Don Stivers, American (1929 - 2009)
Don Stivers' interest in art began during childhood as he copied newspaper comics in his hometown of Superior, Wisconsin. He did portraits of friends in school and during two years of service in the U.S. Navy. His formal art training began at what is now the California College of the Arts in Oakland. He started his professional career as have many of America's finest artists in the commercial art field, and spent 15 years at it on the West Coast until moving his family to the East. It was a decision that was to prove monumental in his career.
Following a natural inclination towards American History as a subject for fine art, Don, in the 1970's, began a series of paintings on the Westward Expansion. In 1984 he began painting Civil War subjects. With the help of professional historians and driven by his own desire to know the most intricate visual details of the subjects he portrays, he has created some of the most remarkable military art of this century.His focus on the Buffalo Soldier, beginning with Tracking Victorio in 1988 shone light on a subject that had rarely been chronicled in military art before. The Buffalo Soldier prints ignited such an overwhelmingly positive response that very often his limited editions were sold out within hours of their release.
His original works can be found on display at forts Belvoir, Drum, Wainwright, Benning, Hood, Meade, Leavenworth, Sill, Riley, Campbell, the Army War College, the Pentagon, and are the pride of many public museums and countless private collections of military and Western Art. In his leisure time, he enjoyed being a member of the Loudoun Sketch Club where he and his fellow painters would set up their easels and try and capture the beauty of the local Virginia countryside. The resulting sketches are a complete departure from Dad's photorealistic style. Dad also created several equine sculptures when he couldn't get the exact pose he needed from photographs. These have been bronzed and we hope to be able to offer reproductions in the future.
Elan Magazine, 2003
One of a select few nationally and internationally known artists and historians who live in Loudoun County is Don Stivers, a painter of major and lesser-known events in American history. A resident of the Waterford area, Don and his wife Bev have lived here since 1990.
Having known of Don’s work for many decades, I expected his studio to be a virtual battlefield—scenes of Civil War clashes here, Indian Wars there, the Battle of the Bulge juxtaposed across from a montage of the 4th Infantry Division in Baghdad; Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg receiving a silent tribute before Pickett’s charge; Farnsworth’s charge; Buffalo Soldiers with the 10th U.S. Cavalry; both German and American medics treating wounded at Huertgen Forest, and a brave bayonet charge in Korea, and such.
Instead, it turned out to be more a mini-museum: a rack of Western and Cavalry saddles, a manikin in a Civil War uniform relaxing in an easy chair, photo lights, miniature soldier figures in various battle dress, a few vintage rifles stacked in a corner, finished paintings leaning against a wall, stacks of reference material, and a 6-foot humidor packed with a cigar collection that would make Rush Limbaugh envious.
Tucked in a corner, almost obscured by tall bowls holding long brushes, is a large easel, next to it a smudged palette of rainbow colors, a padded leather swivel armed chair, a table cluttered with papers, sketches, photos, clippings, and stuff—all illuminated by a northern exposed window.
That tiny cramped corner is where this famous military history artist does his incredible work—ceaseless work, works of love, obsession, totally consuming. From Don’s highly detailed and realistically accurate paintings, it’s obvious he is a consummate draftsman. Every element, every object, every figure, every face, every gesture, every weapon is realistically right.
After a brief stint in the Navy in World War II as a corpsman, Don studied on the GI Bill at the California College of Arts and Crafts. His remarkable talent was quickly recognized and he produced illustrations for a host of commercial product clients, for Field and Stream, Time, Reader’s Digest and other national magazines, movie art, book jackets, and Western scenes. In 1966, when Don, Bev, and their two children moved from the West coast and settled in Connecticut, he began to concentrate on Civil War and WW II themes and quickly rose to the top of a handful of leading military illustrators.
Then, buying a 1791 vintage farmhouse near Waterford, the Stivers—it’s a family business involving all taking care of the art prints from his originals and getting them to buyers and galleries—had a detached multi-room office/studio suite built in which to work. Don’s original oils and temperas are collectors’ items priced from $25,000 up. Many are bought by military organizations and corporations. Therefore, for a specialized market for military prints for military buffs, historians, and veterans who were in some of the later battles depicted, he sells reproduction “art prints” for a modest $150 and up.
Don achieves his authenticity by thoroughly researching everything written about the moment of history he is depicting, then refers to vintage photos (if there are any), poses models in his own collection of uniforms and weapons, and composes all elements into a plausible artistic whole, recreating in exact detail, taking the viewer back to what it must have looked like, the weather, time of day, positions of the main players at a point of critical importance— illustrating the tactical masterstroke, the individual act of heroism, or even the homebound wife’s lonely vigil.
He says of his work, “I consider myself an illustrator who creates realistic historic scenes that not only convey the mood of the moment but which make the viewer feel it is happening right before him. I work at painting seven days a week and would be bored doing anything else.”
Don Stivers’ art works are in countless military museums and installations and in thousands of personal collections around the world.
Don was proceeded in death by his wife Bev in April 2008. Both were honored at the 2d Cavalry Association 2007 reunion with awards. They will both be greatly missed by the entire military family.