The Stone City Art Colony and School 1932-1933
Newton W. Roberts

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Newton W. Roberts (1881-1974) -- student

A second-generation lawyer who discovered his talents for painting in midlife, Newton W. Roberts was born in Hancock, Indiana (1881), the son of Judge Milton Roberts. Newton graduated from Baker University (Baldwin, KS) in 1910, briefly studied sociology at Columbia University (1916-1917), and received his Masters from Iowa Wesleyan College. After working as a court reporter for eight years, Roberts was admitted to the Iowa Bar in 1912 and practiced law with his father's firm. He also served as the Wapello (IA) County attorney in 1919 and 1923. Roberts' reputation cemented his role as one of the county's most respected lawyers; he maintained his office in the family's law building and would later have his private, painting studio on its third floor. The family's legal legacy also prevailed as the judge's secretary, Ms. Cecil Cantaberry, remained employed as Newton's office manager.

While his wife and daughter took a Sunday afternoon drive in 1930, Roberts picked up the teenager's oil paints and tried to paint an image from a nearby calendar. Fascinated with the process and having no formal training, Roberts' hobby soon grew to a serious past-time. Ottumwa area artists John Sharp, Joe Funk, and Helen Gardner Brown all provided Roberts with criticism and encouragement. In 1932, he attended the first session of the Stone City art colony and exhibited his first significant work, "Self-Portrait," at a 1932 Iowa Federate Women's Club competition. In 1937, he completed "Smoke Stacks," an Ottumwa scene set at the local power plant and drawn on rough cardboard. This painting won honors in the annual, Iowa Federated Women's Clubs competition and joined a Five State Exhibition at the Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, NE). The work remained on view from 1938-1939 and was followed by one-man shows at the Des Moines Art Center (IA); the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale (FL); and at the Ottumwa Art Center. Roberts' paintings also had featured roles in exhibits at the Denver Art Museum (CO), the Nelson Gallery (Kansas City, KS), and the City Art Museum in St. Louis (MO).

During his later years, Roberts retired from his law practice and developed a personal studio over his home's garage. A resident of Ottumwa from the age of two, Roberts died there in December 1974.

Newton featured with one of his award-winning still lifes. Image courtesy of the Genealogy Collection, Ottumwa Public Library, Ottumwa, Iowa.

Roberts paired with an Ottumwa art show entry (undated).
Image from the collection of photographer Michael W. Lemberger, Ottumwa, Iowa.

The Roberts studio, one month after the death of the artist. The structure was demolished in 1975.
Image courtesy of photographer Michael W. Lemberger, Ottumwa, Iowa.

 "Man and Cane" by Newton Roberts (ca. 1945). Selection from image provided by Don Cantaberry, Marion, Iowa.

Label on back of "Man and Cane."

Untitled still life by Newton Roberts (1964). Image courtesy of Don Cantaberry, Marion, Iowa.

Photo courtesy of the Genealogy Collection,
Ottumwa Public Library, Ottumwa, Iowa.

An undated portrait of the artist.
Image courtesy of photographer Michael W.Lemberger, Ottumwa, Iowa.

When Tillage Begins: The Stone City Art Colony and School
Published online October 2003 by the
Busse Library,
Mount Mercy University
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Telephone: 319-368-6465
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