Paintings offer glimpse into Pioche’s rich past | NevadaAppeal.com
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Paintings offer glimpse into Pioche’s rich past

Pioche’s historic Million Dollar Courthouse—so named because it cost nearly a million dollars when it was finally paid off as a result of corruption and mismanagement—is home of the Robert G. Schofield paintings.
RICHARD MORENO PHOTO |

One of the most fascinating stories to come out of Eastern Nevada is the true tale of Robert G. Schofield’s paintings.

Schofield was an Englishman who traveled to the mining town of Pioche in about 1870. A sort of jack-of-all-trades type, Schofield was skilled as a watchmaker, jeweler engraver, sign maker, French teacher and house painter. He also is said to have liked writing poetry in his spare time — and he dabbled in drawing and painting watercolors.

It’s the latter talent that has given Schofield a certain fame far beyond his lifetime. Between about 1878 and 1913, Schofield painted a number of watercolors capturing the landscape and life of several of Eastern Nevada’s mining camps.

Jim McCormick, a former University of Nevada, Reno art professor, who has studied Schofield’s works, has written that the artist is somewhat unique because he used art paper that was rarely larger than the size of a piece of typing paper and painted with “short, almost fussy” brushstrokes that seemed to echo the work of the French impressionists.

Schofield’s colors were subtle and muted rather than bold and bright, which McCormick said may have been because of the limited range of paint pigments available at the time.

What makes the story of the Schofield paintings perhaps more remarkable, however, is he apparently painted them for his own pleasure so their existence wasn’t known until they were rediscovered in 1950 by Pioche residents, Vern and Mary Smith.

The Smiths had purchased Schofield’s former home on Hoffman Street in Pioche. While cleaning out an old shed, they discovered a stack of old papers and documents, a box of tarnished silverware and 28 Schofield watercolors.

Believing they had discovered something potentially valuable, Mary Smith stored them carefully, occasionally showing them to friends and acquaintances.

In the 1980s, the Nevada Historical Society learned of their existence and helped to have them photographed and professionally preserved. The Smiths eventually donated the paintings to the Lincoln County Historical Museum, which loaned them in 2000 to the Nevada Historical Society in Reno for an exhibition.

These days, the watercolors can be seen in a special gallery at the “Million Dollar Courthouse” in Pioche.

The 28 Schofield paintings provide a rare look at Eastern Nevada more than a century ago. Scenes include views of some of the buildings, some street scenes and landscapes around Pioche as well as depictions of the mining towns of Eureka, Cherry Creek and Taylor (the last two are now ghost towns).

McCormick, who served as curator of the Schofield exhibition in Reno, noted that in some paintings the artist “provided the viewer with panoramic views of these towns; in others he created more intimate street scenes with people, animals and wagons.”

Schofield, who was born in 1838, worked in Pioche for several years and bounced around other Nevada mining camps before returning to Lincoln County. According to Nevada historian Phillip I. Earl, Schofield was involved in Lincoln County politics for a time, but lost a race for county surveyor in 1874 and one for county clerk in 1892.

In 1900, he was finally elected justice of the peace for the Pioche Township in an uncontested race but was defeated two years later.

Sadly, there was no happy ending for Schofield. Earl has written that “the last three years of Schofield’s life were bleak and tragic.” He had grown senile and was unable to work. He became a ward of the county and died in 1915. He is buried in the Pioche cemetery.

For more information about Pioche and the Million Dollar Courthouse, go to http://www.chamberorganizer.com/piochechamber/docs/THC%20spring%202010.pdf.

Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.