The Lake Placid homecoming of an artist with a global perspective
by Elizabeth Folwell
Nip Rogers sees things differently. Maybe it’s because he’s six feet seven inches tall. Maybe it’s because he’s traveled the world—from his home in Lake Placid to Washington DC, Kenya, Malaysia, the Seychelles and back again. Maybe it’s because his brain works in a certain way, one that now, at age 56, he understands completely.
“I’m dyslexic and I had a difficult time in school,” he says. Lake Placid’s school was all under one roof then, and “you started in the lower left corner with kindergarten and then moved through the building, ending up in the upper right for high school senior year,” he explains. Reading was a struggle, since words were shapes to him, not organized collections of letters. His mother recognized that he had a real talent for art and enrolled him in Saturday classes taught by local painter Ed Schaber. “You learned to use a certain brush for clouds, how to do trees and how to blend colors. I had to relearn everything in art school,” he laughs.
If the Rogers last name rings a bell, it should, or at least radio call letters: Nip’s parents, Jim and Keela, moved to Lake Placid in 1962 to work at WIRD and eventually purchased WNBZ. Jim was a town justice for 20 years, and Nip’s brother, Jamie, served as mayor for one term. Nip’s given name is Robert, for an uncle known as Skip.
With his older brother and sister, Kitty, out of the house, Nip says he felt like he was an only child as his high school years ended. His grades were so bad he had no vision of continuing his education. A plan loosely evolved. “I went to basketball camps. My father saw a scholarship coming so he’d say, ‘Don’t do your chores, go outside and play basketball.’ Because I’m so tall I started getting letters from colleges.”
His main question for the coaches surprised them: Do you have an art school? George Washington University won out over other suitors. “I learned a lot about myself, being plopped in the middle of a thriving city after coming from Placid,” he says.
He also began to understand how his brain works. “There are eight different kinds of intelligence, like visual-spatial, linguistic, mathematical and bodily-kinetic. My strengths are in spatial and body kinetics. The reason I did so well in basketball was my outside shooting, combining spatial and kinetics: How much power do I need to put on this ball to make it go in a certain arc and direction? I realized these things lined up perfectly for me; I went to school on a basketball scholarship for an art degree.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree, he returned to his hometown to teach art for grades seven through 12. But teaching wasn’t a good fit then, so he returned to George Washington for graduate school, working as a campus security guard and in the alumni relations office. There he created a map that showed all the buildings and pathways from a quirky overhead perspective, and the piece ended up on the cover of the school phone book, postcards and posters. When his graduate thesis was nearly done, his advisor suggested he pursue illustration as a career. He says this was his aha moment: “It hit me—this is perfect, this is how I think and express my thoughts. I never took notes, I made drawings in class for visual references.”
In 1987 he began his illustrating career. Though he says it was “sink or swim,” he was in Washington, a city with some 6,000 organizations that all needed art for annual reports, articles and logos. His accounts ranged from the United Auto Workers to a national amateur radio society to Education Week, a client he has to this day.
He got married, bought a townhouse, had children, took his portfolio to art directors in Manhattan and DC. He got a rep in Atlanta. He moved to Pennsylvania, continuing to freelance for a growing list of publications and nonprofits. Then the economy tanked, his marriage folded and in 2006 he returned home to the Adirondacks to regroup. That’s when he met Martha Swan and began working with the nonprofit organization she founded, John Brown Lives!, which is devoted to extending the abolitionist’s philosophy to the modern social-justice, anti-slavery movement. He became involved with Reason2Smile, an international nonprofit that grew from his niece Keela’s work at a rural school and orphanage in Kenya.
He also decided it was time to talk about his brain. He visited public schools to discuss with students the different ways we learn and how to capitalize on our own strengths and work through our struggles. Teaching is geared toward left-brain thinkers, he believes, so many fall behind and feel they’re failures. School was where he could make connections with similar minds.
He began connecting with all kinds of artists across the globe. That’s how he developed two major exhibitions called Social Faceworking. One, at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, included 19 Adirondack artists, people he wanted to get to know now that he was back in the region. The other was at Proctors Theater, in Schenec-tady, in 2011. Forty artists from all over the world submitted work, and Nip also made portraits of them. Among them was Najma Pirani, from Malaysia.
They had met online previously and were pen pals for three years. A Skype session clinched it for Nip: he was head over heels in love with her. He decided to go to Malaysia to meet her. Trying to convince her father that they should marry was probably the biggest challenge of his life. The man never gave his blessing, so the couple moved to the Seychelles to wed.
But off the coast of Africa, surrounded by palm trees and sparkling beaches, Nip was drawing pictures of the Adirondacks, the landscape of home. The couple moved to Lake Placid in spring 2015.
Najma got a job at Lake Placid’s Bookstore Plus, and last summer the adult coloring-book craze brought cases and cases of them into the shop. Nip saw an opportunity and created Color Me Placid, published in May this year.
That’s not the only book in Nip’s portfolio; he’s begun a work that shows how he thinks through words and pictures, an exploration of the synergy among creativity, spirituality and expression.
To see more of Nip Rogers’s work, visit www.niprogers.com. A Point of View Gallery (518-578-5490, www.apointofviewgallery.com), in Lake Placid, will be hosting his one-man show, A New Hello, October 7–November 4.