ILLINOIS ARTIST LIFE STORY
OBITUARIES AND TESTIMONIALS FROM ILLINOIS GOVERNOR HENRY HORNER, 1937
Life of a “Great Painter” and Illinois
Brown County (Indiana) Art Association.
Portraits and Landscapes
His Story as in
the News of Shelbyville,
CLICK HERE TO READ ROBERT ROOT'S FAMILY HISTORY
Robert Marshall Root
Shelbyville Democrat, Aug 26,
A Time Line of
Article By Beulah
Born in 1863
Robert Marshall Root was born in 1863, the third and youngest son of John and
Eunice Root. His birth occasioned no excitement. Shelbyville citizens were so
engrossed in bitterly denouncing or hotly defending Abe Lincoln and the
Republican Party, they scarcely took time to glance at the cromos on their
walls. Had an angel appeared in their midst and prophesied to them that the
child would some day become a great artist, it is quite probable their first
question would have been concerning his politics.
The artist grew up in the midst
of the hodge-podge of his time: poverty, wealth, culture, and ignorance. In an
era of expansion, mud, saloons, and political rallies, he sought and found the
beautiful. He drew pictures, and dreamed dreams, and he became an artist
because that was the only destiny he had been born to. He left the raw,
colorful country town and the crude prairies that were still making history and
went to St. Louis and later Paris, France. Here he found beauty,
sophistication, culture and kindred spirits. He also found high honor, praise
and encouragement; but when his schooling was completed he came home and stayed
there. Shelbyville in its time has been large enough to hold a number of great
When Robert Root was a little boy he didn’t know he wanted to be an artist. He
didn’t even know what an artist was. He had neither had pencils or paper to
draw with, but he used to scratch pictures on the fly leave of books with red
lead that he had gotten from packing around gaskets. When he was seven years
old his parents moved to the country and here he lived until he was eleven.
During that time he remembers seeing the smoke darkened sky caused by the
Chicago fire, drawing “Trees full of jay birds,” and going to watch the old mill
owned by Hardin Barrett.
“The only literature we had to
read in those days,” Mr. Root once said, “was the Saturday Night Magazine, and
the New York Ledger. These came once a week and had serial stories in them by
Mrs. Southworth and other English writers. There were all sorts of tales that
told about “The Sunlight Gently Tipping Her Hair” and “Her Alabaster Neck
Floating Gently into the Room.” I read those stories and got ideas about life.”
when he was eleven years old Robert Root moved back to town with things as he
knew them dimly confused with the “crystal tears” and “tasteful elegance” of
things as then popular novels pictured them out. But deep within him was the
consciousness that drawing trees full of jay birds was one of the most
satisfying things he had ever done. Then when he was about twelve years old, he
discovered art and with that discovery his career began. The event took place
when the boy one day saw a man making pencil drawings of a prominent house in
Shelbyville. He watched the artist for a time, and then got himself a board,
some pencils and paper and started to draw with him. The artist, if he may be
so called, was L. A. Birk, and all who, and all who possess a copy of the 1880
edition of the History of Shelby and Moultrie counties may view therein his
pictures of farm homes and city dwellings stiff with precision and rigid as
Attended Main Street School
Now that he had found an outlet, Robert Root soon became quite adept at drawing
pictures of this sort. Birk was so impressed with his work he wished to take
the boy with him. Robert stayed, however, and made quite a little spending
money by drawing pictures of the various houses in town and selling them for a
dollar each. He attended Main Street School until he was fourteen. Then his
father died and he was forced to quit.
went to work in the Akenhead Building for Arthur Launey and George Sitler,
photographers. Here he did retouching, learned photography, and was initiated
in to the new lost art of making crayon portraits. Later he went to Springfield
with Sitler and stayed a year and a half, from there he went to Decatur, and
after remaining a year and a half in that city, returned home.
Goes To New York
All this time he had been drawing on the side. One day Horace Taylor, a famous
cartoonist on a Chicago paper, who had studied at the U. of I. with Lorado Taft,
came to Shelbyville on an assignment and saw young Root’s work. He was quite
impressed by its quality and advised the young artist to work days to pay his
way through and go to New York to night school. Root was only eighteen years
old at that time, he didn’t have much money, and New York was a long way off,
but he took Taylor’s advice and went.
When he reached his destination he proceeded in getting a job doing retouching
work up and down the Bowery, after that he entered the Cooper Union Art School,
held in the old Cooper Union Hall, where Lincoln made his famous Cooper Union
speech in 1860 (?). Here he was set at drawing ornamental designs and told that
in two or three years he could start drawing from life. That wasn’t what he
wanted and after six weeks of it he came home. Here he entered the
photographer’s gallery again and started saving his money. He wanted to study
art and he wanted to draw from life.
