David Utterback

David Utterback was a fine artist and he knew exactly where to find an Elf Owl. We did not know him well personally, but we carried his art in our store. He was a kind man who promised us that he would show us an Elf Owl as soon as we came to visit. We never did and we learned this weekend that he is dead.This is all very fragile, this business of being alive. It can go away in a second. If you know someone who knows where there is an Elf Owl and offers to show it to you, don’t wait: Go now.


Over David’s left shoulder in this photo of him is one of our favorite pieces of his, a roadrunner with a lizard in its mouth. David worked from photographs he himself took, but he did not give this roadrunner a lizard to eat. Rather he had a friend hold a live lizard so he could draw it accurately. No lizard was harmed in the making of that drawing. David was a gentle man.

And here is a photo of one of his prints that we have. David loved his originals too much to part with them so no one could buy his originals. This is a juvenile Spotted Owl that he watched for most of one afternoon. utterback-owl-5-of-1.jpgThe butterfly appeared and the owl spent some time studying the butterfly. David believed that the owl was trying to determine just what the butterfly was and whether it was edible.If it looks like a black and white photograph of the owl and the butterfly on your computer monitor that is understandable; the original looks like that as well. In fact, it is a pencil drawing. All of David’s amazing art was done in pencil.

When we see our first Elf Owl, we will remember you David. And our own fragility.


38 Responses to “David Utterback”

  1. ken archambault Says:

    hello, i met dave utterback only once, but he made quite an impression on me, inviting me to climb on top of his pickup truck to film a violet-crowned hummingbird whose eggs were hatching. I had already learned of dave when i had seen his artwork at the Portal, AZ store/cafe. His artwork is extraordinary and remains my personal favorite among all bird artists. He was a complex individual who surprised me a bit by telling me of his difficult childhood. In May of 2007 i noticed an unattended video camcorder recording away at a roadside near his cabin, which i assumed was his because it was aimed at a blackchinned hummingbird nest. i didn’t want to intrude on dave’s privacy, so i did not go knock on his door to say hello. now i wish i had. i will very much miss this perfectionist artist and his amazing drawings. It is so sad to learn that he is no longer with us. Thank you for sharing with others what is my personal favorite of his work: the juvenile spotted owl watching the arizona sister (?) butterfly. i hope we never forget dave utterback.

  2. fatfinch Says:

    Thanks for your comment. That must have been quite an experience to watch Hummingbirds hatching. That was part of Dave’s gift, making those discoveries.

  3. Jennifer Trimber Says:

    I am haunted by David death. I was a very close friend of his in the early 80’s and had communicated frequently with him since then. His perfectionism was unmatched in all things he put his mind to. It was bittersweet to see his face in the photo.Nice though that this image remains surrounded by a lot of his work. Still adjusting to the fact that he’s no longer with us. Jennifer

  4. Paul Utterback Says:

    I wouldn’t say I am best condition to deal with this yet, but I saw Jennifer’s note and was reminded of a different era in David’s life. (Hi Jennifer)

    After David passed I went to Portal and distributed his original work to his recent friends and supporters. There are some prints available at the SW Research Station, and the Jaguar Preserve. I donated much of his work and materials to the Station to set up a scholarship for summer students, and to the Jaguar Preserve in Tucson because he always talked of their efforts. I “tossed a blanket” on Portal and did what I could to soothe.

    On the whole I don’t see David as a “Portal guy,” not in the sense that Portal brought something to him or out of him. But that he brought it to Portal. So he was a “Dave guy” rather than a “Portal guy.” In this way I see Dave as always bringing himself to his surroundings. And to any of us who had a lucky chance to be near him. He was a big soul, and it took most of us a lot to simply hang with such a big soul.

    He wanted so much from us all. He wanted us to see, do, and understand.
    He wanted and expected that we all learn to control the environment around us (“diddle the weather” as he called it). Not just recently, but way back when we were kids bombing through the fields of Marcy, New York. Me on a red sled tied to the back of his ancient Toyota. Even then he knew “it was on,” he had a plan, he wanted people to take part, to participate, to be accountable and to have controls beyond what they were taught. He thought life was astounding, and that few folks really got that.

