young age. He recalls the first piece of artwork he did when he was just 5 years old — a picture of a bicycle leaning against the wall in the hallway of the house they were living in in New York City. People quickly recognized Dick's talent, and their praise stimulated his efforts to create posters and design artwork for school projects. Little by little, Dick became aware that art was his forté, a way for him to quickly gain recognition as he moved into new neighborhoods.
"Under other circumstances, if I had been raised in a more upper class family, who knows what would have happened? I went with it on my own."
At the age of 16, Dick quit high school, packed up his stuff and left home. Young, single and bored, he "got to wandering around," taking whatever job he could get.
Luckily he wasn't afraid of hard work, so he never went hungry. In New York, he worked in an aircraft factory and later found employment at a dairy farm where he discovered a genuine interest in agriculture.
After a stint in the service he completed his high school degree and then studied animal husbandry at a college on Long Island.
Still drifting, he moved west to work as a cowhand at ranches in Wyoming, the Dakotas and Colorado. During his wanderings, Dick drew and painted what he was seeing and doing. Eventually he found his way to a ranch outside of Norwood. His talent for sketching and drawing caught the attention of the school board president. "He came to me one day and asked me to teach a class," Dick recalled. He'd never taken an art class, but he cast his mind back to his trade teachers and how they had handled their classes. With those role models and the knowledge about art he'd gained through experience and from libraries, he started teaching. There was just one problem — Dick was not licensed. The school district promised to hold his job if he would go to college to become accredited. Dick studied fine arts at Western State College in Gunnison and later earned his master's degree from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
While at Norwood he married a fellow teacher, Debbie, and they had a daughter. In 1969, Dick and his family moved to Delta and he began teaching art and drafting at Delta High School. He also helped with the school plays. "The only job I kept for any length of time was at Delta High School," he said.
It was in Delta where Dick began seriously pursuing the commercial aspect of his art. He illustrated five books with pen-and-ink drawings, painted signs, designed the centennial coin for Delta's 100th anniversary, and exhibited his oils and watercolors in galleries in Delta, Montrose, Hotchkiss, Cedaredge, Grand Junction and Cheyenne, Wyo. He picked up a few extra bucks sketching jury trials for the DCI.
Looking back, Dick believes he could have been more successful financially if he had moved to a metropolitan area with a vibrant arts community. But for most of his life, art was just a "pastime, a labor of love." He was more worried about making enough money to get by than accumulating wealth. And, unlike Newt Gingrich, he didn't marry a wealthy woman.
"We just try to get by as best we can. I'm just very fortunate that I've always had this talent."
And the residents of Delta are fortunate that he's been willing to share his talent in a way that can be appreciated by everyone passing through the city.blog comments powered by Disqus