November 21st, 2010
By Jan Pippins
Earlier this year a member of the High Chaparral Discussion Group was on the “Lonesome Dove” TV series fan fiction site when she clicked on a link that took her to a remarkable oil portrait of Henry Darrow as Manolito Montoya. The artist was Robin Moore of Thunder Arts ( http://www.thunderarts.com/oil_av.htm ). Her nontraditional portrait of Mano on Mackadoo captures motion, excitement and the partnership of man and horse. When a link was posted on HCDG, list members who visited Moore’s site were enchanted by her work and called the image of Manolito “beautiful”, “very special”, “lovely” and “very well done”.
Robin Moore was obviously very talented and a High Chaparral fan but the gifted woman was otherwise a mystery. Come to find out, the gracious, articulate Moore has stories to tell, including reflections of her life as an artist, memories of being a lifelong Chaparral fan and losing the original Manolito painting during a tragic accident.
Like her subject Henry Darrow, Moore was born in Manhattan. As the child of skilled classical musicians, her home life was rich in music and the arts. When her family moved upstate to New York’s Catskill Mountains, Moore gained an abiding love for scenic farms and wild woodlands. The family’s later move to the Los Angeles area made her long for open country instead of traffic jams and relocation to San Francisco proved happier. While in San Francisco, Moore graduated from High School and the California College of the Arts while honing her creative self-expression in music, painting, drawing and photography.
On her website she notes, “Much of my painting centers around photographs I’ve taken, or is related to the songs, stories, films or actors that have inspired me.” The High Chaparral and Henry Darrow’s vivid portrayal of Manolito Montoya inspired Moore’s adult creativity. However in 1967 they inspired eleven-year-old Robin to undertake covert operations.
“My first experiences watching The High Chaparral involved sneaking and stealth,” she recalls. “It originally aired on Sunday nights at 10:00, following Bonanza. My bedtime was 10:00.” Captivated by “anything Western”, Moore asked for permission to stay up late to watch the show. Her parents wouldn’t budge, but she says, “That wasn’t going to stop me. There was an old black and white television in my room. It was one of those huge, heavy, cube-shaped, round screen classics, with a lot of tubes and wires for innards, and the reception came from a couple of extendable “rabbit ears”. Anyone who remembers this vintage, also probably remembers how these TVs turned off — they didn’t — not for a long time. I could hear my mother, if she came up the stairs, and that gave me just enough time to turn the TV off but the lingering glow of that little white dot always told the tale. I also had to keep the volume off.”
“I think limitations like that forced me to savor what I saw and added to how I treasured the show and ingrained it into my consciousness,” Moore adds. As she grew older with a later bedtime, television viewing improved. “Watching The High Chaparral became a shared family event – on a color TV with sound!”
Like a lot of girls, young Robin had a crush on Blue. “His eyes were the first thing that caught my attention. Even on the black and white television, I could lose myself in those eyes, like daydreaming while staring off into a deep sky. There were also Blue’s family struggles that I could relate to — his search for identity and recognition from his father.”
But as she grew older, another hombre beguiled her. “I remembered what great stories and characters were in that show, but it was Manolito I remembered most. His stories stuck in my mind. I came to pay attention to him in a way that seemed different than a crush. I wanted to learn something from his approach to life. I liked his style — all the intensity and joy of life in that man! Beautiful!”
The lush emotional mood of Robin Moore’s oils and watercolors is borne of fusion with her subjects. “When I paint, I establish a bond – ‘become’ my subject like an actor approaches character,” she writes on her website, adding that the very process of painting is an act of love. “The sensual grace of a brush on canvas is a form of affection, a caress of another unique identity.” By painting Manolito, Moore hoped to also see if she could meet a personal challenge.
“At that time, I was painting still and pensive scenes with a lot of detail. I wondered if I had the ability to paint anything that moved. When The Family Channel aired reruns of The High Chaparral, I saw the image that became the painting, in a scene from the episode where Manolito reunites with his friend from childhood, Mercedes. As Mano leaves, he tips his hat before galloping away. Something clicked with the idea that the exuberance of that scene would force me into animate painting.”
I wanted that piece to reflect Mano’s joyous character, and his blending with the movement of the horse,” says Moore. “I thought if I went for too much detail it would lessen the effect of motion, but it’s unusual for me to paint without using a lot of detail, so I’ve been rather self conscious and shy about that painting. I think that kind of sums up my approach to meeting Henry, too. I’ve often thought of attending High Chaparral reunions, but I’ve chickened out.”
Renewed interest from fans for the Manolito painting attenuates Robin Moore’s self-consciousness about the piece. She considers painting it again, something she didn’t have the heart for after the original was destroyed.
Several years ago an art gallery in Bozeman, Montana contacted Moore about the Manolito painting and three others. “All the paintings went to Bozeman. Three sold to the same person and left the gallery, but the Manolito painting stayed. Two months later a gas line exploded and destroyed the gallery and killed its curator. She was an amazing and beautiful young woman, loved by everyone who talked with her,” says Moore. “The painting of Henry disappeared in the fire.” She thought about painting it again before learning that its image on her website was garnering rave reviews from Chaparral fans. “That pushes me towards doing it.”
We hope Moore will recapture on canvas Manolito’s exuberance as he tips his hat and gallops away on Mackadoo. Meanwhile, Holton Studio Frame-Makers in Emeryville, California is offering a number of her watercolors for sale. Gallery owner Tim Holton praises Moore’s artwork as “…simply the most beautiful contemporary watercolors I’ve ever had the privilege to frame.” See these remarkable interpretations of coastal northern California online at http://www.holtonframes.com/gallery/moore/index.html and learn more about Robin Moore at http://www.thunderarts.com/bio.htm.
© Jan Pippins 2010