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OBITUARY

Roberta Black Stokes

March 27, 1938May 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: karen@karenstokesdance.org

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/

Services

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Memories

Roberta Black Stokes

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David Bagstad

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.

Cam Tilotta

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

Linda Phenix

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.

Esther Shaffer

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.

Fran Avera

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.

Marla Parker

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!"

Karen Stokes

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.

https://www.chron.com/entertainment/article/Dance-pioneer-Roberta-Stokes-returns-to-the-stage-1663958.php

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.

Rega' Waggett

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

FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY