Bob Timberlake: A 70-Year Retrospective in Winston-Salem

Bob Timberlake: A 70-Year Retrospective in Winston-Salem

4:59pm Jun 13, 2013
Bob Timberlake
photo by Steve Biddle

"It only takes three things for you to be happy in this world," Bob Timberlake says, "Someone to love, something to look forward to, and something to work hard at."

And Bob Timberlake should know. The renowned realist artist and designer has been married to his high school sweetheart Kay since 1957, and has seven grandchildren. "I have so many things to be thankful for... and so many things to look forward to. Gosh, I just can't wait to get up every day and have something different to do!"  And he has worked hard at his art since he was very young, although he doesn't characterize it as work.  When listening to Timberlake speak, you can't help but be struck by the love and enthusiasm he has for everything he does.Bob Timberlake was born in Salisbury in 1937, and grew up in Lexington, where he still makes his home. He is presenting a 70-year retrospective in the Womble Carlyle Gallery of the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, to benefit the Arts Council of Winston-Salem, and Forsyth County's 2013 Annual Fund Campaign. It opens Wednesday evening.  And he couldn't be more pleased about it."I'm just proud to be here in Winston-Salem," he says, "This is where it all started -- this is where my art career started. I stumbled in down here at Old Salem, in the Gallery of Contemporary Art, and I was 30 years old before I had even seen an original work of art. Like Rip van Winkle, I didn't know what I was missing. And when I fell in love with it, I couldn't stop at just painting it. I had to collect it and everything else."

Truth be told, though, it all started a lot earlier than that. Timberlake began painting and drawing when he was 4 or 5 years old. Then, in 1952, 14-year-old Bobby Timberlake won first place in a national industrial arts competition, when he designed and built a Pennsylvania Dutch style dowry chest. "I spent 350 hours on that thing," he says, "and by the time I got through with it, I didn't want to see it any more. But I won the first Ford Motor Company-sponsored Industrial Arts Award ever won in the South, and a hundred dollars and a trip to Dearborn, Michigan. And I had no idea at that time what that meant. That this committee up in Dearborn, Michigan, saw something in this little North Carolina boy..."

He pauses. "Just think about this, because I lay in the bed thinkin' about it. In 1952, they saw something in this little boy, that 40-some years later, his designs for furniture would turn out to be the most successful furniture designs in the history of the world." He says it without a hint of ego, but something more like awe at how it all happened. "Now, who upstairs do you think was planning that for that little boy?" he asks. And it's obviously something he's thought about a great deal over the years. 

That dowry chest, which years later led to the furniture design career he'd never intended, is on display at the gallery during the Bob Timberlake retrospective.

It was in the 1960s when he met Andrew Wyeth, who encouraged Timberlake to begin his career as a professional artist.  And some say you can see the Wyeth influence in Timberlake's work. He has had no formal art education or training, but his work is well known for its attention to color and detail. The late Charles Kuralt, traveling host of the CBS-TV program "On The Road," said, "His paintings have reminded me of the homely beauty of ordinary things, of the careless perfection of nature, of the richness of human talk and song, the value of friendship and neighborliness. His urge became my urge. These are the fragments of stored memories."

The opening reception is Wednesday evening, June 19, from 5:30 - 7:30 at the Womble Carlyle Gallery of the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts.  It will include a gallery talk by Bob Timberlake and an auction. Admission is $50, and each attendee will receive a signed Timberlake mini-print. The show closes July 20. 


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