“Ross Eugene Braught: Man of Imagination” is available through www.rossbraught.com. Price: $50; 320 pages.
(©2021 by Roland Sabates / photo by James Brinsfield)
About 13 years ago, Roland Sabates, an avid collector of American, African and Latin American art, with a particular passion for artists from the region, came across an intriguing drawing of nude bathers who seemed to merge into the rocks bordering the water. The artist was Ross Braught. Sabates was initially drawn to the work by its sheer quality, but what really piqued his interest “was the high regard his colleagues had for him and how he was revered by his students.”
After reading the one monograph available, Sabates decided that Braught and his work deserved further investigation and more recognition. The result of that resolution is the recently published “Ross Eugene Braught: Man of Imagination,” a deep dive into the artist’s life and career, which took Sabates 12 years to complete. His initial purchase, “Twenty-Four Bathers,” is featured on the title page.
Braught, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1898, taught at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1931 to 1935 and between 1946 and 1962. He is probably best known for his striking landscapes, simultaneously celebrating the haunting beauty of the natural world but often offering an otherworldly, mystical perspective in his depiction. Sabates’ introduction not only details the author’s approach to his research methods but recounts the numerous trips he took to places where the artist had lived or worked.
Sabates was determined to see firsthand various sites connected to Braught such as the WPA mural in the Waynesboro, Mississippi, post office. “I enjoyed every aspect of the research, particularly meeting family members at his birthplace in Carlisle, Penn., but the biggest revelations came on trips to the British Virgin Islands. I spent some time in the little one-room house where he lived with his family for eight years in Marina Cay,” Sabates wrote in an email. “Imagining the isolation and the inspiration of the landscape on his art and finding the ruins he drew was a special time. But the biggest find had to be in Philadelphia, where it was assumed he lived alone for the last 20 years of his life. In fact, he had a long-term companion, Joan Shih, who kept his art, which was not found until her death in 2007.”
The coffee table-sized book is lavishly illustrated with 349 reproductions; it also offers readers a smaller book within its covers, “Phaethon,” published in 1935, containing 34 black and white lithographs Braught made to illustrate the Roman poet Ovid’s “Metamorphosis.” “Phaethon” is reproduced in its original size at the end of Sabates’ book; the lithographs therein were inspired by Braught’s summer trips to the Grand Canyon and the Badlands of South Dakota.
Sabates’ self-published book is available at the Nelson-Atkins bookstore and through the recently created website www.rossbraught.com. Sabates is continuing to learn more about Braught and discovering new works by him through this new platform. In 2018, he helped organize a major exhibition of Braught’s work at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph.
Stephanie Fox Knappe, senior curator of American Art at the Nelson-Atkins, lauds Sabates’ contribution to our knowledge of Braught: “With Roland Sabates as his champion, Ross Braught is enjoying a brighter spotlight than has shown on him in decades. Between the retrospective exhibition at the Albrecht-Kemper in St. Joseph a few years ago and Sabates’ heavily researched and beautifully illustrated book, Braught’s vision and artistry are now so much better appreciated and understood.”