Sunday, April 28, 2013

Encounter: Robert Henri

Trina and I have driven Interstate 80 across Nebraska a few times over the years, and each time, a curious sign near Cozad caught my eye.  It reads "Robert Henri Museum."

"But wait," I can hear you asking.  "Isn't Henri considered part of the Ashcan School, and didn't he live in New York?"  I asked myself the same thing.  But we were always in a hurry to get east, so we never stopped.  I vowed I'd stop at the museum, some day.  And that I'd also look up Henri's biography to see what his connection with Nebraska was.

Today, as we made our way from Colorado Springs on up to Denver and beyond, we saw the sign again.  Should we?  Well, we did.

Once you get past the predictable "strip" right off the Interstate, lined with fast-food stops and gas pumps , you'll find Cozad is a quaint town seemingly frozen in the 1950s.  Diners, clothes shops, barber shops, churches, modest homes – it could be the hometown of anybody who grew up during those decades.  Since we were visiting on Sunday, all the shops were closed and the streets were empty.  Just what you'd expect of a town that grew up respecting Sundays.

But that also meant the Robert Henri Museum was closed.  (Turns out it is only open June 1 - September 30.)  At least I took a picture and made a note of the hours for next time.

So what is Henri's connection to Cozad?  Here's what the Museum's web site says:
Robert Henry Cozad was born to John and Theresa Cozad in, we now believe, Spence's Station, which later became Cozaddale, Ohio. John founded the town of Cozaddale in 1871. Between 1872 and 1873 John founded and settled in Cozad, Nebraska.
In their youth, Henri and his brother John Jr. only lived in Cozad during the summers and attended the Chickering Classical and Scientific Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The family lived in Cozad for approximately ten years until an altercation with a local rancher, resulting in the death of the rancher, necessitating the family to assume new identities. Mr. Cozad became Richard Henry Lee, Mrs. Cozad became Tessa Lee, John Anthony Cozad became Frank Southrn (correct spelling) and Robert became Robert Henri (pronounced Hen-rye).

Fearing for his life, John J. Cozad left town the night of the shooting in October 1882. John Jr. was already in Colorado conducting family hay business so Robert and Theresa remained in Cozad long enough to sell the family home in 1883 to Stephen Hendee.

Mr. & Mrs. Lee and their sons (who they said were adopted nephews) eventually all reunited in Atlantic City, NJ where Mr. Lee had purchased property on the Boardwalk. The oldest son then went to medical school and Robert enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
We'll try to catch you next time we're in town, Robert.

Robert Henri (from National Gallery of Art)


Carole Buschmann said...

Wow!! Who knew!! I must stop there ( In Cozad). Ah the plains they hold such stories!!

Unknown said...


Theresa Grillo Laird said...

Wow! No hint of this in his writing.