    The boy, and later the man, had tremendous gifts and talents. He always said his drawings were a device he planted in the market place (shades of David Byrne there). He strived to catch one’s attention. He wanted that act to push us all to interpret reality in new ways. Then make it a better place. He thought a drug addict or a litterer could change their commitment to the world if only their attention could be focused…

    He also felt his intellect was simply another device to achieve this goal. Hence his decades of physics papers challenging Einsteins relativity. He wanted so desperately to change the thoughts of physicists aroung the world.

    He got tired, who wouldn’t. And he talked of family trials when he was down. A common thing. Yes, there were some, but they are not even on the plate here. So many folks have much pain. He gave so much out to others he thought the family should fill him back up, but the family was not able to do that. The magnitude was too shear.

    But bottom line, it was his love for us all was his motivation. That, to me, is the value and the beauty of his life. It crushes me to think of. I know of few on that par. I can’t count the number of lives he had, the unexpected things he did, the goals he met, risks he took, the sharing he extended to others, the deep thoughts he gave to others, and the simple huge mass of love he gave to everything.

    It was astounding. And still is. So simple if form, yet so hard to do. Just like his pencil work. How many of us can make a claim similar?

    He was a rare human, and he created rare opportunities for others. I pray we all learn something from that and do some creating and sharing ourselves!

    Peace to you all

    he loved to ski more than anything, he was at peace then. So if you get out there in the woods, turn around and look at your tracks through the trees and give a nod to him. I know he’d like that.

    • Ron Bakerian Says:

      Ugh! I was shocked to find this while looking for some old friends I miss (Paul and Dave). I remember David as a talented, sweet, crazy-bright guy. in the past few years and being out of touch with folks I had mused about him barreling out of a crowd toward me with his shirt pulled up. Belly bucking is a better than a hand shake…… And scrambling up the Bubbles in Maine with me and my daughter Rachel when she was wee! Sorry for your loss Paul but Happy to have known him when I did…


  5. Megan McBurney Says:

    I,m not as good with word as all of you, but its nice to see that Dave was so loved.
    I miss him terribly. He taught me so much about art and life, i could never forget him, or imagine how my life would have been with out him in it.

    p.s.I miss you Paul

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Dave was a guide for me, and helped to push me into a new phase of my life and for that I am grateful. I only wish I had known what the repercussions would be. I still have a lot of mixed feelings about him, but he was such an amazing person. In reading Paul’s post, it brought back all of the things I remembered about Dave that were so special. His intuitive abilities were unparalleled, as I am just now realizing that he knew the cause of my health problems before science did. New discoveries being revealed to the medical community in the last five years showed that he was right. I wish I could tell him, so he could gloat. I think he deserved a little bit of gloating. I miss him as well, as I learned so much about life and art from him and I continue to mention him to friends as though he is still alive because of how much he helped to shape who I am right now. His words come out of my mouth a lot. I hope wherever he is, he can diddle the weather and finally feel at peace.

  7. Candace Ware Says:

    Crushed to learn of David’s passing. Was once close to the Utterback family, and still “google” them every now and then, which is how I stumbled across this news in the wee hours while working a night shift.

    Memories of lots of times flooding back.

    Paul, so sorry for your loss. I think of you all well, and often.


  8. Linda Bonde Says:

    I had simply bought a sample of cards (Hawks, Owls, Falcons) in Ouray, CO at a local shop. I was memorized by David’s pencils drawings. I have been a long time wildlife rehabilitator and have had many a bird in my hand. So many artists out there don’t quite capture the real deal and I find myself disappointed a lot.

    I am running out of cards and have kept going back to the shop to try and obtain more. Shop is always closed. It dawn on me a few moments ago to try and find David on line. I found him, but see it was to late.

    Any man who loved birds, sure warms my heart.


  9. Karen McBride Says:

    We here at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory are very saddened to learn of David’s passing. We just heard this week. I had written to him last summer about his prints that we carry in our Nature Store, but never received an answer, and now I know why. We have a selection of his framed prints and cards here and need to know what his family wishes us to do. Should we continue to sell them? To whom should we send the proceeds? Would the family like them back? Please send me your instructions.

