Peru, Nebraska – Chuck Schroeder started sketching the mountain man, John LaBleu, in Taos, New Mexico. The two men soon started swapping stories about rodeo and John’s career as a professional bull rider.
Later, Schroeder would write, “John was a professional bull rider out of Lake Charles, LA; lived a rough life, had rough habits. He chose to leave that life behind, improve his lifeways and now lives largely off the land and off the grid in the mountains near Taos in northern New Mexico.”
The men talked for two hours as Schroeder sketched LaBleu. After the session was done, Schroeder remembers, his mentor, Sherrie McGraw, was poised to intervene, because most beginning portraitists didn’t want their subjects to move – much less have to carry on a conversation with them!
With a smile, Schroeder remembers the encouragement McGraw gave him to pursue portrait sketching. Encouragement that led to the show now on exhibit at Peru State, “Elders: Character Over Time.”
Schroeder’s show runs through September 21 and is on display in the Peru State Art Gallery in the A.V. Larson Building. An artist’s reception will be held Thursday, September 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Gallery. The artist will give a brief talk at 5 p.m.
Entrance to the show, the artist’s reception and the talk are free and open to the public. No reservation is necessary.
Schroeder said of his subjects, “I feel very strongly that our society places so much emphasis on youth that we forget this element of our culture.”
“These are not portraits of bank presidents, theirs suits or their hair cuts. Some of these folks have made their own clothes; some have known starvation.”
“They’ve stowed away on ships. Completed bike-rides across Europe. They’ve escaped Czechoslovakia. Sold newspapers to pay for their own clothes at ten.”
“They’ve helped a lot of other folks too – through pain and addiction. After the Snowcat took their wife to the hospital to give birth to their first child, they rode twenty miles on horseback to follow.”
Schroeder continues, “These are not perfect, fault-free lives. They knew tragedy and guilt, but they also sought change and have a character worthy of respect and understanding.”
A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Chuck Schroeder served as an Executive Vice President of the University of Nebraska Foundation before spending almost twelve years as President and Executive Director of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He has now returned to the University of Nebraska as the Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute.
In his artist statement, Schroeder writes, “For forty years I said, ‘I fool with art.’ Then, at age fifty, thanks to the encouragement of my wife, Kathi, I encountered a great teacher, Renate’ Collins, in Taos, New Mexico. Ms. Collins examined everything from my talent to my soul, and said, ‘You are an artist. Never let me hear you deny that again!’”
When asked what to look for in his work, Schroeder continues, “I used a variety of media, but it’s not a show of technique. Instead, come in and see if one or two of these personalities speak to you.”
“Look at my portraits and know they are a lot of fun, that they have a lot of stories to tell.”