By Cindy Boykin
this Texas couple's
lifetime of discoveries made together
We wanted to feature Bob and Judy Drotman's art-filled home this month because August kicks off the new season for many arts organizations. As expected, we saw some fabulous art. But we discovered much more than that. We came away with an education—not only concerning art and artists, but about history, religion, the Civil War, WWII, jazz, and more.
Such is the beauty of art. Quiet stories of both ordinary and extraordinary lives, provincial and exotic places, universal emotions, and historical events are all captured on canvas for the enjoyment and enlightenment of people for generations to come. No one appreciates the depth and richness of art more than the Drotmans.
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Judy and Bob grew up in El Paso, Texas, where homes of their youth commonly displayed religious art pieces called retablos. These primitive works of folk art were painted most often on tin (silver and copper became too expensive) by artisans in Mexico in the 1800s. In most cases, the pieces were not even signed, they were so commonly painted and used for home altars and chapels.
Portraits of the various saints and of the Holy Trinity are rich with symbolism. Judy points out one of the first ones they purchased is the patron saint of miners, and regardless of the artist, the saint always holds a basket of roses to welcome miners back from the depths.
Collecting retablos is a tradition that started in Judy's childhood home. "My mother had a collection because they lived in El Paso, and just about everyone had retablos in their homes. We had easy access to them, they were cheap at the time—about $5 or $10—and it fit the Spanish architecture," Judy says.
Retablos are special to the Drotmans for another reason. They are the genesis of the extensive and varied art collection they have today. The first piece of art they ever bought together was a retablo purchased from a vendor they spotted when leaving a movie theater in El Paso.
Once sold by street vendors and in shops for mere dollars, retablos are now considerably more valuable, which leads Bob to joke, "We didn't buy enough of them back then, did we?"
Through the years, they have searched for these little treasures of antiquity which evoke wonderful memories of their El Paso youth.
Another collection which celebrates their Texas heritage is displayed in Bob's study. All the paintings in this room are by Texas artists, and most are scenes of Texas.
One of the most well-known artists represented is W.A. Slaughter, who is famous for his paintings of bluebonnets. Born in San Antonio in 1923, Slaughter served in the Air Force during WWII, became an ordained Lutheran pastor, and began painting just as a hobby. Largely self-taught, Slaughter finally left the ministry in the early '70s and began painting full time. Although best known for his sweeping canvases of bluebonnets, he captured other landscapes as well, including one of Palo Duro Canyon which is part of the Drotmans' collection.
Another Texas artist whose work graces Bob's office is Eloise Polk McGill (1868—1939), a direct descendant of President James Polk. This native of Independence, Texas, studied in San Antonio, where she ultimately made her home, and also in New York, Massachusetts, and France. She is most remembered for her oil paintings of Texas wildflowers and landscapes.
While on the topic of San Antonio, Bob informs us that "San Antonio is really the home of art in Texas. That's because all the famous Texas artists like Boyer Gonzales Sr. (1864–1934) and Dawson Dawson-Watson (1864–1939) lived in San Antonio. Oh, they had a tremendous artists' colony there!"
The Drotmans' oldest painting dates back to the Civil War, when Union solider A.B. Peticolas painted "Rebels on the Rio Grande" while stationed in El Paso.
Lewis Teel was a member of the informally named "purple mountain painters." As Bob says, "Look at the mountains in his art, and you'll see why. This is the El Paso Country Club, and it's in the original frame. Lewis Teel carved his own frames by hand."
Among all the florals and landscapes, one picture catches our eye for its beauty and realism. It's a group, or rafter, of turkeys painted by Waco native John French. The birds are so vividly and beautifully painted that John James Audubon would be jealous.
Upstairs, two completely different collections are on display, each representing two other passions: travel and jazz.
In a guest bedroom, dozens of small, framed paintings pay homage to artists who are trying to make it in the world of art—all over the world. Some of the paintings are scenes from Italy, Spain, Turkey, China, Estonia, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, England, and Ireland.
"These paintings are all original street art. Everywhere we go, we try to buy a piece of art off the street from an artist. Funny story about this one from Ireland," Bob says, pointing to a row of houses with different colored doors. "The Irish are known to be heavy drinkers, so the different colored doors is how they can find their house when they get home. That's the story behind that painting."
The street art tradition is so much fun and has provided such lovely works of art, that their grown children have started collections of their own.
The other significant collection they have is in an upstairs entertainment room where Bob enjoys watching TV and listening to jazz. Among the works of their jazz art are signed album covers, small sculptures, ceramic tile art, drawings, and paintings. One of their favorites is a woodcut called "Big Band in a Small Club" by John Leon. It depicts instrument stands and chair legs cramped together at a band performance.
Art by Dallas illustrator and fine artist Bart Forbes is prized in this collection, not only for its unique interpretation of jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald, but because the artist is so well known and much collected. Forbes has designed over 20 commemorative postage stamps, including the "America the Beautiful" series. Known especially for his sports themes, in 1988 Forbes was selected by the Korean Olympic Committee to be the Official Artist for the Seoul Olympics.
There are a few other pieces of art throughout the house that we cannot overlook. These are works painted by local artists, and they can stand up to the most beautiful works in the home. Pieces by Nel Dorn Byrd, Marie Renfro, and Plano Profile publisher Jean Newman are counted among their favorite pieces.
And, if you look closely, off to the side of the living room is a small but lustrous oil painting of a golden-ripe pear. It was painted by Judy.
Noticing the piece, we remarked about Judy being an artist herself. With humility that seems to be the hallmark of this couple, she laughs, "That's like saying I'm a rocket scientist! I just paint." For the record, she paints very well.
In the Drotman home, art is never a secondary consideration nor simply decoration. Art tells their life story—where they have been, what they love, what they've discovered and learned.
Bob says, "Every time you look at a picture, even if you've seen it a hundred times, you always see something else. I just think art brings a house to life."
How do they go about adding to their collection? Judy answers, "We have one rule, and that is, if we do not love it, we do not buy it."
"And we both have to like it," Bob adds. "We never argue about a piece of art. If one likes it and the other doesn't, it's a no-go. We won't even discuss it."
The living room is furnished with Stickley furniture, which is appropriate since it is considered art in its own right. It was originally designed by America's best-known craftsmen in the early 1900s and is still popular today.
Kitchen bar stools are carved images of poodles Ace, Rusty and Nappy, beloved pets from years past. The sculptor also added painted bluebonnets on the wood pieces as a nod to the Drotmans' Texas home.
Bob and Judy are avid supporters of local arts and are very involved in the community. Judy serves on the advisory boards for the ArtCentre of Plano and the Assistance Center of Collin County. For all her contributions to Plano, Judy was named Citizen of the Year by the Plano Chamber of Commerce in 2011.
The question often mused is, Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? When it comes to the Drotmans, their life is art—a masterpiece in the making since they were kids in El Paso. It seems that the saints in all those retablos blessed this couple from the start.