    Thank you, Karen McBride, Office Manager
    The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory
    Lake Jackson, Texas

  10. Kelly Hart Salamone Says:

    I just found this thread. I’ts so nice to see a picture of David, but of course it brings back the pain I feel knowing there will be no more conversations or exploring or silliness to share. Thank you for posting this. I think about David almost every day. I know there are many many friends that are still trying to cope with this loss.

  11. Danielle Breteau Says:

    I own an art gallery in Montrose Colorado and discovered Dave’s prints of amazing backyard birds (As he puts it). I found myself enamored and mesmerized.

    I have now taken great steps to acquire as many of Dave’s Limited editions as I can find and now have them here in the gallery.

    It is precious to share these images and tell everyone who adopts a David Utterback Print, David’s story as told through his friends. The incredible person that he was and his precise talent for seeing the character of these birds, not just their structure.

    Thank you David for showing us the world so closely surrounding us.

    Danielle Breteau

  12. Carol Underwood Says:

    I am so sorry to hear of Dave’s passing. What a wonderful person and artist we have lost. I have fond memories of conversations with Dave about life, the creative process, and of course, birds. Although we never met, our lives crossed in a number of ways. I am so saddened to learn that he is no longer here, challenging us to see the bigger picture, and creating beauty with the finest detail.

    My sympathy to his family and friends.

  13. ada mulhern Says:

    I am still dealing with Daves death even though it is nearly two years ago, when someone of his stature leaves the earth, it is like a never ending avalanche where you feel trapped under the snow and cant breathe…..i had not seen Dave since 1997 but had kept intermittent contact with him and always thought of him when i was doing something new, adventurous, exhausting, tough or exhilarating. He loved for people to push their boundaries. I learned so much from him i will never ever forget him. I had a jade stone carved to make a piece for a necklace in a certain maori symbolism that represents nature and all that dave loved and dave himself.
    I met him through a mutual friend, Monica Galligan, while i was working in estes park, colorado over the other side of the hill to grand lake where he spent some of his time then. We had some fun times together, and i was astounded by him, he was just so amazing…i still have a letter he sent me after i returned home, and his parting was it was snowing and he was off skiing with a big long squiggle to represent ski’s going through the snow…..i remember i had just met him maybe an hour and there we were sliding down the hills of snow wearing plastic coats to make us slide faster!!!!! He knew how to live, thats for sure….i have some of his prints and absolutely adore them, i tell everyone that comes in my home all about them and their background and about dave, since 1997….Paul i have never met you but i offer my condolences for you and your family’s loss

  14. Tom Murray Says:

    I, too, have that packet of Dave”s pencil drawings, still wrapped carefully in their package. This was a memento of a birding trip I attended in Tucson back in May of 2000. It was here that I met Dave and it is only now I have a full understanding of the loss of this unique and talented individual. We had been birding all day long, but as daylight transformed into night Dave led a group of us out to his backyard where he successfully “called-in” a Western Screech Owl. I still recall, in the pitch black of night, directing the members of the group to shine their flashlights on the bird….down, down, down…..left,left.. there it is.
    Dave turned to me and inquired “How did you do that?”. I sheepishly confessed that I had brought my infrared scope with me. He laughed.

    This was the very brief crossing of paths with this individual, and what I took away from this was that he had a love for sharing. But, I don’t have to tell you folks that. I will store that memory away forever.

  15. Wanderfowl Says:

    I stumbled across this site searching for a way to pick up a companion of the Gray Jay drawing I have prominently displayed in my hallway. I’m very sorry to hear of his passing, he was very kind to me when I was a young birder, and he was a great artist.

  16. Dawnie Baldo Says:

    I got an email today filled with pencil drawings done by a handicapped man who holds the pencil in his mouth. The drawings were reminiscent of Dave Utterback’s, so I did a search to see if I could track Dave down.

    I ended up here.

    I knew and worked with Dave when he lived in Granby CO. He was a client of mine through the Small Business Development Center and I helped him through the process of starting a gallery in Granby.

