When Charles Rockey strolls down the street, he rarely makes it more than four steps before someone stops him to say hello. He'll lean on his polished walking stick, pull at his grey beard, while an old friend — often another longbeard — will ask if there is anything Rockey needs.
Young women, sunburned and smelling of incense, call out, "Looking sexy today, Rockey! We love you." They'll hang on his neck for a moment. Kiss him on the cheek.
To the Manitou Springs uninitiated, the 81-year-old's rock star status may be puzzling. But virtually anyone can begin to understand Manitou's undying affection for Rockey (see "The Rockey Road to Art," Jan. 11, 2001) by taking in the artist's collection of fantasy drawings at Miramont Castle. The new exhibit features rich pen-and-ink and mixed-media collages of fairies, warriors and wizards from Rockey's upcoming book. The dates of the included artwork range from 1963 to 2002.
"When we were hanging all these, he said he did a story about Miramont Castle in his book. I think that may be a reason he's letting us have them," says Jennifer Walters, administrative assistant at Miramont. The exhibit is semi-permanent at this time, says Walters, "but it would be an honor if it became permanent."
As an opening reception for the exhibit, Miramont will play host to "An Evening of Fantasy and Enchantment," using two rooms as original owner Father Jean Baptiste Francolon intended back in 1895. Chamber music will be performed by trio Paradis on the second floor, in Father Francolon's music alcove. The Great Hall, located on the third floor, where the priest once hung his extensive Native American art collection, houses the 63-piece Rockey collection.
Miramont registrar Danielle Persinger spent two days cataloging the works, detailing not only the ornate details of the subject matter, but also its presentation. "He makes almost all of his frames," she says of Rockey, who works out of a studio on Cañon Avenue. "One is made of pasta and rope; another has snap peas on the inside with sticks on the outside edges."
The exhibit contains nearly one-third of the illustrations in Love Songs of Middle Time Echoed Through Illuminations and Fables, a much-buzzed-about project Rockey has been writing and illustrating for 12 years. ("I had to put half the title on the first page of the book," he jokes.) The 270-page hardback will include 200 drawings and an embossed cover with a gold inlay. Currently being printed, Love Songs will be available in August at Miramont.
To Manitou's beloved artist, the publication of his book represents the culmination of 50 years of hard work. "The book is 115 love stories — short, little stories," he says. "Because that's all that matters. Love."