Robert Summers Biography Continued:
"My great Aunt may have been the last surviving widow from the Civil War," Summers says. "I have to check that out someday to make sure. But I used to deliver her Confederate pension check. It came from the US Treasury, and I'll never forget that it had a Rebel Flag on it. It was only $30 a month, a lot of money to me then. I wish I had her check now just to be able to keep it:' When Summers was delivering these checks there were only three surviving widows in the south.
Living in Glen Rose, Texas, Summers is strongly influenced by two American traditions, the Old West and the Civil War. In tribute to his outstanding abilities he was selected to sculpt an enormous trail drive scene in bronze for downtown Dallas under the banner of the Dallas Parks Foundation. The work, consisting of three horses and riders, along with 70 longhorn steers, may be the largest bronze project in North America in numbers of figures in a contiguous piece.
"Just the whole concept of the Civil War intrigues me," Summers says. "I guess the true purpose of the war was to test the mettle of the unity of the country. When you study the Civil War there wasn't much romance about it, but we romanticize it today". Summers cites men such as Lee, Jackson, Forrest, Longstreet and Hood as exemplifying our romantic vision of great battles and dashing heroes.
Summers describes his work as "painterly." He is detailed to a point but doesn't carry it throughout the painting. In his work, he clearly defines the subject but things that aren't critical to the overall work aren't hewn as sharply. Summers is a traditionalist. He receives inspiration from Howard Pyle, one of the greatest teachers in America who taught many of the great illustrators around the turn of the century. "Many of his pupils became better painters than he was, but he was a superb teacher and he made a statement that I have read many times," Summers said. "Pyle said, 'Son if you want to paint a shoe, become the shoe."'
Summers' abundance of talent was recognized at an early age and he earned school money during the summer working as a sign painter. And while painting in his spare time, he pursued a professional career as a draftsman and technical illustrator.
His career as an artist received a major boost when he was introduced to the four hundred year old painting medium of egg tempera by fellow artist Ronald Thomason. The medium requires a methodical technique, and Summers credits this experience with an immediate improvement in the quality of his work. The power of his colors and his superb coupling of realistic and impressionist styles give each painting its drama. The very personal feeling one receives from a Robert Summers painting conveys a deep sense of commitment on the part of the artist not merely to this subject, but to art itself.
"Egg tempera demands discipline,” he noted. "You have to completely think the subject out, and it really turned my style around:' The medium suited Summers' style and he soon thereafter began marketing his work to galleries in his home area of Dallas. The offers began coming in and his career took flight. Summers is an experimenter, having worked with acrylics, pastels, water colors, egg tempera, and now for his civil war subjects, he prefers oils.
Summers is an award-winning and founding member of the Texas Association of Professional Artist (TAPA), having captured the associations Best of Show, First Prize for Oils, Popular Vote and Membership Awards. In 1975, the Governor of Texas named Summers Texas' bicentennial artist. He has been presented a gold medal by the Franklin Mint as yet another tribute to the outstanding quality of his work.