Cowboy turned artist

  • Photo/Kyla Hurt
Rutter chuckles at his home in Jacksonville. His shirt reads, “It took me 90 years to look this good.”
  • Photo/Kyla Hurt
Ed Rutter holds a painting he made of Ken Bradbury.
  • Photo/Kyla Hurt
Some of the gold rings made by Rutter.

The colorful canvas of Ed Rutter

by Kyla Hurt

There’s a word for someone in their nineties. “Curmudgeon,” says Ed Rutter with a laugh. This is Rutter. He’s a bit of a storyteller — and full of personality with nine decades of stories to tell.

“I’ve been and done lots of things … I’m just an old cowboy back from Dodge City, Kansas,” states Rutter, sitting with his easel in front of him, a painting in progress. Born in 1931, Rutter is 90 years old. .

The latest of the “things” in his repertoire is oil painting, having more recently discovered a love for putting paint to canvas.

After growing up in Dodge City and graduating from Dodge City High School in 1949, the now artist worked in a packing house for a year before joining the United States Air Force. He was stationed in Texas and then Colorado Springs for about two and a half years before going to Korea. “That was my early life,” says Rutter, pausing. “I was stationed on a short-range radar unit on a mountain on an island out of Incheon and there were 20 people running radar and such. Our food and mail and everything was all flown in by helicopter and parachuted in to the island.” Rutter says when returned, he was at the former Castle Air Force Base for close to a year, where he was discharged.

Rutter then went to Garden City, Kansas, and enrolled in community college for a brief time until he recalls, “I read in the San Francisco [news]paper about a college in Mexico City that was all English[-speaking] and I thought, ‘Gosh, that’ll be fun.’” So, Rutter and a friend who also thought it would be fun left and enrolled in Mexico City College; that was 1955. He attended for a year before heading back to Dodge City to study economics and business at Wichita State University. At this time, Rutter says he ended up going with a girl and got married; the two moved to Eugene, Oregon.

He planned on finishing his college education at the University of Oregon. However, three months after arriving in Oregon, a growth was discovered on Rutter’s lung, forcing him to have lung surgery and return to Wichita. “I’ve been all over the place,” he chimes in. Once he recovered, Rutter found jobs to be scarce since he hadn’t finished college and ended up working for a finance company collecting bad debts and loans.

“And then I, uh, got acquainted with a guy in the insurance adjusting business and he said, ‘How would you like to become an insurance adjuster?’ and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” tells Rutter.

He did that for four years. Rutter continues, “Then an insurance agent in Garden City said, ‘How would you like to move to Garden City and get into the agency selling insurance?’ and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”

“Six years later, we were going to lunch, and he said, ‘How would you like to buy the agency?’ so I said, “Sure, why not?”

The two worked out a payment deal and Rutter wound up owning an insurance agency with 12 employees. Rutter shares, “Of course, then I belonged to everything.”

He was on multiple boards and volunteered his time with a variety of community organizations. Rutter is divorced from his first wife but blessed with three accomplished children from the marriage. “They’re very intelligent, all of them, and they got it, of course, from me,” jokes Rutter, poking fun at himself lightheartedly as “the man who once couldn’t get a job.”

Rutter met his current wife, Susan, in Garden City as well. She had been hired by the hospital to be the director of spiritual care; he initially thought she was a nun.

“The hospital was Catholic-owned, and I was on the board … just knew all the nuns and doctors as far as that goes, so when she came for the job, I just assumed she was a nun.” The two talked quite a bit and he invited her over for ice cream … and they ended up marrying.

They moved to Jacksonville in 2008. Rutter had retired and sold the business. “I kinda wanted to go somewhere where I didn’t know anybody and just have fun meeting people and learning things anew,” explains Rutter of the choice for Jacksonville.

His art began earlier, however. He had made rings prior — not twist some wire crafty rings. Rutter had made around 30 ornate, one-of-a-kind gold rings that he designed himself, boasting beautiful gems and stones that he’d also hand-selected and sought out.

The gold was mined in a mine south of Los Angeles. “I let my imagination run wild,” he smiles. He would carve them out of wax and cast them. He started making them when he was on the board at Garden City’s community college and there was a ring-making class. Most of them, though, were made post-class at his home.

“The college had a kiln I could use to cast, and when we moved [to Jacksonville], I didn’t have a kiln so I started painting. I had painted a little back in Garden [City], but when we got here, I did it regularly,” tells Rutter of how his painting began.

He started with oils, “because [he] didn’t know any better,” he says. He showed the first portrait painting he had made, explaining that it drew him into portraiture. He has an array of work in he and Susan’s home, showing some experimentation along his way. A painting of Ken Bradbury was among his works: “I did that 30 days before he died. We had become pretty good friends and I really liked the guy … most talented person I had ever run into … totally.”

“I need to be able to see people [when painting portraits]. I like to do it and I work at making good paintings,” Rutter says of his portraiture work. Complexions can be difficult, he says. The proper brushes and brush marks are a continuous thought process. His easel and paints, plus other necessities are set up in a comfortable room he uses for his work. He seems happy with a canvas before him — and that is picture perfect itself. He is available for commissions.”

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