In Memoriam: Bob Ragland, My Favorite Non-Starving Artist

Bob Ragland was one of the first artists I met when I moved to Denver in the early 90s. I had just started working for Carol Siple, in her gallery on Market and 17th, and was spending every free moment trying to learn about the artists she carried–Daniel Sprick, Dean Mitchel, Mark English, Joellyn Duesberry, Michael Bergt, and, oh my god, just so many others. It felt like I was cramming for an exam on a class I’d skipped until the night before the final. 

Dean Mitchell, Bob at the Easel, watercolor, 20x15

So, when this crazy guy walked in wearing a dark green vest and a large, obviously handmade pin that read “NON-STARVING ARTIST,” I saw him as a distraction I really didn’t have time for at that moment. And, truth be told, he was kind of pushy with all the questions about marketing and press releases and postcards….

But I quickly got the feeling he was genuine, that he truly wanted to help me succeed–that he wanted the gallery to succeed. Before I knew it, I was involved in an energetic conversation that got my mind swimming with ideas.

Over the years, I came to enjoy Bob’s calls, letters, and enthusiastic messages of encouragement.

The thing is, Bob was like that for everyone. He had a big heart and lots of ideas, free for anyone willing to listen.  

Sometime over the weekend of April 10, maybe even the 9th, Bob Ragland shuffled off this mortal coil. I think he might have appreciated that way of putting it, his death, because, if anything, he would have made a great character in one of Shakespeare’s plays, the eccentric who went out into the world each day heralding the news that art and artists mattered. 

The last time I heard from Bob, he’d messaged me to ask how the Coors Show went. He never missed the show and always tracked me down or called me to gather intel on the market. I missed Bob this year; we were totally online because of Covid, so, right on time…

I got the following message:

Letters from Bob

I’ve talked to many artists about something called the “imposter syndrome,” where you feel like a total fraud and question yourself, question your ability, question your why. I am among those who often fight this feeling. Hearing from Bob, an artist who’d met me at the very start of my career as a curator, always bolstered my spirits, more than I ever told him. 

Before the ubiquitous internet and Facebook and texting, Bob sent snail mail filled with his ideas for artists. He practiced the basic tenets that he preached. And, of course, you always knew it was a letter from Bob before you even opened it.

Bob used any paper around him to write letters, which he generously decorated with pictures and words accented with brilliant crayon colors. This letter from January 2017 was written on a copy of an article by Rodney Ripps. I like the following line and think it was something Bob believed deeply: 

“Who you are as an artist rubs off on your work; I would always prefer to do art that welcomes life rather than resists it.”

QUESTIONS FOR ARTISTS by Bob Ragland

January 2009, I received a thick envelope with, among numerous photocopies and his letter, a list of questions to ask artists. Here’s an excerpt.

  • Why do you do the work that you do?
  • What is your workday like?
  • How do you schedule art making around your regular daily chores?
  • Who’s your best support?
  • What books and magazines do you read?
  • What do you do to get over creative blocks, if you have them?
  • How do you handle rejection?
  • Are you able to save any money from your art sales?
  • Do you go to other artists exhibitions?
  • What is one of your best art stories?
  • Have you ever had a patron or sponsor
  • How are your business skills as an artist?
Dean Mitchell, The Artist Bob Ragland, 16x11, watercolor

And, of course, always remember that Real Artists:

Do outreach by some USPS.

They PR Shows and Events they are in.

They do it ALL YEAR-EVERY YEAR.

Goodbye, my friend. We lost a great champion in you.

Bob Ragland, 1938-2021

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Sign up to receive

Art News from Way Out West

Tips & Tricks from an Art World Insider

Special Invites to Arty Events

by

Curator, writer, and strategist for artists and non-profits, Rose Fredrick has spent the last three decades producing exhibitions that have not only raised considerable funds for scholarships and education, but have also launched artists’ careers. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and her essays and interviews have been used in workshops, college courses, and museum exhibitions. She has won the National Endowment for the Arts grant, Rock West Curator of the Year, Denver’s The Big Read, Best Multicultural Book from the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards, and was a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards.

