Roberta Stokes was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1938 and spent her early years in Chicago and Michigan. Later in life, the memories of these places, people and events inspired her American Story Paintings. Her love of dance began at the age of four while performing “I’m A Little Tea Pot.” Her brother John would take tickets at the door, and play the music for her. At one point she wanted long hair, so she took fabric from her mother’s sewing box and made long fabric braids to attach to her head for a family performance. Young Roberta also fancied herself a weather reporter. Family members were not allowed to watch the weather, while she watched alone. She then gave a theatrical weather presentation using a big drawing to show everyone what was happening. Drawing pictures and cartoons became a part of her creative expression. Roberta majored in dance and art at the University of Indiana, where she studied with dance pioneer Helen Tamiris. Roberta eventually taught and performed dance in a variety of places, including Belgrade Yugoslavia.
In 1968, Roberta moved to Houston with her husband Gale, professor of History at Rice University, and their two children, John and Karen. Roberta began teaching in the Art After School program for the Contemporary Arts Museum where she eventually developed a dance program that included classes and performances. She was a founder and director of the Contemporary Arts Museum (CAM) Choreographers, a group of choreographers who explored the city with audiences, hosting the annual Modern Dance Gathering as well as the Houston Modern Dance Council. She served on the advisory board of Cultural Arts Council of Houston (CACH) and the dance panel for the Texas Commission on the Arts. Roberta taught dance for the Houston Dance Center, Houston Ballet, and her own dance studio where she also directed her non-profit organization: Roberta Stokes Dance Co. After a dance career of 25 years, she turned her attention to painting full time. Roberta Stokes had one-person shows at Williams Tower, The Art League of Houston and a retrospective show of fifty paintings at Transco Tower. Her works were also shown in Chicago, Washington DC and California. “I hope that my work creates pathways to seeing and celebrating, ways to anchor to one's own humanity.”
Roberta was a torrent of creative activity in her place making, dance, gardening, reading, sewing, journaling, piano playing, and artwork. She began each morning by reading the New York Times, and proceeded to fill her day with a long list of activities. Each activity brought her interest, with the possible exception of her exasperation with the computer. Gardening was a huge part of her life. You could often find her kneeling in the dirt around her flowers, elbow deep transplanting. Roberta collected small colorful salt & pepper shakers made in Japan from antique stores, could not resist buying a beautiful quilt, and was eternally joyful to find a great folk dance skirt from Value Village (second hand store) for under $3.
Roberta was a storyteller. Her paintings tell stories of place and family, of childhood, and of her childhood dog Spunky. After her husband Gale passed away, she created a group of paintings of broken down farm homes on vast landscapes, titling the haunting series “Silent Homes Speak.” Her art ranged from small quirky pen & ink cartoons, to large 6’X6’ colorful abstracts and detailed story paintings. In her ‘spare’ time, Roberta crafted 10 beautiful black paged and leather bound photo albums that tell the story of her family with handwritten sliver writing and photos. Her writings include over 30 carefully written journals.
Roberta had an uncompromising clarity of direction, exemplified by her childhood dream of marrying a history professor and living in a cozy “white picket” fence home with two children. Roberta had some rough patches in childhood due to family circumstances and was impatient with laziness. She identified with the working class, and had a “chop-chop” attitude towards work – get it done and move on! She had a passion for organizing and planning, a joyful zest for house cleaning, a constant determination to be her best self, and a deep pride in her family. She loved music, in particular Bach’s Goldberg Variation, Americana music, and hymns. She adored hosting parties at her house that included singing around the piano, dancing, and game playing. She was a party conversation starter – asking guests to participate in a “round robin” style sharing. Roberta particularly loved to be the winner of games, namely horse rummy, Chinese checkers, and Mexican train. She relished being a boorish & exultant winner and a sardonic sarcastic loser – in which she overpraised the winner (whether herself or another) with ridiculous superlatives. She also did not mind having a nice Manhattan cocktail at the end of a long day. Roberta’s constant energy and joy in “the doing” of life was inspirational to all that knew her. After discovering she had late stage ovarian cancer in May 2020, Roberta continued to fill the last year of her life with the things she loved, expressing daily her gratitude for the beauty of her life – which she felt was complete.
Roberta’s capacity for joy was immense and her pleasures were many. These pleasures included dancing with her husband with the Houston International Folk Dancers, traveling in Europe, attending church, going to theater and art events, gardening, summers in Redstone, Colorado, painting everything, and entertaining friends. Best of all were the times with her family and being at home. She believed that home is where the heart is, with family and friends at the center.
Roberta was preceded in death by her beloved husband Gale Stokes, her adored brother John Russell Black Jr., and her parents Lorne Russell Black and Florabelle Ruby Johnson Black. Roberta is survived by her son John Gale Stokes, daughter Karen Elizabeth Stokes, daughter-in-law Deborah Warshaw, son-in-law Yves Delepine, granddaughters Maya and Hannah Stokes, step-granddaughter Chloe Delepine, and members of the Ferguson and Ingram families.
The family will host a zoom memorial on June 5, 2021 at 11:00am CDT for friends & family.
For information: [email protected]
Roberta was a great supporter of national parks. If you would care to remember Roberta in some way, please consider a donation to National Park Foundation: https://www.nationalparks.org/