Labor of love: Former student
creates Web tribute to late artist Stephen Naegle
By Liz Lawyer
October 24, 2006 | A book in the lower level of USU's
Merrill-Cazier Library is dedicated, "In Memoriam, Stephen
Naegle." The dedication describes the author's shock
at hearing of her friend's death in a car accident in
1981, a year before the book was published.
The book, "Masters of Western Art," also contains
a few of Naegle's watercolors and a biography of the
Utah-born painter. It's a book Bruce Dickey was thrilled
to get his hands on.
Dickey remembers he was shocked to learn several years
after the accident that his friend and former teacher
had been killed. As a fine arts student at Arkansas
Polytechnic College where Naegle taught, he and Naegle
had grown close, going out painting and hunting arrowheads
"Stephen really liked Indian artifacts," Dickey said.
"Though to my knowledge, we never found an arrowhead."
Dickey, 54, was a young college student when he knew
Naegle, but he still remembers the impression he made
"Any adult you spend time with, especially if he's
interesting, will make an impact on you [when you're
young]," Dickey said, drifting into reminiscences about
his old professor. "He thought deeply. When he spoke
it made an impact. There were a lot of lulls in the
conversation because he didn't want to chit-chat. When
he spoke it had meaning."
But Dickey said he was surprised when he tried searching
for his old instructor's work online. There was hardly
anything to be found.
"When I started going online it shocked me that someone
so famous -- and he really wasn't -- and someone so
talented -- and he really was -- would have so little
about him," Dickey said.
So Dickey took on the monumental task of archiving
Naegle's works. Now scattered across the country with
no indication of who owns them or where they may be,
the job of finding them is not simple.
"I don't know where it'll go, even. But it seemed
a great shame for an artist to not have any credit for
his work," he said.
Naegle's wife, Montana, still hasn't recovered from
the loss of her husband 25 years later, and Dickey said
she wasn't able to help him in his search. As he's dug
for Naegles, though old friends, colleagues and students
of Naegle's have come out of the woodwork.
"I've met some fine folks," Dickey said.
Dickey began working on a Web site dedicated to Naegle's
memory. The site has now grown to include dozens
of Naegle's works, as well as personal anecdotes submitted
by friends, a timeline of his life and myths about other
works Dickey is tracking down, including a fabled "Naegle
booklet" supposedly compiled around the time of his
A painter's life
Naegle was born in 1938 and grew up in Toquerville
in southern Utah. Gaell Lindstrom, one of Naegle's professors
in college, said that from a young age his student had
enjoyed art. The timeline on Dickey's site says he started
filling his desk with pencil drawings in the first grade
and made his first painting in eighth grade.
Naegle entered junior college at the College of Southern
Utah in 1957. In 1960 he started school at USU, but
dropped out, expecting to be drafted into the Army during
the Vietnam War. After two years stationed at Sandia
Army Base in New Mexico, he got married Montana Armstrong
and returned to USU. In 1963 he finished his Master's
of Fine Arts.
During the 60s and 70s the Naegles moved to Arkansas,
where Stephen taught at Arkansas Polytechnic College
and met Dickey, and then back west to Wyoming, where
they spent the rest of their lives together. Montana
still lives in Casper, Wyo., where her husband taught
college classes from 1973 to 1979.
The car accident that killed Naegle happened June
16, 1981, as he was returning from a family reunion.
Dickey's site has evolved into a tribute to more than
just Naegle's paintings. He said that people he has
contacted in the process of his search are often enthusiastic
about participating and remember Naegle fondly. Among
the people who have helped him on his way are Lindstrom,
who taught at the College of Southern Utah, Naegle's
son, Craig, and several of Naegle's former students.
"He was a very good student," Lindstrom said. "The
fact that this man Dickey is trying to make a collection
of Stephen's art is not surprising to me."
On Naegle's trail
Over the past year, paintings have trickled in. Dickey
has documented 78 paintings on the site now. Some have
images accompanying their descriptions, some only have
a hopeful date of acquisition based on conversations
One thrilling find, Dickey said, was when an old friend
of Naegle's had one of his paintings he had given her
reframed. On the back of the painting, "The Mill," dated
1963, the framers found another painting, "Wash Day
in Albuquerque." Such discoveries have become favorite
stories as Dickey's search has spread across the country,
to southern Utah, Naegle's birthplace, to Arkansas,
where he taught painting, and to Casper, Wyo., the place
he made his hometown.
But the search hasn't been all successful. One former
student of Naegle's showed a triumphant Dickey more
than 100 slides of Dickey's artwork, only to decide
not to share them on the Web site. Dickey's suspicion:
"He has his finger in the dike. He wanted to try and
make a profit off of it, I think." Dickey's site is
"This will make the search easier for some other researcher
someday," he said.
"Five Naegles. Wow!"
Dickey's search led him back to USU, where Naegle
received his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1963. In
reading about the requirements for a master's student,
Dickey found that any painting by a master's student
that had merit could be retained by the school. Following
this lead, he discovered that the Nora Eccles Harrison
Museum of Art had in its possession five of the artist's
paintings. His excitement was apparent in an e-mail:
"Five Naegles. Wow!"
Anticipation mounting at finding such a large cache
of works, Dickey contacted the museum, only to "hit
a brick wall." The pieces had never been photographed,
and photography would cost Dickey $70 per painting.
It's yet another bump in the road. One glimmer of
hope: the paintings can be viewed for free if it's for
a"scholarly purpose." Dickey, still trying to get his
foot in the museum door, is hopeful.
"They're not going anywhere," he said.