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John L. Smith Rediscovers One Of Nevada's Great Artists - Robert C. Caples


Photographs by Gus Bundy/Courtesy: UNR

Caples exhibit at UNR

There are ghosts in Nevada, they say. They live in the Goldfield or Mizpah hotels. 


But KNPR contributor John L. Smith met a ghost of a different sort on his northern travels.  


Robert C. Caples was a Reno artist whose work is celebrated to this day.  

"I've been encountering the work of Caples over the years for probably the last 30 years," Smith said.

Smith said he's seen his paintings hanging in the homes of friends but he didn't realize that it was his work.

Caples, it turns out, was a prolific artist. His work ran the gamut from more modern pieces to sketches of the Paiute Tribe in Pyramid Lake.

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Smith realized who Caples was after coming across a book about the artist called "The Nevada They Knew" by Anthony Shafton. 

The book chronicles the life of Caples from his birth in 1908 to his death in 1979. The book also looks at the life of Cagle's contemporary the Nevada novelist Walter Van Tilburg Clark. 

"Caples was a fascinating study because his work was celebrated and he was one of those artists who did just about anything to earn a living," Smith said.

From working for Work Progress Administration during the 1930s to cartoon illustrations, Cagle created a lot of work over the years.

He was originally from New York but moved to Nevada when he was a child. Smith said you can see his love of his adopted state in his artwork.

"He really fell in love with the colors of Nevada," he said, "As you travel through the state, you see the many, many shades of blue that are so beautiful in Nevada. You see these great grays and moving tans in distant mountain ranges."

Cagle even created an artist colony in Nevada in Indian Springs. The writer Walter Van Tilburg Clark wrote his noted novel "The City of Trembling Leaves" there. The colony was there until World War II.

Smith said Cagle was known and respected throughout Nevada during his lifetime but perhaps his biggest contribution to Nevada was his documentation of the Paiute Tribe in Pyramid Lake.

"The tribe trusted him with all access to the land," he said, "He captured the basketweavers that are so famous and a lot of the elderly people sat for portraits by Caples. There is that that is really of lasting value not just artistically but also historically."

Other Notes:

Smith believes the parking situation at the Raiders Stadium, which is under construction right now, was a huge error.  

"If this were a small project somewhere, those county officers would be out with tape measures counting parking spaces and now they're basically standing silent," he said.

Smith would also like to wish a happy birthday to Lucy Foley, the widow of former district court judge Tom Foley. He notes there is no bigger name in justice court system in Nevada than the Foley family.

"Lucy is still very vital with a great circle of friends and family and she turned 100 and I think that deserves a cheer from everyone," he said.


John L. Smith, contributor

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