It is the end of an era for Manitou Springs, specifically the town's tight-knit arts community, which lost an icon on June 16 when artist Charles Rockey passed away at the age of 87.
A recent Gazette article
called Rockey the “Godfather of the Manitou arts scene,” and that is not an exaggeration. He has been a pillar of the community since the ‘70s, filling his studio and — most importantly — the hearts of his audience with whimsical and fantastical paintings.
Perhaps Rockey’s greatest artistic achievement: Love Songs of Middle Time Echoed through Illuminations and Fables — by C.H. Rockey together with Friendfolk
, a book he published in 2015 that took him 14 years to illustrate and write. It was filled with love stories written by himself, his daughter Hannah and friends, each illustrated in his characteristic hand.
At the time, he told John Hazlehurst
for the Indy
: “Love is the foundation for living.”
To hear his friends tell it, Rockey embodied that philosophy. Though his talent always drew fans and admirers from all corners of the country, Rockey was never boastful or ambitious. He was content working quietly in his studio on Cañon Avenue where passersby could watch him working through the window, surrounded by sculptures and tilted easels and all the trappings of a quiet artist's life. Though his work has been highly coveted for decades, money never motivated Rockey. Even his book, which sold at $385 a copy, was only priced so that Rockey could recoup his printing costs.
It is perhaps his humility and compassion as much as his talent that made him one of Manitou’s most
beloved artists, and he will be missed.
Before his passing, there was talk of naming a street in his honor, or hosting a concert to celebrate him. We cannot yet confirm that those ideas will now come to pass, but even the planning of them proves the admiration he has earned from his hometown.
Shortly after his passing, Don Goede of the Smokebrush Foundation for the Arts posted on Facebook: “I hope dear Rockey, you rest with creativity, love, and peace. Thank you for inspiring so much of us. We are better for knowing you. Your art and words will be a part of Manitou's legacy forever.”
Farley McDonough, owner of Manitou's Adam's Mountain Cafe, had this to say of her friend: "On behalf of Adam's, Rockey's artwork was the landscape upon which we built the atmosphere people associate with the Cafe. The antique tables and chairs, the love letter drawers, the stylized food and the our connection to the Manitou community in a sense all came from being surrounded by his stunning depictions of our beloved little town. It has been our honor to hang his art in the restaurant."
Others commented with their condolences and their memories. No doubt, as the news spreads, we’ll see an even greater outpouring of love for this man to whom love mattered more than anything.
"There are lots of things I can't remember now," Rockey said to Hazlehurst in 2015, pointing to the cover of his book, which depicted a couple walking through a door into the light, surrounded by cherubs. "When all my memory goes, I want to go — just like this, pure love, like an infant when he's first born, just love, up there with the angels."
We reached out to members of the Manitou arts community for comment, and will update this space if and when we hear back.