With fiery colors encroaching upon two darkness-enshrouded pillars, EWU alumnus Roger Riggs’ painting “9/11” powerfully conveys the essence of a defining American tragedy.
The thought-provoking 4-foot-by-5-foot work in acrylic was one of two pieces donated to Eastern along with a major financial contribution to establish the Roger Riggs Art Scholarship. The scholarship honors Riggs’ tremendous contributions as a teacher and artist, while providing much-needed financial support for future generations of talented art students.
“He was so influenced by Eastern and the teachers there that he wanted to give back,” says Glenn Reid, an EWU 1967 graduate and Riggs’ surviving partner of 56 years.
After Riggs passed away in November 2020 at age 85, Reid started exploring ways to honor his partner’s longtime wish to support Eastern. After a meeting with an EWU philanthropy officer, the Roger Riggs Art Scholarship was born.
Riggs studied art at Eastern after serving three years in the U.S. Army, earning a Bachelors’ Degree in 1962. He returned to complete an education degree in 1967. Over the years, Riggs steadfastly credited Eastern professors, in particular Opal Fleckenstein, with inspiring his lifetime love of creating art. A second painting that Reid donated to the university was, in fact, painted by Riggs to honor Fleckenstein, who died in 1996.
Over the course of his 25-year teaching career at Riverside High School in Chattaroy, Washington, Riggs impacted hundreds of students who took his Art and Current World Affairs classes. Reid, himself a retired teacher who taught business at Reardan High School in Reardon, Washington, says Riggs always encouraged his students to exercise their civic duty by registering to vote as soon as they turned 18.
Reid says Riggs often woke up at 4 a.m. to get the latest news. The same world events that Riggs’ discussed in his classroom influenced many of his most powerful works, Reid adds.
Although Riggs sold numerous paintings during his lifetime, making money from his art was never a consideration. Neither was haste in creation. Reid recalls a time when Riggs spent three years on a single painting titled “Africa Remembered.”
“There are some paintings that he worked on forever,” Reid says.
High schoolers taking Rigg’s art classes were encouraged to experience the world and learn about different creative forms to advance their skills. That positive influence was never forgotten by some of his students, including Sami Perry who became an accomplished artist and longtime friend. When she arrived for Riggs’ memorial service, Reid gifted her with all of his paints, brushes and supplies – another way to continue his legacy.
“He had some favorite students, including some students who are great artists,” Reid says.
Over the course of his career Riggs also found the time to teach two Interior Design classes at Eastern – coming, in a sense, full circle.
For his part, Reid says he is looking forward to meeting the first recipient of the Roger Riggs Art Scholarship this spring – and making a difference for Eagle artists for years to come.