On the clock, Rod Roth is a mild-mannered custodial specialist sweeping his way through Richards Hall classrooms and hallways.
Off the clock, Roth transforms into an artist who handcrafts medieval-era armor and is perfecting his watercolor skills to create Prince Valiant-style paintings.
“Art is something that I’ve always done for fun,” Roth said. “I’ve made armor for more than 25 years, and I started painting within the last year. It is something I’ve always wanted to do and figured, since I turned 60, it was time to get working on it.”
Roth studied at UNL in the early 1970s, crafting designs in a Richards Hall basement studio. After graduation, he taught art and American history at school districts in Nebraska and Kansas. While working in Dodge City, Kan., Roth learned how to shape metal from a blacksmith at the Boot Hill Museum.
“Over the years, I’ve learned how to work metal from different people, but that blacksmith shop is where it all started,” Roth said. “It led to me making and selling Renaissance armor.”
While he loved the hands-on creative process and working with clients to craft custom period-realistic pieces, sales dwindled as Internet commerce made less expensive, mass produced designs more readily available.
“Honestly, I kind of got burned out and my hands started to hurt after making armor for 25 years,” Roth said. “I decided to find something else fun to do, which led me to drawing and painting.”
He set a goal to create realistic, medieval prints in the style of Prince Valiant comic strip artist Hal Foster. To reach that goal, Roth started with simple drawings à la Walt Disney. His first creations mixed Humpty Dumpty into parables from the Bible. Worried that the pieces might not be well received, Roth worked the egg-headed creation into old western scenes.
“Drawing Humpty Dumpty dressed in chaps with a 10-gallon hat riding Widow Maker was a lot of fun,” Roth said. “So I created a whole series of designs based on that Western theme.”
While developing the drawings, Roth also worked on painting the pieces. He used an classic fairy tale book as inspiration, slowly building up colors by watering down acrylic paints and applying them in layers.
“I loved how it the light, vibrant colors brought the images to live,” Roth said. “It only took me six or seven pictures until I got it right.”
His Humpty Dumpty images were featured in “Nacho Mountain: This Train Never Stops,” an exhibition featured at the Tugboat Gallery in May. During the exhibition, Roth sold a print of Little Red Hen posed as Widow Maker.
“That was a nice surprise,” Roth said. “I never went into this expecting to sell anything. I just wanted to do something fun that would help me keep my mind sharp.”
He has since moved onto medieval designs, incorporating his knowledge of period armor with new lessons in drawing and painting.
“I’ve made some good progress in applying color like Hal Foster,” Roth said. “It’s been a really fun experience learning about all these processes along the way.”
While he plans to continue working on the art pieces, Roth may also return to crafting armor as he’s thought of a simpler way to create a popular style. However, that work will be delayed as a storm that hit Beaver City in May damaged Roth’s barn/blacksmith shop and acreage.
“I still have a lot of cleaning up to do, but I want to get back to working on armor,” Roth said. “Eventually, I hope to devote my time 50/50 to creating armor and drawing.
“They’re totally different activities, but I love them both. There’s just something I really enjoy about coming up with an idea, then putting it to paper or creating it in metal. The process of it all is my favorite part.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — “One of U” is an ongoing series featuring stories about the lives of faculty, staff and students at UNL. Submit story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-472-8515.