Obituary of Robert Orin Blunk Jr.
Robert Blunk, a noted Midwest regional artist and educator, died peacefully on October 21,
2023, in Denver, where he resided for the past 12 years although he always considered himself a
Kansan. His studio in Denver was filled with his art, which he continued to create until shortly
before his death. He was actively involved in planning a retrospective show of his work at the
Salina Arts Center in Salina, KS, held September 20 to October 29, 2023. He would have turned
100 in December. His seven-decade career encompassed painting, sculpture, and public designs
and installations in museums and galleries.
Born in 1923 in Salyards, KS, he served in the Pacific with the Marine Corps in World War II.
Upon his return to Kansas, he was accepted to Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the GI
Bill to study engineering. His entrance was deferred one semester, during which time he took
college art classes that changed the trajectory of his life. He studied art at the Kansas City Art
Institute, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1950. He later earned a Master of Fine Arts
(sculpture) at Pittsburg State University in Kansas and worked toward his doctorate at the
University of New Mexico.
After graduation from art school, Blunk taught K-12 and community college art in Chanute, KS.
He joined the art faculty of Pittsburg State in 1962. A sabbatical with the Institute of Puerto
Rican Culture and an artist-in-residence at Dickey Clay Manufacturing in Pittsburg highlighted
his career. While at Dickey Clay, he created extruded red terracotta sculptures that became some
of his most iconic works.
He retired from Pittsburg State in 1988 but didn’t slow down. He was the co-creator of the
Etcetra Studio, a group of talented artists that created super graphics and murals throughout the
four-state area. They also sold bicycles.
As with any artist, Blunk's style evolved over the years. But "there are themes that resurface
throughout his work – both in the paintings and the sculpture," wrote curator Stephanie Jackson
Dillon in the catalog for his retrospective at the Salina Art Center, his last solo exhibition. She
went on to reflect that "a consistent exploration of space and color is evidenced in both his
two-dimensional and three-dimensional work. ... His interests — ranging from Egyptian art to
the Wright brothers — are often referenced in his pieces."
Blunk's work is easy to find in many public spaces; for example, the “Chanute-Wright Brothers
Memorial” in Chanute KS; courthouses in Erie and Burlington, KS; Emprise Bank in Wichita;
permanent collections in several museums, including the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence,
KS, the Schingoethe Center in Aurora, IL, and the New England Foundation for the Arts in
Boston; and in many private collections. Blunk's sketchbooks and papers are archived at Kansas
State University. Much of his artwork is now housed by the 6th Floor Project in McCook, NE,
where his artwork was featured at the opening in October 2023. His work has been featured in
exhibitions at the Kansas City Art Institute and in numerous venues in Philadelphia, including
Borelli’s Chestnut Hill Gallery.
He is survived by his wife, Diane Kelly; sons Scott Blunk (Lisa Kay) of Philadelphia, and Judd
Blunk (Cyndy) of Woodacre, CA; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His daughter,
Rebecca Blunk, died in 2014. His first wife, Katherine, died in 2007 after 62 years of marriage.
He is also survived by his sisters, Pat Justice of Carbondale, IL, and Nancy Bradley of Lincoln,
NE. Also surviving are many friends and colleagues gained through his art and love of life in
general. Scott Blunk said of his dad, “His motto, and eventually our family motto, is ‘Leave the
campsite better than you found it.’ I think he got that done.”
Funeral services will be private. Memorials may be made to the 6th Floor Project:
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