Enters Washington University
When he felt he had saved enough money to warrant another venture to fulfill
these ambitions, he left for St. Louis, and entered the Fine Arts School of
Washington University. It was here he formed a lifelong friendship with a
fellow student, E. H. Wuerpel, present head of the art school.
After entering the school, Root was placed in a class drawing from casts and
told, as he had been in New York, that it would be two or three years before he
could start drawing from life. But after working two or three weeks his genius
was recognized and he was promoted to the advanced life classes. His rise after
that was swift. With the help of teachers he secured enough scholarships to
carry him through and after three years he graduated with all the honors
possible for the University to bestow. He received the Layman Crow medal, the
highest honor a student of the Art School could attain, and six diplomas.
During his years in St. Louis art was not the only thing he distinguished
himself in, for as a sort of side line to his art he also carried off the
‘Student Life” prize given by the Globe-Democrat for the best article published
in that periodical.
Studies In Paris, France
After his graduation he came back to Shelbyville and stayed for a short time,
then departed for Paris, France where he remained for two years. There he
rented a studio in company with Paul Conoyer, his old friend Wuerpel and others
and attended the renowned Academy Julien.
Among the young artists of that
day the boy from Shelbyville stood high. The first year one of his paintings,
“Girl with Roses,” was in the famous Paris Salon. After attaining this feat, so
remarkable for a student, he further distinguished himself when the famous art
connoisseur, Rodman Wanamaker, commissioned him to copy several masterpieces for
him. These and other honors gave young Root a high standing among his
classmates. It was a far cry from the old days in the photographer’s gallery at
Returns to Shelbyville
After two years in the city that Mr. Root described as ‘bright and gay and
beautiful’ he returned home. Previous to his departure a representative of
Tiffany’s in New York had asked him to come and work for that concern to design
stained glass windows. But after he returned to New York the artist was seized
with an illness and after recovering from it he wanted to come home to
Shelbyville. Besides a year spent working in St. Louis and trips taken to
various parts of the country, he has lived here ever since. In the same
building he once worked as a photographer’s helper, he maintained the studio of
Robert Root's famous pictures hardly need commenting on.
GRAND HISTORICAL MURALS
Debate as depicted by Robert Root, 1918, now in the Governor's office,
The Capitol Building, Springfield, Illinois
Lincoln-Thornton Debate, painted 1918, now in
the Shelby County Courthouse, Shelbyville, Illinois
Everyone knows about his painting of the
Lincoln-Douglas debate held at Charleston, that now has a place of honor in the
state capitol. This picture was painted to celebrate the Illinois Centennial in
1918, and was shown at the State Fair of that year. There it created such a
sensation that the State Legislature bought it for the sum of $1500, and honored
the artist by presenting him with a special Centennial medal. The picture was
given a prominent place in the state house, and later Governor Emmerson caused
it to be specially lighted so it might be more easily seen.
Mr. Root's other famous Lincoln painting, the Lincoln-Thornton
debate, hangs in the local high school. Ten years of work were spent on the
picture. Both historical pictures were painted with infinite care as to accuracy
and detail. All the faces are of men who actually attended the debates, and were
painted from old tintypes, ambroytypes, and daguerreotypes. The settings are
drawn as accurately as is humanly possible. For the Lincoln-Douglas debate the
artist visited fair grounds in Charleston where it was held, and for the
Lincoln-Thornton debate, he got actual measurements of the old court house. One
instance illustrating the fidelity of detail in this picture is the glimpse
shown through the court house window of the old Thornton Bank that stood where
the Catholic Church is now.
Critics have declared that the artist's portraits of Lincoln as shown
in these pictures are the best that have ever been painted. Needless to say, in
order to create these works of art Mr. Root was obliged to do much historical
research and careful reading. More than that, behind the artist's training and
artist's fingers of Robert Root, was a fine intellect. Back of his skill and
technique lay thought. It was the power of his sensitive, cultured mind that
gave body to his creations.
Mr. Root ranked his pictures of Samuel S. Moulton, Judge Anthony
Thornton, Dr. Livingston C. Lord of Charleston Teachers' College and Barrett
O'Hara, former lieutenant governor whose picture hangs in the state house at
Springfield - are among his best portraits.
Portrait of Livingston Lord, First President of Eastern
University, displayed in Old Main
Shelbyville on the Kaskaskia, 1918
During the years many portraits
and landscapes have come from his brush, numbers of which have won honors at
various exhibits including those at Chicago, Boston, New York, St. Louis and
To name only a few of his many excellent pictures, there are: the
portrait of Chief Justice Farmer; the murals of the Attorney General's office at
Springfield; the portrait of Judge Johns at Decatur; the miniature of Agnes
Mertens, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Hamlin; the portrait of George B.