    One day, when I was at the gallery visiting Dave, he showed me a litter of baby golden mantel squirrels which had been born in the stone wall at the front of his shop. At the time, I was also a reporter for the Sky-Hi News, so I snapped several photos of the babies as they crawled in and out of the holes in the wall. One photo made it to the front page of The Daily Tribune, a subordinate paper to the Johnson Media group.

    Dave called me after he saw the cover photo. He said, “You’re my new best friend!”

    I stole that phase from Dave and use it often. It was his wonderful way of saying thanks.

    I will never forget Dave. Last I heard of him, he was living in North Park in Walden CO, but I haven’t seen him in a number of years. We became friends when he lived at King Mountain Ranch. He was working on a series of mock-ups of pronghorn and, as a photographer, I was captured by his intricate drawing technique. He worked through a magnification loupe and used a series of pencils with varying hardnesses of lead. He once told me it took at least an hour to do a 1″ square section of a drawing. To watch him work was almost painful, yet exhilarating.

    Once the gallery was open, he told me on more than one occasion that someone had stopped in to see his art–only to comment that they were ‘great photographs’.

    I loved Dave’s intensity as much as I enjoyed his childlike way of looking through life. I read his rebuttal to Einstein’s Theory as did several others who had more knowledge of physics. All said his theory was plausible.

    Then one day, Dave called me and said he found a flaw in the theory and he would have to start over again.

    He was a member of the Grand Lake Polar Bear Club during the only year the club had a membership. I saw him at the annual Art’s Council melodrama on New Year’s Eve that year. His hair was still wet. It was well below zero outside.

    He told me once that those damn flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz terrified him when he was a kid and made me realize I felt the same way. We started talking to others about the monkeys and realized that is a common thread for those of us who grew up in the TV generation and were ‘forced’ to watch the movie every year.

    So we decided to have a Flying Monkey Party.

    We made great preparations for it: bought all the ingredients for homemade pizza, rounded up some good beer–we even had plans to make popcorn as the movie progressed, so that we could throw it at the flying monkeys when that part of the movie came.

    Dave showed up with his friend Pippa, an armload of groceries, a six pack of beer and a handful of movies. It seems that Grand County Market’s video selection did not include The Wizard of Oz!

    So we made pizza, drank beer and watched something else.

    Anyone who was touched by Dave in life will miss him now that he’s gone. Artist, friend, lover of life he will always be to me. I have several of his drawings in my home, and it will be with bittersweet memories of Dave when I look at them now.

    Godspeed my friend. See you on the other side.


  17. George Finnell Says:

    oh my….this is the first i have heard that Dave died. he was a very good friend. we worked together for the forest service for many years….skiied together…birded. i used to watch him draw and have several of his prints. i’m so sad.

    once, we skiied backcountry up to a place called Caribou Pass. i have a picture of him mooning the camera that makes me laugh every time.


  18. Chris Szczech Says:

    I have just discovered this thread, I am sorry for all of you that knew him. Years ago I would periodically search for information on this artist, but I never could find any info back then.

    My wife and I bought 2 prints and an original about 15 years ago from a gallery in Winter Park. We did not have much money at the time and I anguished for a day before we decided that we just had to have that original. We were told is was mostly unheard of for him to give up an original, I have always wanted to find more. I still am amazed when I look at this drawing, his is my favourite of all the artwork we have.

    Sorry to hear he has passed,

  19. Lida Telep Says:

    I came across your website and think it’s top quality.I’m thinking of starting a web design blog. Thanks!

  20. AJ Carrigan Says:

    I never knew this man… but it sounds as if the world is a far poorer place without him. I saw the owl print in a shop in Estes Park, didn’t buy it and called them later.. gone, of course. I found this site when I looked him up. I would love to buy a print of any one of his astonishing works… if the family might tell me where. Most respectfully,

  21. DJ Baldo Says:

    Dave was an amazing person. I am not aware of any the availability of any of his artwork, but if you can’t find anything, I have four prints of his that I might be willing to part with. One is of two Canadian geese, one is of a tree fox, one is of some antelope and I think the final one is of a baby kildeer with a big feather. These prints are all matted and framed gallery-style and are hanging in my mountain home, going unappreciated. It would be an honor to Dave to find a new location for one or all of the prints, since my location in Colorado Springs won’t accommodate all of them. If you want to email me directly, send me a note at mtnsun1018@yahoo.com. Thanks! – DJ Baldo

  22. dan cunningham Says:

    Paul. I just came across this. I am so sorry to hear that Dave has left us. I think of him and your family, often and with fondness.