15 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Bob Ragland, My Favorite Non-Starving Artist

  1. Therese Meggitt

    Bob Ragland the (Non-Starving) Artist had a very gentle soul was very genuine kindhearted and caring, did what he loved and was one of the sweetest man I’ve known. I am happy to have called him one of my closest friends. Bob did what he loved “ART”. He was very creative and created up until his death telling me daily about his work 3 pieces he was working on. No matter what he is an incredible example of tremendous strength painting still at his age and success! He was a real genuine Artist through and through! Had incredible networking and business skills too, sending “snail mail” his correspondence to everyone always that he knew. I was very close to him we conversed on most days and he painted me angels & dogs, really only because I asked him too. I know he truly cared about me as all close to Bob knew. See Bob would remind you how much he cared about you. Leaving me a phone message 5 days before his death. Telling me “I know you love me thanks for the Vino Therese you sure do treat your people well”. Bob told me two years before, “you know Therese I don’t paint angels or dogs nope” so don’t ask me too, I do hope you know this”. Later he would send them to my home on snail mail and drawn in letters or painted angels and dogs for me to etc… See I’m an domestic abuse survivor whom met Bob right after my abuse. I have experienced a lot of trauma, too. Bob and I met when he wore his non- starving Artist pin walking by my home noticing my license plate saying “ Matisse”. Asked me, “ you love Matisse too huh”. To find out Matisse was his favorite Artist, too. Bob Ragland also, loved Picasso for his work and strong work ethic he told me. We were very close friends texting daily for years and in his very last days. Bob Ragland taught me life is so precious never take it for granted. Bob awoke every day telling me, “ Therese you know I’m just lucky to wake up again & so happy to be alive”. His passing truly saddens me it’s crushing and so hard to know I won’t be talking with him anymore. Bob Ragland mentored me, counseled me daily before his death and truly was family to me. I didn’t hear from him for four days unusual kept texting him, then found out he passed. I sat home waiting to receive an Angel painting from him that he just promised to send me in his last two texts. I was very excited and could not wait. Bob taught me so much mostly, that every single day on this Earth is a true blessing. One never to be taken for granted get up and do he would say do you Therese. Always told me to face my trauma by doing things one at a time slowly he would say you’ll then get it done. “You will get it done he said don’t worry”. “Therese you can accomplish much like the Japanese do too, if you just do bite size one at a time”, he said always encouraging me in my life. He also told me, “ just be yourself Therese just do you, don’t listen to others”. I admired him greatly for his Art life his hard-work and dedication to it, and him doing what he truly loved. Bob had a strong work ethic. Many times I would tell him to take a break. He would say to me, “ at my age you don’t understand Therese I still have so much to do”. I witnessed him in his 70’s walking by his home come outside exhausted in his welding garb and glasses to protect his eyes after him doing more welding. I was amazed he kept on going at it working hard at this age to complete and accomplish another piece for his Art collectors. He was really amazing someone who will always remain in my heart and his words to me constantly he repeated in my head. Bob Ragland is A man I truly respected, loved and admired. I will never forget him. Bob was a genuine wonderful person and friend. ?Therese

  2. Rose,

    Thanks for letting us know about Bob’s passing. I wish I had known him better. When I was doing art festivals he would walk into my booth and start into his spiel. At the time I didn’t have much time to talk to him and he seemed a bit overbearing. Little did I know. You are very lucky to have all those colorful letters he sent out. He helped a lot of people. What a unique individual he was.

    Ron

  3. Sandra Eckstein

    Thank you, Rose, for this beautiful tribute to Bob !! I met Bob in 1969 when we both worked at the Community Center in the 5 Points area. I didn’t keep in touch with him after I moved to Montana because life got busy with family, jobs, etc. I “found” him on Facebook in 2011 and was surprised to find he remembered me !! I always enjoyed his snail mail and the articles he sent. He was the most generous person and will be sorely missed !

  4. I just loved this! I have my packet that I received from him about 12 years ago and I will cherish it always. He used to tell me I had chops, now what was I going to do with them lol!

    • Oh, Shanna, thank you! Cherish that letter from Bob. (I can’t think of the last time I got an actual letter in the mail.) How great to be told “you’ve got the chops,” hey? He will be missed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.