Robert E. Rittenhouse’s Bios
Born and raised near his grandparents’ dairy farm in rural northeastern Washington State, Rob’s earliest subjects were drawn from the abundant life and the natural world around him. His first realistic work was a sketch of his first “pet,” a resident robin. For the next 50 years, he sought to capture on paper every living thing of moving beauty. Polite and pleasant inquiries such as, “What do you paint?” were evenly met with, “I paint life.”
Rob was not formally trained by an institute in Fine Art. Throughout his lifetime, he avidly pursued independent study of art history from the Old European Masters through American Contemporary and Modern Art. He was apprenticed and closely mentored at the age of 15 by teachers and artists William Arthur Phillips and his wife, Lorraine, of Gig Harbor, WA. The three enjoyed a long and active association in the Puget Sound art community until Mr. Phillips’ death.
Life changed dramatically in the Spring of 2001 as Rob and his wife, Yvonne, prepared to move from Seattle to Chattanooga. Except for the two years he served in the Vietnam War, Rob had lived and worked entirely in the Pacific Northwest. He looked forward to the cross-country road trip, and anticipated a thorough and lengthy exploration of the green, rolling hills and waterways of East Tennessee near Yvonne’s family.
After relocating and settling into their home in Cleveland, Rob ordered a long list of fresh materials for his new studio. Easels, rolls of canvas yardage, boxes of linen and rag papers, canisters of film, pens, brushes, pastels, inks, oils, linseed, turpentine, gesso, tools, and lighting equipment arrived in quick succession.
As warm summer evenings gently fell, Rob sat in audience on the back deck, marveling at the ever-changing light, at heat and humidity, and at the brilliant blues, yellows, and reds of neighborhood birds. Breaking dawn found him in the same place, with his eyes and ears perked in amazement. The revelation of one sunrise after another, accompanied by a full-throated orchestra of finely feathered instruments, was received as a gift of grace and beauty. Steamy mist rising from wet grass, trees that bore flowers, peace and quietude – all these untried sights and sounds found their way into his soul and onto his canvas. The hours between early morning and evening were spent behind his easel, hard at work to faithfully record this surprising new life.
Brief but frequent summer forays into the countryside provided ample inspiration for photography and subsequent pastoral painting. However, as the season of life exploded around him in an astonishing and exuberant array of foliage, the short trips became less frequent. By the end of August, Rob was experiencing a strange sensation and manifestation of weakness in his left foot.
Rob went to see Dr. Mukta Panda at her residents’ clinic because of his difficulty with intermittent foot drop and leg weakness. He told Dr. Panda that he was a painter and had some problems executing the fine strokes on the canvas. The resident on site questioned him at length, which Rob answered very patiently for he realized the resident was just doing his job being thorough. True to the physicians’ hats that Dr. Panda and her team were wearing, they continued the detailed history taking. Some personal questions may have been embarrassing, but he in his most professional way answered them all. His wife, a pillar of strength but radiating compassion stood by his side at every visit. Following the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes (whom Rob admired and compared Dr. Panda and her team to), they replaced the physician hats with detective hats, the Sherlock Holmes hat as Rob put it, and embarked on the path of diagnostic testing. Within a few weeks, they had their answer.
While Rob was in the neurology lab after an extensive and painful EMG testing, he was given the verdict. The presumptions were true. He was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which has no cure. Being highly educated Rob knew what that meant. Dr. Panda’s resident did an excellent job of being a true compassionate physician and friend to both Rob and his wife. Rob chose in his true sense of self-pride and strength that he derived from his faith, that he wanted to just stay home and be comfortable. He knew the natural course of the disease.
Dr. Panda got to learn more about Rob by talking to him, his wife, the resident and through his pastor. Rob was an excellent chess player and was known internationally. He was an expressive painter. Rob and Dr. Panda had shared stories about the game of chess. Rob was also an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes.
Rob continued to get weak and required a wheelchair. Dr. Panda and her son had the privilege of visiting Rob at home in the end of June. They got to see Rob’s work, the history behind his paintings. He was still able to paint and was working on a portrait of his niece. He sat in his wheelchair proud, with a sense of fulfillment. He talked to Dr. Panda’s son about his experiences with chess; he showed a very personal interest in his school activities and hobbies. He was a very positive role model. Dr. Panda’s son had the privilege of a game of chess with the great player. In that brief encounter both Rob and his wife made a lasting impression on Dr. Panda’s son and touched his life in a very positive way.
A few days later, Robert Rittenhouse died peacefully while painting. The prognosis of ALS is 2 to 5 years, but Rob suffered and fought only a few months. He was diagnosed in February and passed at the beginning of July.
*The Guild of Master Craftsman:
“To certify that
having satisfied the requirements for membership of the Guild of Master Craftsmen has been elected: Overseas Member and undertakes at all times to uphold the Aims & Principles of the Guild and the serve the Public and Fellow Members with Integrity and Honour Membership”
Dated: 16th July 1980