Roberta Black Stokes
March 27, 1938 – May 13, 2021
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@example.com
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/
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Roberta Black Stokes
June 25, 2021
Roberta always had a smile for me and everyone I think. She was such a talented, knowledgable, and caring person. I really enjoyed going with her to modern dance venues, including Karens ensembles. And, we enjoyed an outing one sunny day in Tomball going to old town antique shops looking for quilts. She was always so gracious, fixing cold-cuts while we talked at her house. She would played the piano for me, I played the guitar and sang for her.
She was an excellent dancer, as most of you know. She always encouraged me to stand up straight when dancing. Especially while waltzing or some other couples dance. She did it in a loving and uplifting way, never making me feel self-conscious or offended.
I'm sorry I lived so far away and was so busy with my struggles keeping the house or we, no doubt, would have done much more together. But, we always enjoyed seeing each other at English Country Dance and International Folk Dance. I could see her face light up and, I am sure, she could see the same in me.
June 8, 2021
Roberta was a fabric artist who rescued and repaired beautiful old quilts to give them new life. She had a zest for life that was contagious. Nick and I will miss seeing her riding her bicycle down the boulevard in Redstone CO.
Mary E. Schultz
June 5, 2021
Roberta has been a gracious, generous friend. I learned of her as a dance professional, with a troupe, studio, and teacher of young children, when my daughter, now 40 years old, was about 8 or 10. I was looking for dance lessons. But since the studio was far from our home, I did not connect in person at that time.
Then, about 5 years ago, at a neighborhood association meeting in my neighborhood, there was Roberta! - now a resident in the Heights. We gravitated toward each other in social gatherings, walked occasionally to each other's homes and became friends. I will cherish the sweet, artfully drawn greetings from Roberta, her graceful nature, her peace at the end. I will miss her.
Mary Emily Schultz
June 5, 2021
I appreciate all that Roberta did for modern dance in Houston from hosting the annual CAM event to running her own dance company. I also greatly admire her talent across both the dance and visual arts disciplines. One of my favorite memories of Roberta is when we ran into each other in Manhattan years ago. She was in New York to visit all the art museums as by then she was actively pursuing painting. I was in NYC taking dance workshops. As we visited on the sidewalk, I was thinking of how impressed I was of her for taking up painting. It gave me the courage to cross over into theater. Roberta was gutsy, funny, caring and project oriented. She made a difference in the lives of so many.
June 4, 2021
Roberta introduced me to Greek folk dancing while I was still living in Houston, and when Karen and Marla were kicking the Cancan. Just yesterday I was introducing my daily walking partner, a blind neighbor, to the grapevine step. And how I'd love to have challenged Roberta to a Mexican Train face off! Much, much love to the family. Esther.
June 4, 2021
I love the fact that Roberta taught my daughter dance. My daughter said, “She is the only dance teacher I had who made me feel good about my body.” Roberta, in a single sentence.
May 30, 2021
I will joyfully donate to the national park foundation in memory of Roberta. Her obituary really brought her back to life for me. She was so very loving and welcoming of teenager-me, as my best friend's mom, and then continuing visits during college. I felt so at home in your house when I would come to visit, and I learned so much from Roberta.
Here is a favorite memory. Gale was bragging about how trivial it was for Roberta to paint an entire room, perfectly. Which of course makes total sense. He was laughing about it and prompted her to chime in. She agreed, right, people are amazed when she paints a room, but she wants to say: "Well, yes, I also got up this morning and brushed my teeth.... so?" Gale laughed in delight, saying: "You see what I mean!"
May 25, 2021
Found this article about my mother today. It is filled with memories, so sharing the link here - which you will have to cut/paste to read.
Ignacio and Aurora Hurtado
May 24, 2021
So beautiful, Karen. Such a remarkable, fulfilling life. I know you all are so proud. And to us, the "concerts" in her front yard/porch which were thoroughly enjoyed and made her happy, proves how much she was cared for and loved. Include us in that sentiment. Thank you.
May 24, 2021
The Waggett family is sending love and peace to you and your family Karen. We have a special place in our heart for your mom. The tribute you wrote about her was so touching that I have saved it to reflect and think about.
