Ronald George Robertson passed away peacefully in the early morning hours of October 17, 2022. He had celebrated his 95th birthday on 25 September, and, despite the physical limitations accompanying his late-stage dementia, managed to blow out the candles and to devour the cake and ice cream! Robertson was a painter, a printmaker, an assemblage artist, a sculptor, a teacher-mentor, a husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1927 to British-Canadian immigrants, Ron’s artistic talents were early evident, and in his late teens, he studied painting with Zubel Kachadoorian and Stanley Twardowicz. After classes at Mexico City College and L’Académie André Lhote in Paris, France, Robertson studied at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where his contemporaries included the artists Cy Twombly, Ruth Asawa, Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothea Rockbourne, and poet and later colleague, Mervin Lane, among others. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in art education from Wayne State University, where he met Helen Jean Korzeniewska-Krause (1929-2017). They married in December 1952. For the next several years Ron was employed in Ford Motor’s styling division, and with the equally talented Helen, began to produce oil paintings and watercolors for exhibition and sale, and even silkscreened greeting cards.
Their artistic interests influenced their bold decision in 1956 to move, their young daughter Jennifer and son Daniel in tow, to Japan, where years later two daughters, Sarah and Edith, were born. The family lived in the rural suburbs of Tokyo Metropolitan Prefecture for ten years before moving to Santa Barbara, California in 1966. In Japan, Ron, a civilian, headed the Arts and Crafts division of the USFJ (United States Forces in Japan) and later directed the education program of the University of Maryland’s then “Far East Division.” At the same time, Ron and Helen conducted ethnographic research on, and collected the works of, a wide range of Japanese artists, from woodblock prints and stone-rubbings to ceramics and hand-crafted furniture. Among the fruits of their joint research was a book on Japanese contemporary printmaking and more recently, a book manuscript on katazome, Japanese traditional stencil painting. Ron also worked long nights in his studio on oil paintings that he exhibited at different galleries in Tokyo, and several times at the well-known Yōseido Gallery in Tokyo’s Ginza district. He also began making dye-resist woodblock prints and the three-dimensional assemblages that came to dominate his artwork repertory.
A job offer from the University of California, Santa Barbara, brought the family back to the United States in the fall of 1966. For Detroiters Ron and Helen, the “Mediterranean” Santa Barbara was paradise. Following stints in the UCSB Art
Department and College of Creative Studies, Ron and several colleagues founded the Santa Barbara Art Institute on the Riviera, graduating a class of talented young artists before closing. Ron then was hired by Santa Barbara City College (SBCC), where he helped to shape the printmaking program, and also chair the department. He retired from SBCC in the late 1980s and continued to mentor aspiring artists in his home studio overlooking the harbor. Ron continued to exhibit his works of art at various California venues, including a recent retrospective show of his work, “The Power of Objects” (July-August 2022), that doubled as a fundraiser for the Santa Barbara Arts Fund. Robertson’s artwork can be viewed at https://www.ronrobertsonart.com/.
Although Ron and Helen never returned to Japan, they took a post-retirement trip to Europe which included a tour of Helen’s ancestral home in Poland, a profound experience for them. They also traveled together and singly, sometimes with their four children, to various corners of the United States, Mexico, and Central America.
Following a diagnosis of advanced vascular dementia, Ron moved to an assisted living residence in Santa Barbara, and, following Helen’s death, to several memory-care residences in Seattle, WA, where Jennifer and Sarah live. Ron was blessed to have spent his final months at the home-like Florence of Seattle where, together with the expert nurses from Evergreen Hospice, the caring staff kept him nurtured and comfortable. In his final days and hours, Jennifer and Sarah kept constant vigil, and Dan and Edie were able to convey their love by video phone.
Ronald is survived by four children (in order of birth): Jennifer Robertson (Celeste Brusati), Daniel Robertson (Linda Robertson), Sarah Robertson Palmer (Lance Palmer), and Edith Robertson; five grandchildren, Renee Robertson, Stacie Huston, Ian Robertson, Graham Palmer, and Dylan Palmer, and four great-grandchildren. Ron will be greatly missed by many friends, colleagues, and former students. If you wish, please send a donation in Ron’s name to the Santa Barbara Arts Fund (www.sbartfund.org).
Sarah and Edie are planning an event celebrating Helen and Ron for summer 2023.