Wendling, Jr., hung in the offices of the Standard Life Insurance Co at St.
Louis; the portrait of five prominent Decatur men including O. B. Gorin and A.
E. Staley that hang in the beautiful Masonic Temple there; and the portrait of
The list grown slightly tedious, and there are many people not
interested in portraits who knew Robert Root for his landscapes that catch and
hold much of the charm of the middle west, a section that distant critics are
fond of calling dull and uninteresting. Aside from his portraits, Mr. Root
ranked high as an interpreter of the beauty of the corn country - the familiar,
homey beauty we too often fail to appreciate. A visit to the artist's studio
could not help but bring a keener awareness of the loveliness that we so often
pass by, not through.
Shelbyville Democrat, Aug 26, 1937
FUNERAL SERVICE HONORS ROBERT MARSHALL ROOT
Shelby Genius Dies Late Saturday In Lonely Room
Article by Beulah Gordon
Robert Root is dead! He died suddenly as he wished to go, for he had a horror of
hospitals. He was ill and very tired. Perhaps it was best he should leave, but
his friends stand silent with a stick stab in the heart. Robert Root is dead -
something magnificent has passed.
Mr. Root was found dead in his room in the Neal Hotel about 11 am Sunday. He was
slumped in the corner on a suitcase as if death had come suddenly just as he
started to open the closet door. Death was due to cerebral hemorrhage. He had
been ill for about three weeks.
went to the hotel but his physician's order, about 2:30 pm Saturday, accompanied
by Hubert Kunkel. Lying down in the reception room he took a nap and came into
the hotel office about 6 pm saying he felt better. After chatting for a time
with the proprietor, Hobart Lidster, he went to his room.
Find Body Sunday Morning
His body was found next morning by hotel attendants, and his physician and
Coroner Charles G. Miner were immediately called. No inquest was held. It was
thought he died sometime Saturday night.
One by one he had watched his contemporaries pass, or falter, or slacken, but he
had kept doggedly painting excellent pictures until the end. He was 74 years
old. In his studio at the time of his death were portraits of the late Judge
Sentel, Sullivan and O. B. Gorin, Decatur, besides many other uncompleted
L. F. Akenhead who occupied an adjoining studio and who was a friend of
long standing, voiced the thoughts of all who mourn him when he said, "We are
going to miss him like everything. He was a great man."
Not only great in talent, but great in spirit, Robert Root gave to Shelbyville
intangible riches that can not be reckoned. Now he is dead - may God who makes
all beauty rest his soul.
He drew pictures, and dreamed dreams, and he became an artist because
that was the only destiny he had been born to. He left the raw, colorful country
town and the crude prairies that were still making history and went to St. Louis
and later Paris, France. Here he found beauty, sophistication, culture and
kindred spirits. He also found high honor, praise and encouragement; but when
his schooling was completed he came home and stayed there. Shelbyville in its
time has been large enough to hold a number of great men.
M. HARWOOD KNEW R. M. ROOT AS BOY
In paying tribute to
Robert M. Root, E. M. Harwood said:
"I have known Robert Marshall Root since he was a left handed boy with a pencil'
and he knew how to use it. He was always sketching everything everywhere. We
all called him Marshall around Moulton, where he was reared and made pictures of
"A man or a mouse -"
"A landscape or a house,"
it mattered not what, it was good.
My sister Clara has a life-size painting of herself holding a guitar,
which she prizes very much.
"I knew his health was poorer each year, but was not prepared to hear of his
"Another good friend gone."
Robert Root Death
Governor Henry Horner
Much written in
WESTERN UNION (telegram transcribed)
Received at 1916 S. Morgan, Shelbyville ILL
Springfield ILL 603P Aug 23, 1937
To: John G. Root
The unexpected death of your
illustrious brother Robert Root saddens me and I hasten to express my sincere
sympathy to you and the other members of his family (stop) for more than fifty
years his name has stood high among Illinois and American artists (stop) his
death leaves a place in the fit world no soon to be filled except by the fine
contributions left in his many paintings and etchings (stop) we hail the work of
this master and mourn his going (stop) his memory and his master pieces will
linger long with us.
Signed: Henry Horner, Governor
GOVERNOR HENRY HORNER
ATTENDS ROOT FUNERAL
Governor Henry Horner came to Shelbyville from Springfield
Tuesday afternoon to attend the funeral of Artist Robert M. Root. The services
were at the John Root home on West Main Street.
