CORVALLIS, Oregon — In the early hours of June 3, 2018, surrounded by the love of his daughters, Robert Louis Neaves, 82, passed away at his home in Corvallis, Oregon, after 10 years of courageously living with cancer. He was born at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton, Montana, on December 15, 1935, to Theresa Joan (Brutto) and Walter Edwin Neaves. As a youngster, Robert was a gentle child having been an altar boy at St. Francis Parish for most of his grade school years. While his little brother went out hunting and fishing with Dad, Robert enjoyed the company of his mother and doted on his little sister Dolores. He discovered his love for art, classical music, opera and theatre at a young age. He would say that in fifth-grade, he started to realize he had a true talent for drawing and quickly started honing his gift. Throughout high school, Robert played an active role in the theatre, both acting as well as creating set designs. After graduating from Hamilton High School in 1953, he went east on a scholarship to further study art and theatre at the Art Institute of Chicago. Thereafter, he continued to pursue these studies at the University of Montana.
Robert married Sheila McKinney, of Stevenville, in 1957. Soon their children Tony, Marlin and Melora followed. During those years, Robert worked at various jobs, including the Rocky Mountain Lab.
Life then took the young family to New Jersey where son Garry arrived. Robert spent six years working for International Telegraph and Telephone as a technical illustrator. In time, the family returned to Montana where he started a sign business, which led to his 12-year career with the United States Forest Service as regional art director. Many of the signs still in use today on the roads and in the forests are Robert’s work. Weekends were spent going on family hikes, which routinely ended with everyone enjoying Robert’s famous hero sandwiches.
Eventually, he and Sheila went their separate ways. Robert was soon introduced to his second wife, Marianne Bonn, who had recently arrived in Hamilton as a Fulbright exchange teacher from Freiburg, Germany, to teach at Hamilton High School. Her love for art spurred an instant connection. They married in 1982 and started what would be Robert’s 35-year career as an independent artist. Western Images was born, and the couple went to many art shows throughout the country promoting Robert’s talent for western and wildlife fine art. He developed a national reputation as one of the leading artists of the West, having won numerous best in shows, honors and awards. A small framing business also emerged out of their dining room. During that time, their daughter, Jennifer, arrived.
In 1988, Robert and Marianne acquired the O’Hara House in downtown Hamilton and opened their first formal art gallery and frame shop, Robert Neaves Studio. This would later be renamed Art Focus Fine Arts and Framing when it was moved to its current location on Main Street. Time was divided between Germany and the U.S. The family spent a year in Freiburg, Germany, where Robert enjoyed sharing his art in well-received, local exhibitions. His exposure to Europe spawned a love for landscape and still life painting, good food and further travel.
The marriage ended, and Robert continued to operate Art Focus. He traveled many times back to Europe, finding that his heart lay in the provincial countryside of France and his mother’s homeland of Italy. From his travels, he brought back beautiful photographs and mementos as inspirations for paintings. His love for cooking continued to blossom, and many friends and family benefited. Robert held season tickets for the Missoula Symphony and shared his set design talent with the Hamilton Players. He was also a patron of many local and regional organizations, such as Trout Unlimited, Bitterroot Ecological Awareness Resources and The Teller Wildlife Refuge, participating in quick draw auctions and donating art, framing and dinners. In the latter years of his career, Robert was an active member of the Montana Professional Artists Association.
Robert’s diagnosis of advanced cancer in 2008 did not deter him from continuing to enjoy life. He would refer to himself as “Peter Pan”, saying with a smile “I will never become old”.
In order to simplify and nurture the good life, he sold his business and home in 2010 and joined his daughter Jennifer and her husband, Charlie, in their home in Missoula. Jennifer’s career as a nurse-midwife took them to Corvallis, Oregon. Robert continued to travel, cook, garden, read and paint during his retirement years. His final trip to Europe was with his son Garry in 2015.
Robert approached life with cancer with incredible fortitude, courage and an unwavering positive attitude. In his final weeks, he was surrounded by the love of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchild, cooked several beautiful meals, spent time on the Oregon coast and basked in the beauty of life.
He is preceded in death by his grandparents Louis and Angelina Brutto and Robert and Mary Louise Neaves; his parents Theresa (Brutto) Neaves and Walter Neaves; and younger brother William Neaves. He is survived by his sister Dolores Hurtt (David); sister-in-law Diana Neaves; numerous nieces and nephews; and his five children: Tony Neaves (Annie), Marlin Neaves (Jeannette), Melora Neaves (Chip), Garry Neaves (Karen), and Jennifer Miller (Charlie); four grandchildren: Nicole Henderson, Nigel Neaves (Andrea), Camille Neaves and Seraphina Miller; and four great-grandchildren with two more on the way.
A Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Saturday, July 14, 2018, at 11 a.m., at St. Francis Catholic Parish with a reception following in the Parish Life Center. Interment will take place at the Corvallis Cemetery following the reception.