Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

RICHARD SLOAN 1935 - 2007

Yesterday, Richard Sloan, the "Dean of Rainforest Painters," was found dead in his home at age 71. Dick began his career as an illustrator for the Lincoln Park Zoo, in his native Chicago. I first became aware of him in the early 1970s, through his beautiful paintings of predatory birds, and I was probably representative of his fan base at that time. His career as a raptor painter culminated in the beautiful Raptors Of Arizona, published in 1998, which featured 42 Sloan illustrations. A 1969 trip to (then) British Guiana changed Dick's life forever, and he returned obsessed with tropical biology. He made numerous trips to the tropics (including one in 1995 to the Iquitos region of Peru, that I was privileged to join him on) and began to focus on rainforest subjects in his art. For several years he found it difficult to garner the attention for his rainforest work that his raptor paintings had enjoyed, but he persisted, and eventually developed a strong following, carving a path for those of us who would follow his footsteps. In 1994, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum named him a "Master Wildlife Artist," one of the greatest honors a wildlife painter can achieve. He was also twice bestowed the Society of Animal Artists' highest honor, the "Award of Excellence." After the death of his wife, Dick moved to Florida, and in the last decade of his life discovered scuba diving, which he relished, expanding his artistic endeavors to depicting the world beneath the ocean's surface. While walking on the beach about two years ago, he stepped on a piece of glass, sustaining a cut and recalcitrant infection that brought him a great deal of undeserved misery, and recently he had been plagued with severe back pain, for which he was scheduled to undergo surgery in two days.
I first met Dick in the early '90s, and we soon found we had a lot in common, becoming very good friends. He was extremely generous, and was an ardent champion of my own work. My career would have been far less successful without him in my corner, and I'll always be grateful to him for that, and for the many jungle hikes, canoe trips, drunken card games and dirty email jokes by which I'll remember him. Above is my favorite Richard Sloan painting, "A Little Romance," depicting a pair of courting Great Pied Hornbills (Buceros bicornis). This painting, and a number of others, is part of the Art of the Rainforest exhibition currently installed at the exhibit hall of the Detroit Zoo.
On a happier note, another distinguished artist is 45 years old today. Happy birthday to my brother Mark!!


Blogger Terry Miller said...

Sad news, indeed, a man gone before his time.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This evening I called Richard to say hello and see how he and his foot were doing, and to catch him up on what was going on with me. Instead, his son Michael answered. He shocked me with the news that Richard was gone. It's been a week and I didn't know!

It was so unexpected. Since getting off the line with Michael, I've been scouring the internet looking for someone to communicate with, anyone who knew him personally so that I don't feel like he's gone from my life forever.

Because of Richard and his support and encouragement, I decided to pursue my passion for art and re-enrolled at UCF in Orlando to pursue my BFA.

I can't tell you how saddened I am about his passing. We talked often and I would visit him while heading to or coming back from my parent's house in S. FL. I usually got a chance to see what he was working on. It was great. We even went scuba diving with another friend some years ago. He always spoke fondly of you.

I miss him and am still in shock that I'll never hear his voice again.


6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew Dick for many years. We exchanged emails, often on our common view of politics. A year or so ago we had lunch when he was in Arizona. Dick had a great ironic sense of humor often in the form of making fun of himself. I have wonderful reminders of him in my living room, two original paintings he did for the 1987 and 1988 Arizona duck stamp competition (true art, not "duck stamp" art) and a remarqued print of "Cactus Flower." I also have a small framed photograph of a palo verde tree he painted. I couldn't afford the painting, so settled for a photo of the painting. I was shocked by his death. The world is poorer for it.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, a friend just eMail me when he found the (sad) news in your post . Richard came in 2000 to photograph the Maroon Fronted Parrot (for a future painting) in the Sierra Madre Oriental (Nuevo Leon, Mexico) and to photograph some rattlesnake he needed to finish a painting for some guy related to the Chicago Zoo.

I went (with some other friends) birding with him to several places in northeast Mexico. I enjoyed a lot his presence and I am really sad to hear this. A great man and artist indeed...

Ruben Deschamps
Monterrey, NL

1:55 PM  
Blogger fvaldesp said...

I have just learned of Richard Sloan's death. How sad.
I took part with Ruben Deschamps and other fellow birders in a very laborious hike up the Cerro del Taray in SE Coahuila to see and photograph the Maroon-fronted parrot.
It wasn´t until we were coming of the mountain that I learned that the American gentleman was the famous painter of Raptors of Arizona, a book I had just bought. I was very excited to meet him in person and told him so. I also confessed of having used his book sporadically in a local TV programme where I had a small segment on Nature and conservation. He was very gracious about it and granted me permission to continue using his book for educational purposes.
I am very saddened by this news. May he rest in peace.

6:51 PM  
Blogger PatS said...

I have just learned of Richard Sloans passing - the one piece I have of his since 1982-3, is "Sun Spots" 274/1000 - and it gives me joy to look at it. I moved from New England down to South Florida and it continues to hold a place of honor on my wall.
I send my sympthy to his family - a wonderful artist is lost - but his work will continue to bring happiness to the beholder.

9:36 AM  
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7:37 PM  

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