Robert Fletcher Gilder, 1856-1940
Gilder was born of Dutch, French and English descent, the son of a minister reportedly in Flushing, New York. Robert Gilder was estranged from his family. His art studies are credited by Omaha World Herald accounts as a student of August Will, a painter of New York City. He studied art and learned the printing trade while in his teens. He worked in newspapers from New York to Texas then back to Massachusetts. He was a correspondent briefly for the New York Sun.
Robert Gilder came to Nebraska in 1887. He started a new life. His first job was a printer's assistant at Rees Printing Company. He briefly published his own paper The News. He then joined the Omaha World Herald. His newspaper career started as a substitute typesetter, then a proofreader followed by a career as a reporter and editor for thirty-two years. He traveled extensively as the City Editor from Nebraska. In 1900 he was gathering information for a story about cowboys. He visited the Nine Bar Ranch, near Lusk, Wyoming and reportedly started painting again.
Robert Gilder was an archaeologist. In 1904 he discovered prehistoric flint quarries in Wyoming. He worked in the field for the University for Nebraska Museum in Lincoln for twelve years as an archaeologist. His discovery of The Nebraska Loess Man brought the state of Nebraska international fame. The Loess Man was the oldest documented human being at that time. The University of Nebraska, Lincoln conferred upon him the honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1917.
"Wake Robin" was the name of his cabin home, which he built in 1916 south of Omaha in Fontenelle Forest. His art studio was in this cabin. "Wake Robin", the name for his cabin home is from a character in John Burrough's book. "Wake Robin" is also the name of a spring flower.
The son of Count Leo Tolstoy after viewing some of Robert Gilder's paintings in 1917 while in Omaha, Nebraska gave an autographed picture to Dr. Gilder with the following personalization "From a dilettante to a Master."
Dr. Gilder spent time painting in Tucson, Arizona, USA while visiting his friend Harold Bell Wright, the novelist in 1919. He traveled to various desert locations to paint landscapes. Always the archaeologist at heart he discovered forty-seven Pueblo ruins in southern Arizona.
Arizona was where Dr. Gilder had planned to retire in 1919, but he returned to Nebraska. The Whitmore Gallery at 1517 Dodge Street held annual sales of Robert Gilder's artwork including the desert landscapes.
Through out his lifetime the Omaha World Herald carried little articles like the following of March 4, 1936.
"Dr. Gilder Reports First Spring Sign-Flock of Wild Geese. The first sign of spring-a flock of wild geese flying north-was officially recorded Tuesday afternoon by Dr. Robert F. Gilder, Omaha artist. Annually, at this time of year, Dr. Gilder keeps an eye peeled for geese and is usually the first to report a flock to The World-Herald. The flock seen Tuesday afternoon contained about two hundred birds and was flying directly over the Missouri River."
On his 77 birthday, Dr. Gilder was interviewed by the Omaha World Herald. When asked, "How many paintings have you painted?" He refused to guess or estimate. He declared "the best is yet to come!" The old oak tree a few yards from Wake Robin's front door the artist has painted at least 15 times and he will paint it again. "When a man is only 77--life has such color."
The summer of 1939 it was reported by the Omaha World Herald that Robert Gilder had completed 34 Nebraska landscapes of what he referred to as cloud scenes.
Robert Fletcher Gilder died at the age of 83 of pneumonia on March 7, 1940 after a brief hospital stay.
Robert Fletcher Gilder is buried in Bellevue Cemetery on a hilltop south of Omaha. A large tree shades him in the summer. The leaves show their colors to him in the fall. In the winter the tree bares its soul. The spring it brings the green with new leaves. The colors of the seasons are forever in Robert Gilder's Nebraska landscapes.
In the year 1961, Mr. Harvey Bryan, the Bellevue Post No 339, American Legion and the Omaha World Herald assisted in collecting a fund to place a special marker on Dr. Gilder's grave with his portrait engraved in granite. The marker reads "Robert Fletcher Gilder October 6, 1856 - March 7, 1940 Archaeologist - Artist - Friend"
Beside the new marker is the original marker placed by the Nebraska Masons when he was laid to rest. The simple marker reads "Dr. Robert F. Gilder 1856 - 1940".
November of 1957, the Greater Omaha Historical Society presented a special program at the Joslyn Lecture Hall commemorating Dr. Robert Fletcher Gilder, and the main speakers were Augustus Dunbier, artist about the artist, Dr. Bertrand Schultz, paleontologist and director of the University of Nebraska State Museum, about the archeologist, Robert Manley, fellow Omaha newspaper man and Dr. John M. Christlieb was the moderator. This lecture coincided with an exhibition at Joslyn Memorial Art Museum of Dr. Gilder's paintings and his archaeological discoveries.
Private art collectors worldwide own Dr. Robert Gilder's paintings.
Sources: Omaha World Herald Newspaper Clippings
Douglas County Historical Society-Omaha, NE, USA
Taped lecture of Omaha Historical Society November 1957
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