We loved folk dancing with her and shared many conversations and stories over the years including our shared philosophy regarding children and family. Your mom loved you deeply. Roberta had a way of making one feel what you were saying was of utmost importance, as she listened deeply.
We will miss her. Rega', Gordon, Cameron, Hannah, Robert and Sophia
May 24, 2021
I walk my dog every day on go around the same block. It has been this way for years and I choose to do that side of the block rather than other blocks because I liked to chat with Roberta whenever she was on her beautiful porch that looks like an outdoor living area.
Although we were not close friends I could tell she did everything with love and a lot of consideration. Her home reflected her passion for her art. The colors of the paint, the details of her exterior, her landscaping. She showed me a beautiful mural she created in her back yard, I was honored that she asked me to come in her yard at the time of the pandemic. Her face glowed when she showed me her art.
I think she is a beautiful spirit that whomever she spoke with she touched with love and grace.
Now when I walk by her home I say hello to her from my heart and somehow I feel her warm smile.
May 23, 2021
Karen...I remember the joy that I saw in your mother's eyes each time your company performed. The love that she felt for you was just incredible and everyone could see it. I remember also being at her house and just in awe of all of her artwork and how prolific she was as an artist. Her soul lit up the room through her smile. She will be missed by everyone whom she came in contact with. She was a rare gem! I'm holding you and all of your family in the light....
May 22, 2021
RIP, old friend; I miss you. Heartfelt condolences to Karen and all of Roberta's family and friends.
May 22, 2021
Thank you everyone who has shared a memory about my mother Roberta. Your memories bring comfort and joy to us. Karen
May 20, 2021
I knew Roberta was accomplished but did not realize the extent of her success until reading this exquisite tribute. I always admired the parents, Roberta and Gale, of my dear friend Karen. I am so honored to have known them and to still count Karen as such a dear friend many miles away.
May 17, 2021
Love and my heartfelt sympathy for Roberta's family. Although, I didn't know her for very long, she left me with impressive art images. Roberta, may your creative energy continue in your next realm.
May 17, 2021
My heartfelt sympathy to you and your brother. Roberta had so much joie de vivre, and she expressed it so beautifully in so many different ways. I have two of her paintings, which I cherish. And I remember so fondly going to folk dance once with her many years ago when there weren't enough men to waltz with at the end, so I said to her, "Dance with me!" To which she enthusiastically replied, "Oh good. I *LOVE* to lead and I never get to!" She twirled me around the floor til I was dizzy. BTW, I think I may be one of the few people who waltzed with both Gale and Roberta! I'll miss her.
Sending sympathy and love,
May 17, 2021
Happy Trails, Tails and Tales to everyone who knew Roberta and especially to her loving family. That is how she we would like to see us going forward, seizing the day. I often told her, "Roberta, you are a national treasure." Her life is a work of art in how she
chose to live every day. She was a bit of a mentor to me as well
as a highly regarded friend. Our times included days on the Redtone Boulevard in the summer time. Her passion for painting, dancing, gardening, reading, piano playing, even clothing styles are remarkable. She has an aura in all she creates and that has left an indelible imprint on my heart and soul. We will always remember her flamboyant spirit and I like to think she is sitting
on our shoulders, advising.
With great admiration and gratitude, here's to a life well-lived in
May 16, 2021
Roberta was so much fun! She was just another roommate when she came to visit Karen and me in NYC. We would sing, dance, laugh until we cried, and cry until we laughed. Roberta was a creative genius. I’d be gone from the apartment for a couple of hours and in the meantime Roberta would have bought fabric and have made fabulous new curtains!
Roberta taught me many things and I am a better person because of her wisdom. I’ll share a Roberta pearl of truth - “You can paint ANYTHING and make it look better.” I saw her do it many times. In a craft/shadow box series, Roberta made tiny, birchwood toothpicks look stunning!
I send my love and sympathy to Karen and Yves, Deborah and John, their daughters, Maya and Hannah, as well as condolences to all that have Roberta in their heart.