Glen Canyon Damn: A History (And the Rest of the Story)…by Jim Stiles

I went West to find Edward Abbey in the 1970s, determined to give him a drawing I’d done in his honor. It was a doodle of Glen Canyon Dam in serious disarray. A few weeks later,  The Monkey Wrench Gang appeared on bookstore shelves and I was one of its first buyers.
The jacket cover said Abbey lived in Wolf Hole, Arizona. I found it on the map and made the pilgrimmage but he wasn’t there.
Nobody was.
Weeks later, I wound up in Moab, Utah and discovered Abbey had been living there all along, in a ranch-style home on Spanish Valley Drive of all places.
The Wolf Hole story was…a diversion (the bastard!).
Later I heard he played poker with some mutual friends on Wednesday nights and finally I was able to give Abbey my Damn Cartoon. He was gracious and kind and complimented me more than I deserved.
Months later, I got a letter from EP Dutton publishers in New York—they wanted me to illustrate Abbey’s next collection of essays.  Abbey was always trying to help out young writers and artists and I will always be grateful for his kindness and friendship…

The Rest of the Story…

After the drawing appeared on the cover of The Journey Home, there was some demand for T-shirts and  prints and with Ed’s blessing, I re-drew Glen Canyon Damn for that purpose.
Finally my original went in a drawer and stayed there for a decade.

In 1988, out of work and broke, I started displaying some of my cartoons and drawings at the Moab Mercantile and Gallery in Moab, owned and operated by my friends Kathy Cooney and Chuck Schildt. I was trying to peddle my stuff for two or three hundred bucks (framed) and not much was moving.

I wondered if my prices were too high. Maybe, Chuck said, you’re not charging enough. I told him about the Damn drawing and he proposed we frame it and put some exhorbitant price on it.  We decided on $3,000 and agreed that for every week it didn’t sell, we’d RAISE the price by another thousand. We figured I’d hit Van Gogh prices within a couple years!

But one day, Chuck called to say he had a buyer. A ‘representative’ of a very wealthy man in Colorado was sure his boss would want it. He said, “He wants to know if you’ll come down in price, but honestly? Hold firm..he can afford this.”

We made the sale–I got 60% and Chuck and Kathy got 40%..we felt rich!

And the buyer? I’d barely heard his name at the time. It was Bert Fingerhut. He would become famous for his extravagant donations to environmental groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Grand Canyon Trust and the Wilderness Society. He would also sit on their boards of directors.

And eventually, he would resign from these boards and go to prison when he and another SUWA board member were convicted of securities fraud.

For years, I’ve given these green groups hell for taking money from ‘rich weasels,’ but when I was reminded of this story recently, I realized it was time for full disclosure.

So…yes, I once benefitted from Bert Fingerhut’s wallet at one time in my life. I just wish his representative hadn’t discovered my drawing until we’d jacked the price up by a few more thousand bucks.

To read the PDF version of this article, click here.

Don’t forget our loyal Backbone members!

2 comments for “Glen Canyon Damn: A History (And the Rest of the Story)…by Jim Stiles

  1. Lanette Smith
    April 12, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    I love this story! Thanks Jim.

  2. Judy Muller
    May 14, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Great story, Jim! Wish I’d had it for the book! Hope you are thriving.

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