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White Robe

A contemporary art exhibition by celebrated Irish artist
Brian Whelan on life and work of the Rev. Dr. John Roberts

of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming

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"Roots"

The painting highlights the. Rev. John Roberts’ birth in Wales, and the influence of Celtic spirituality on his worldview, which led to him encouraging Native Indigenous expressions of spirituality. The painting covers Roberts’ Celtic Welsh roots through the Welsh national flower of daffodils, a Celtic cross, the Welsh red dragon flag (a symbol of “fearlessness”), mid-19th century Welsh hats and clothing, Celtic harp, and sheep in the countryside (i.e. Agnus Dei).

 

John Roberts was born in Dyserth, Wales in 1853. In the latter half of the 19th century, virtually all teaching in Welsh schools was required to be in English, even in areas where the pupils barely understood English. The Welsh language was forbidden to be spoken in them. Some schools used the Welsh Not, a piece of wood, often bearing the letters "WN", which was hung around the neck of any pupil caught speaking Welsh. The pupil could pass it on to any schoolmate heard speaking Welsh, with the pupil wearing it at the end of the day being punished. The subjugation of his own culture and language in his home country, led to him advocating for the preservation of Native Indigenous
culture and languages.

"Calling"

    This painting covers John Roberts’ calling to the priesthood and to work with Native Americans, by focusing on his ordination to Holy Orders (Diaconate) at Litchfield Cathedral in England in 1878 by the renowned bishop, The Rt. Rev. George Augustus Selwyn, the first Anglican Bishop of New Zealand and Melanesia.

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"Preperation"

    Newly ordained, the Rev. John Roberts was sent to

The Bahamas to work in a leper colony. He was ordained a priest at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Nassau, where he also served as Chaplain, and met his future wife Laura Alice Brown, who was the organist.

"Arrival"

   The Rev. John Roberts’ arrival in Wyoming to serve on the Wind River Reservation coincided with the Great Blizzard of 1883. Arriving in Green River, WY on February 2,  1883 with his dog, he took a harrowing journey to Ft. Washakie on the Reservation with a US postman in minus 60 degrees F. The150 mile trip took eight days instead of the usual 36 hours.

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"Family"

On December 24, 1884, the Rev. John Roberts’ fiancée, Laura Alice Brown, arrived in Rawlins, Wyoming. She had followed him from The Bahamas after being several years apart. They were married the next day, on Christmas, and then set off together for the Wind River Reservation by stage coach. Not long after, they lost their first child, a little boy, who died at birth. They went on to raise five children, four daughters and a son.

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