55 good things about West Virginia:

Artist's canvas finds light in West Virginia



The State Journal

May 27, 2005 | Elmer, Joann C


BAKER - If art imitates life, Robert Singleton's should be full of light and splendor.

Most West Virginians are unaware that tucked away in the mountains of the Potomac Highlands is an artist who many in the art world consider one of the finest in his craft. He is celebrated all over the world, and his paintings have adorned some of the finest galleries in the country.

As a young artist, success found the Virginia native early His career launched in Orlando, Fla., and New York City at the same time. In just a few years, his paintings and pastels were displayed throughout the country, including permanent collections at the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida and the 20th Century Gallery in Williamsburg, Va.

For most of his life, light has been Singleton's inspiration - the colors and quality of light. Many of his paintings portray clouds, a subject he has used to explore almost every dimension of light.

The young Singleton enjoyed his successes from a mountaintop in northern Georgia near the Chattanooga River. He purchased a residence on what is known as Screamer Mountain, a hot spot for the whitewater rafting industry in the 1970s.

His home became a favorite stop for the adventure-seekers who found their way to Screamer. They would bring their sleeping bags and camp outside his home. Today, Singleton still has the guest log he kept during those days in the Georgia mountains and, by his own account, it contains a few well-known names.

"It was a non-stop party," he said.

So when Singleton decided to sell the house in 1978, it came as a shock to many. The artist said he realized his life's work had brought him materialistic riches, but that wasn't enough.

The Screamer Mountain residence sold quickly The owner of Marvel Comics purchased it, including most of its furnishings. There was only one problem.

 "They wanted to move in in 30 days, and I had not a clue where I was going to go," Singleton said.

 About that time, he attended an art show in Washington, D.C. He took a day to drive around Winchester, Va., hoping to find his next home. He didn't.

 A local real estate agent suggested he take a look at West Virginia. That same day, he made a stop in Romney and then went on to Baker in Hardy County. There he met with a real estate agent who doubled as the local postmaster. After viewing a few tracts of land, Singleton still had no prospects.

 At their final stop, Singleton was about to walk away disappointed until he spied a spacious clearing.

 "I looked out and said, 'This is it,"' Singleton said.

 He went back to Screamer, packed his things and found a house to rent in Baker while he designed and built his new dream home.

 "I spent the winter in a little farmhouse and produced an entire show of pastels for my New York gallery, some 30 pieces," he said. "At the same time, I was drawing up plans for the house."

 The following spring, a bulldozer moved in to put in a long, rustic road to his secluded property. He moved into his custom designed home by the end of the summer. As he settled into his new, spacious art studio, Singleton said he could think only one thought: "What have I done?"

 For a man who spent much of his life walking in large social circles, the remoteness of the Potomac Highlands was overwhelming. Even his friends, who frequently stopped by for a visit at Screamer, found his new West Virginia home a little out of the way.

 "There was none of that, no visits," Singleton said. "It was me, myself and 1. Thus began the biggest struggle of my life. I thought I was going to go insane."

 But somewhere along the way, Singleton continued to find inspiration to paint. The "unspoiled richness" of West Virginia even found its way onto a few of his canvasses. Today, he regularly says, "I am a West Virginian by choice."

 "I say providence led me here. I was being led blindly," he said.

 It was in West Virginia that Singleton discovered a calling outside his art. It was by chance he had the opportunity to meet Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, an internationally recognized author and researcher. Ross spent much of her life helping the terminally ill, their families and friends cope with death. She was at the forefront of the hospice movement.

 Singleton and Ross developed a close friendship that continued until her death last year. It was through her teachings that Singleton found a fulfillment that wasn't displayed on a canvas.

 As the AIDS epidemic was sweeping the nation in the 1980s, Singleton took on the role of caregiver. When several of his friends became stricken with the disease, Singleton opened his home to them and cared for them until their deaths.

 It was during those times, Singleton said he realized he no longer needed to be validated by the art world. He hasn't picked up a paintbrush in at least three years. Today, he takes time to enjoy his mountain hideaway and spends time with his neighbors.

 "I'm very comfortable just being Robert, " he said. "My neighbors don't know I'm a big-time artist that's been nationally recognized. I just have a quality of friendship here that is truly enlightening. In my life, I've been surrounded by wonderful people."

 Today, when Singleton reflects on his life and art, he doesn't talk about successes. He speaks of fulfillment. And while his art may not be his life's greatest accomplishment, Singleton said the paintings do reflect his path to fulfillment.

 "The paintings," he said, "always reflect where I am chronologically both in my life and in my experiences."