The Governor described Mr. Root as "one of Illinois' great artists." He was a
personal friend of Mr. Root and had visited him here at his studio.
Governor Henry Horner
sent a telegram to Postmaster and Mrs. James Shoaff Monday evening, expressing
his sympathy for the family of Robert M. Root, and mourning the sudden death of
Governor Horner had been in Mr. Root's studio several times, and spent some time
chatting with Mr. Root over various paintings and etchings.
'Your telegram containing the sad tidings of Robert Root's death is received.
I have today wired his brother my true feelings as follows - "the unexpected
death of your illustrious brother, Robert Root, saddens me and I hasten to
express my sincere sympathy to you and the other members of his family. For
more than fifty years his name has stood high among Illinois and American
artists. His death leaves a place in the fit world not soon to be filled except
by the fine contributions left in his many famous paintings and etchings. We
hail the work of this master and mourn his going. His memory and his master
pieces will linger long with us." '
"Henry Horner, Governor"
Democrat, August 26, 1937 (front page - article 2 of 3)
FUNERAL SERVICE HONORS ROBERT MARSHALL ROOT, RENOWNED
Glowing Tribute Paid Artist Root
"His modesty was a perfect frame
for his genius," said Governor Henry
Horner as he left the funeral of Robert Root Tuesday.
the other would be incomplete."
Artist Dolph Woodruff, Kansas,
in recalling his friendship with the
"He was to have come visit me in October. His death came as a
surprise. Robert Root was one of the most critical and refined
have ever known. His touch was delicate and he understood art."
Paul Seargent, Charleston
artist and close friend, said, deeply touched and a trifle
"He was a great debunker and a mighty fine man."
Shelbyville's sentiments were
expressed by the man on the street who state:
"Well, they buried Bob Root this afternoon - Shelbyville's lost
Dr. F. P. Auld, his physician and close friend, put the felling of many
words when he said,
"We knew he couldn't live long, but still it doesn't seem possible that
has left us."
Perhaps the greatest tribute was
the lack of flowery eulogies spoken. Sobered and
sorrowful, his friends found only simple words of praise for a great
Shelbyville Democrat, August 26, 1937 (front page - article 3 of 3)
FUNERAL SERVICE HONORS ROBERT MARSHALL ROOT, RENOWNED LOCAL ARTIST
Gov. Henry Horner Joins Mourners Here Tuesday
State and nation Tuesday
joined Shelby County folk in simple funeral tribute to Robert Marshall Root,
native artist - genius who forsook world acclaim to live modestly among his
homefolks and die suddenly Saturday night in his lonely hotel room here, aged 74
Governor Henry Horner, representing the people of Artist Root's native
Illinois, came to Shelbyville for the memorial services held at 2:30 am at the
John Root home, West Main Street. Contemporary artists were here representing
the world of art, while floral tributes from over the nation paid silent
testimony to the beloved "giant amongst us."
Funeral arrangements were in charge of Lantz Brothers.
With bleak faces and a sense of loss not yet fully realized friends
heard the Rev. Raymond McCallister speak in sincere and simple words a true
tribute to an artist who, though great in skill and genius, was first of all a
Man of Great Loyalties
Preaching from the text, "In the midst of life we are in death," Rev.
"Robert Root was a man of great loyalties. He never temporized with truth or
compromised with principle. He was a most compassionate man to those who knew
him. A thinker and a sane commentator, he gave his life to the work dear to his
heart. Now God has beckoned Robert Root to His great city and his going has
left us with a vacant spot against the sky.
Music was furnished by the four Gregory sisters who were lifelong
friends of the artist: Mrs. James Shoaff, Mrs. Clair Stone, Miss Lillian
Gregory, and Mrs. Herbert Featherston. Mrs. William Herrick was accompanist.
The songs sung were "Jesus Lover of My Soul" and "Abide With Me."
Pallbearers Old Friends. Pallbearers were: William Taylor, Leo
Akenhead, James Shoaff, Dr. F. P. Auld, Hobart Lidster and N. C. Leathers.
Flower girls were: Hazel Jackson, Mary Dill, Jennie Bube, Retha Jones,
Ione Davis, and Fredricka Wyrick.
After the casket was lowered in the earth at Glenwood, Governor Horner dropped a
flower in the open grave, as a fitting final tribute to a man who loved all
Following his death flowers came from all parts of the United States.
Blossoms such as he had often painted were banked behind his casket and piled
high upon his grave.
After the casket was lowered in the grave the crowd departed, the
Governor's car drove away, and they left Robert Root alone in Glenwood with
life, his final masterpiece, completed.
Return to the Robert Root Home Page
Learning On-Line Home Page