Charles Strong: In Memoriam at the Harwood Museum of Art (Sunday, Sept. 8, 1 to 3 pm)

By: Bill Whaley
8 September, 2013

2013-06-23 19.19.23-4In the photo by Jina Brenneman, at right, Wesley Rusnell, Charlie Strong , and I were celebrating at Cliff and Barbara Harmon’s recent gathering. Charlie’s generosity and support—cheerleading—for artists and the art community in Taos were legend. No matter what the topic, he liked to talk about the connections between artists in Taos, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. Like an informed master of ceremonies, he kept us all up to date on various figures, past and present, who were rolling through the world and especially, Taos.

I promised that day to visit Charlie at his studio and shortly after and to my great sorrow, he was gone. At Geronimo, the precursor to Horse Fly, he appeared one day, unsolicited, check in hand, to help me and Tom Collins, keep the wolf from the door. Surely, his work on behalf of the Diebenkorn exhibit at the Harwood Museum of Art, was a high point of local exhibitions. Charlie we dearly loved you. We extend our condolences to Lynn and post her own portrait of Charlie.

1f7382787e8347d48829d07c460727d7(From Paul O’Connor’s Taos Portraits)

Charles R. Strong

Since building a home here in 1989, Charlie Strong has contributed a great deal to the Taos art scene through his own work and a generosity of spirit in supporting younger artists. Through a foundation, he has also been instrumental in helping a myriad of people and causes in the U.S. and elsewhere.

He is known around town as a lovable, dapper bon vivant with a variety of colorful ensembles ranging from boldly patterned chef pants, politically inspired t-shirts and silk kerchiefs, to the more debonair look of Italian leather shoes, cashmere dinner jackets, and Borsalino fedoras.

Years ago when I’d known Charlie only peripherally I’d heard he’d been admitted to Holy Cross Hospital. I decided to visit him and braced myself to face a lonely patient in a drab setting. What I found instead was a room overflowing with merrymakers. Charlie was propped up in bed, sporting a vintage indigo kimono and festive scarf, laughing and eating with chopsticks from a blue and white porcelain bowl.

Recently, I accompanied him on a trip to Greeley, Colorado. At a local diner, more than one burly overall-wearing ‘old boys’ gave Charlie (in bright lobster patterned chef pants, clashing checkered shirt, and wide-brimmed Panama hat) one of those, “You ain’t from around here” glares. But the fact is, Charlie was born and raised in Greeley.

From an early age he owned horses and as a teen went riding into the Rocky Mountains for over night trips. From horses he moved on to drinking and cars. “Because of the beer drinking and hotrods, I was shipped off to Kemper Military School in Booneville, Missouri,” recalls Strong, “which my father, an admirer of Will Rogers who had attended Kemper, thought would straighten me out. It didn’t.”

Eventually, he headed to Climax, Colorado, to work at molybdenum mine on a 13,000-foot high pass. “On one particularly uninspired occasion, I smuggled dynamite out and set it off in a cornfield. Luckily I wasn’t political at this point or I’d have been a natural recruit for the Weather Underground,” Charlie said with a smile. Back at the mine he set a dynamite charge and wasn’t far enough away when it blew. “I got hit and my hard hat got cracked by flying ore. I made a horizontal exit in a muck train.”

charlie strongYou might say he literally blew onto the art scene because after that, he moved to San Francisco to attend the California School of Fine Art. There he was inspired by the likes of Ed Corbett, Jack Jefferson, Hassel Smith, Clay Spohn, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Machesney, and Mary Fuller. Charlie is perhaps best know for the Abstract Expressionist paintings he created during his years in the Bay area. His massive volume of work includes painting, sculpture, and ceramics – much of which is devoted to heroic and anti-heroic icons like Joan of Arc, Cervantes (monumental sculpture outside the Albuquerque Museum), Rasputan, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and a current series on the White Rose German anti-fascist students.

The Charlie I’ve come to know is sensitive spirit with a contagious laugh, insatiable curiosity, and an endearing ability to see the best in people. His friend Jennifer Lynch, I feel, perfectly captured his playful personality in a photo she took in Florence. There he is, dressed in overcoat, gloves and beret, sprawled out in a dry water basin beneath an ancient stone lion’s head. He is grinning from ear to ear. Another of his friends, neighbor Cris Pulos, once wrote that “Charles is that iconic image of the true artist: brilliant, well read, sharp dresser, wine connoisseur, a friend, great sense of humor and very fine taste in art, music and lovers.”

Charlie Strong 2Located in sage foothills, Charlie’s home was built to resemble the Ranchos de Taos church. The house, which Father Bill (McNichols) dubbed “Museo de Strong,” contains an eclectic collection of Asian, American, Indian, Mexican, Cuban art and artifacts. In the midst of all of this visual wonder is, perhaps, a piece that Charlie prizes most. It is from a school in Burma he helped build and named in honor of his late friend Mildred Tolbert. On 5-foot banner are the faces of radiant young Burmese children and a sentiment many of us in Taos and beyond share. It reads, simply, “Thank you, Charlie!”

Lyn Bleiler

Category: Que Pasa? | RSS 2.0 Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

No Comments

Comments are closed.