  23. Mike Montgomery Says:

    I was given a print (approx 24″x36″) of David’s Owl &
    Butterfly by family members who have a cabin in Cave Creek not far from the SW Research Station. I had the framed print displayed in my cabin in Alpine, AZ. Unfortunately, my place was totally destroyed in June by the Wallow Fire. Any help regarding the value of the print or where I could purchase another would be appreciated.

    • deb Says:

      I have one framed owl & butterfly, are you still interested?

      • E. Charles Meslow Says:

        I am trying to acquire David’s spotted owl and butterfly print,
        Any suggestions as to where to look?
        Chuick Meslow

  24. Dawnie Baldo Says:

    I am moving and need to find new homes for four of Dave’s works: a pair of Canadian geese (from a book plate); a blue heron; a California tree fox, and setting with four antelope (all high quality prints). All are gallery framed. If you are interested, please contact me at me at mtnsun1018@yahoo.com. I would love to find an appreciative home for these.

  25. Grace and Peter Dain Says:

    David and I use to Ice Skate at Whitestown Arena in1992,he was fast,before he left for Colorado he was kind enoughto give me a
    print of White Throated Sparrow.We had it framed and it has proudly
    hung in our home since then.
    He will be remembered as a Kind Hearted,Modest and just a nice
    Grace and Peter Dain

  26. Linda Says:

    Is it possible to still buy David’s prints on line?

  27. debbihaile Says:

    I am looking for a place to purchase the owl and butterfly picture of Davids. I have a few of his prints I acquired during birding trips to AZ. This man/artist is greatly missed and admired. I wish I would have had the opportunity to take one of those slow enjoyable walks with him narrating.

  28. Karl Hill Says:

    I was surprised and disturbed to learn of Dave Utterback’s passing when I searched online to find a way to contact him to see if I could buy one of his bird prints. I met him in Portal some years ago when I was in need of help. He drove me and my wife all the way to Las Cruces and wanted only some gasoline and a meal for his trouble. We had an interesting conversation on the road. I never saw him again, but I have thought of him often.

    I can’t help thinking of the lyrics from Don McLean’s “Starry Starry Night,” about Vincent Van Gogh: “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

    Dave touched my life, and so did several other people in Portal. I think of them when I’m in a pensive mood. I don’t know that I would say they “restored my faith in humanity,” as the cliche would have it, but I would say this: The memory of them — Dave and the others I encountered in Portal once upon a time — keeps me from giving up on humanity.

  29. Dick Petersen Says:

    I would like to purchse a print of daves owl/ butterfly print .
    Do you know were one is available?

  30. JoAnn Ballard Says:

    HI, I knew Dave as a kind talented soul. I have only one pieces of his work and he promised he would return to Central New York with more pieces so I could purchase another. I am so sad to hear I am years behind. Dave, his dad and family were all talented. Such a loss. I will treasure my beautiful bird drawing.

  31. Keith Says:

    If Paul Utterback is checking this blog can you please contact me off the site? Dave was a close friend in High School at Bethlehem Central, Delmar, NY.

    My email: oahuKRO@gmail.com

  32. Keith Says:

    Correction, oahuKRP@gmail.com
    Thank you.

    • fatfinch Says:

      Keith, I apologize for taking so long to respond to your comment on our blog. We do not have Paul Utterback’s email address any longer. When we first posted this segment about David, we were in touch with Paul and David’s sister, but that was quite some time ago. However, I will approve your comment just in case Paul happens to read this.

  33. B J Hill Says:

    I was researching J David Utterback and came upon this sad news. Is this the artist who did an artist-in-residence stint at Brookgreen Gardens, SC? My condolences to his friends and family. I too just lost an artist-friend. Now a dimmer world.

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