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Charles Rockey

Manitou Springs artist Charles Rockey and his daughter, Hannah, have completed a 16-year project, a book about love.

Manitou Springs artist Charles Rockey and his daughter, Hannah, have completed a 16-year project, a book about love.

Artist Charles Rockey sits in a wheelchair at the front of his Manitou Springs home/gallery and waves his long-fingered hands expressively as he talks about his latest creation. Rockey, at 84, is best known for his evocative, otherworldly paintings.

But for the past decade and a half, he has given up his life’s love to write, compile and illustrate a very special book. It’s impossible to truly categorize “Love Songs from Middle Times Echoed through Illuminations and Fables.” It is, to put it plainly, a book about love. 

“About 15 years ago, I suddenly got this overwhelming urge to do this book,” he says. 

He’s a familiar figure in Manitou Springs, where he has lived much of his life. He’d go out every day and paint a scene in the town. Then...

“I looked around me and I felt like people were losing what life is really all about. 

“Not money. Wrong answer.

“It came down to one word: love.”

He felt like his art was already expressing love in a way – love for his town, his environment, the life he had. 

“Every artist is unique and every artist’s work is unique. You can offer the world something nobody else can,” he used to tell his students at North Junior High in Colorado Springs School District 11. He taught art for 25 years before becoming a full-time (and very successful) artist himself. 

Then came the book idea. He began writing love stories. His daughter, Hannah, also became engaged in the project.

“Love Songs” has 115 stories in all – from three words to three pages. Rockey says he wrote about 40 or so; his daughter wrote about 30. The rest were written by what he calls “friendfolk” – local writers he knows and respects. 

It’s not a children’s book, “but I hope it brings out the child in every adult who reads it,” Rockey says. He describes the stories as “myths, fables, fairy stories, whatever you want to call them,” all with a whimsical touch reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien. 

He admits Tolkien is “my hero,” and with his white hair, craggy features, bright blue eyes and lanky height, he could easily be a character in one of that author’s books.

Many kinds of love are explored in the book: love of your children, love of music, love of Manitou, which he calls “a magical place.” 

Hannah, the youngest of his children, says the work “is sort of an autobiography of my father,” and the illustrations are reflective of his style of art – whimsical and detailed. There are more than 150 of them in the book. 

He calls them “illuminations” because they not only illustrate the stories, they also reveal something more about each one, he feels. “They offer some insight, perhaps, and maybe a revelation or two.” 

Hannah, a local actor and teacher, says the project was a labor of love in every sense of the word.

“Every story was edited at least 10 times. Maybe it was just a little thing – he’d wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning and think he needed to change one word in a story,” she says.

The book changed as her father aged. He lost two of his children just before and during the process – a son to cancer, a daughter to suicide. 

“His whole world turned upside down,” she says. “And that inspired the book.” Some of the stories are bittersweet. One, with an illustration of three sad creatures, simply says: “I miss you.”

At $200, it’s expensive – but it is a limited edition, collectible work of art by a world-renowned artist. 

“It’s his opus,” Hannah says. “And it’s the only place you can get this art – the originals were all lost in the flood a couple of years ago.”

The Friends of the Pikes Peak Library District have named this unique work the 2017 Golden Quill winner. A luncheon to honor the Rockeys will occur on April 29 at the Antlers Hotel.  

Interested in a Copy? You won’t find it at chain bookstores. It’s available at the Manitou Art Center, the Manitou Heritage Center, Miramont Castle, the Cliff House and other locations in Manitou, and at Hooked on Books in downtown Colorado Springs.