John Stewart, a member of the Kingston Trio from 1961-1967, was one of the most accomplished songwriters and musicians of his generation. During his 45 year career he wrote hundreds of original songs which included top hits such as California Bloodlines, the #36 best album of all time on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of 200; Gold, #5 on the charts; Runaway Train sung by Rosanne Cash, and Daydream Believer sung by the Monkee’s, to name just a few. While with the Kingston Trio, John wrote 32 songs recorded on 12 albums, 9 of which hit the charts. John counted amongst his close friends prominent musicians, artists and political leaders. His songs were timely, carrying messages that touched the hearts, and changed the consciousness, of millions.
What few know about John Stewart was that his other creative genius was painting. His work was shown in many exhibits, he designed albums for his recordings, and his art was sold widely to private collectors such as Rosanne Cash. He associated with and was inspired by many well-known artists such as Jamie Wyeth (a close friend, Wyeth wrote of a Stewart album that it was an exceedingly sensitive and compassionate portrait of contemporary America…"you have achieved in song what I have in painting”). John was heavily influenced by Wayne Theibaud, winner of the National Medal of Art; member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement and the Pop Art Movement; co-founder of the Artists Cooperative; Sacramento City College instructor for over 30 years; Assistant Professor of Art at the University of California, Davis (Theibaud’s family is long-time friends with John’s wife, Buffy). Another artist whom John admired was Fritz Scholder, a Luiseno Indian who studied under Wayne Theibaud in Sacramento. Fritz was a huge fan of John’s music from their first meeting in Arizona and Fritz became a large influence on an entire generation of American Indian artists.
John was also an accomplished and avid photographer. Some of his most famous photographs include one of his close friend Robert Kennedy , getting a haircut, to be followed by a portrait of Robert Kennedy(both seen below).
In a recent interview, Buffy Ford Stewart recalls that “John always had a sketch book and pencil in his hand or in one of his many pockets in the photographer’s jacket he wore. His interest in recording his world through art began when he was very young, probably as a way to create his own world away from the unhappy life where his parents forbid him to play a guitar or listen to music. He always loved art and traveled to visit museums and friends who were also artists.”
John painted most of his work using acrylics, sketched with charcoal and enjoyed photography. Buffy recalls that “John sketched in the moment, in cafés in Paris, on the road performing, and from photographs and posed settings. He painted many people he admired, such as President John Kennedy, Mother Theresa, and close friends Robert Kennedy and Trio member, Nick Reynolds. He lived in a creative space. Like his music, his art was inspired by his passion for and commitment to alleviating suffering and making the world a better place.
Besides the hundreds of paintings and drawings now being photographed, scanned, and archived, John left behind a legacy of his creativity which his friends and family honor. Through the efforts of the Kingston Trio Legacy Project, John’s works will be placed in museums and archives around the country for future generations, and as a lasting tribute to the artistic brilliance of John Stewart.
This article was written during August, 2016, with much help and information from Buffy Ford Steward and Allan Shaw.
Written by Susan Enowitz.