Author of the book, Robert Clunie: Plein Air Painter of the Sierra, Richard Coons didn’t pick up a paint brush until he was 47 years old. Self-taught in the plein-air tradition, he was influenced by painters Robert Clunie, Larry Kronquist and marine painter, Bennett Bradbury. His only formal art training were the few months spent at the Laguna Beach Art School studying marine painting.
Born in Los Angeles, Richard Coons was the son of a hydrographer who also worked as a surveyor on the construction of the Tioga Road up Yosemite’s east side. His earliest trips to the Eastern Sierra were to visit cousins living in the Owens Valley ranching town of Bishop, California. He was 14 when he asked his parents if he could go live with his cousins in Bishop. They followed him a year later when his father followed work north.
Richard’s father joined his grandfather in the operation of the family business, Bishop Pumice Concrete Products, located in a wood warehouse at the corner of Sierra Highway and Highway 6. They primarily manufactured bricks from pumice harvested in the Volcanic Tablelands north of Bishop. All of the brick buildings in the area from that era were made with pumice brick from the Coons’ plant. In 1945, Richard’s grandfather asked him to assist with a delivery of pumice block to newcomer Robert Clunie, a fine artist from Santa Paula, for construction of Clunie’s art studio on the North Fork of Bishop Creek and Sierra Highway. Then a student at Bishop Union High School, Richard raced on the ski team, played football, but was best known for his accomplishments in track which won him a scholarship to college. Aware of the young man’s notable track accomplishments as reported in the local newspaper, and as an athlete of some note himself, Clunie struck up a conversation about sports with Richard.
It was a meeting that changed the course of Richard Coons’ life. What most impressed Richard were Clunie’s paintings of the High Sierra. There was no local artist who painted like that in the Owens Valley. Richard was 17 when he bought Clunie’s painting, Monterey Boatworks which remains his collection today.
Throughout his life Richard remained friends with the painter Robert Clunie. When his first marriage ended, and his three daughters grown with families of their own, Richard learned how to paint in oils. He accompanied Robert Clunie on painting trips to his favorite locations in the Eastern Sierra including the high country accessible only by foot or pack train. When Clunie died in 1984, Coons purchased the art studio from his only son and opened Coons Gallery. It was perfection for Richard. He finally had his own studio space and gallery in the location of his dreams, the deepest valley surrounded by 14-thousand foot peaks. He married a second time to a former network television art director.
In 1998, Coons wrote and published the definitive volume on his mentor’s life: Robert Clunie Plein-Air Painter of the Sierra. A prolific painter, he joined the California Art Club. He participated in many exhibitions, won many awards, an participated in a joint exhibition with Robert Clunie at the Ventura County Historical Museum.
© 2012 Wynne Benti/Coons Gallery