Walt Stewart Passes
By Jennifer M. Dawson
Two weeks before Walt Stewart's death last Wednesday, friends were invited to an impromptu pot-luck at the artist's home in Bolinas to celebrate the life of this West Marin luminary who was diagnosed two years ago with a terminal illness. He was given less than a month to live in early November. Over 100 locals and friends from afar turned out to pay their respects, offer condolences and share colorful stories of Mr. Stewart's life as a wonderful artist, generous friend and helpful neighbor.
Since the late 1960s Mr. Stewart split his time between Bolinas and traveling the United States working as a distinguished courtroom artist for ABC, NBC and CNN and covering the most infamous trials in our recent history. A singular talent, reputed for his engaging charm, intelligence and quick wit as well as accuracy, speed and talent as an artist, Mr. Stewart was a very significant and influential figure amongst an elite cadre of courtroom artists.
Mr. Stewart's contribution to his field has earned him several Emmy's and has greatly shaped courtroom art as both a viable profession and an artistic genre of social/political/historical value. Exhibitions of his work have caught the interest of academics, historians, pop culture pundits and art collectors, several universities are vying to manage his archive and a book is currently in the works by author Jim Shock.
The courtroom artist was pivotal to the newsworthy trial ever since cameras, determined invasive and distracting during the Lindenbergh kidnapping trial, were banned in the late 1930s from the courtroom. (In the 1990s cameras were again permitted based on a judge's discretion but the media circus of the OJ Simpson trial has since made most judges understandably weary.)
Working closely with journalists, an artist is contracted by a network or newspaper, granted an unobstructed view of the courtroom to produce unbiased, accurate and truthful depictions of the more dramatic events that occur during the court proceedings. In the past forty years Mr. Stewart sketched some of the most memorable moments of the more infamous trials beginning with Jack Ruby in 1964 until the Cary Stayner trial in summer of 2002. The high profile trials he has been hired to render like those of Sirhan Sirhan, Patty Hearst, Charles Manson, Squeeky Fromme, John Delorean, Huey Newton, The Soledad Brothers, Juan Corona, Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh and OJ Simpson, confirmed Mr. Stewart achieved an unparalleled caliber of success and recognition in his profession.
His archive is of enormous social value consisting of hundreds of courtroom drawings that will, no doubt, provide a larger picture of society worth observing for many years yet to come. Even more significantly, and because it is likely that no one else in today's media has witnessed as much of the darker side of human nature with such an unobstructed view-attending the trials of our most heinous criminals, observing the failures of our justice system and witnessing up close the unmitigated grief of victims and their families-Walt Stewart deserves special recognition for his ability to share with us his tireless good nature and unwavering faith in humanity. He quietly died in his sleep on November 27 at 8:40 p.m.
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