Exeter gallery’s exhibit features artists from two ‘plains’ of existence

Chuck Prudhomme and Jack Wesley Routh share a lifetime of inspiration with beginnings on the plains of the Serengeti and in Kansas

EXETER – Artists often find their inspiration at a young age, whether it comes through capturing the natural beauty of the plains in East Africa or strumming guitar chords across the plains of Kansas.

The two artists featured at this month’s show at the Exeter Courthouse Gallery have either traveled the world or their art has traveled the world before this month’s exhibit.

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Jack Wesley Routh’s impactful photos illustrate living in the San Joaquin Valley. His photo from inside a farm truck gives you a common view of the predominant agricultural industry that pervades the Valley.Photo by Jack Wesley Routh
Jack Wesley Routh

Jack Wesley Routh’s photos will hang in the gallery this month, which are stark and honest images of the San Joaquin Valley, but gallery goers will likely recognize his other medium, music, as his hallmark. Routh grew up in Kingman, Kansas listening to his great-grandfather play the fiddle and his father, a World War II pilot, play the guitar and harmonica at local music gatherings.

After mowing yards for the rest of that summer, Routh bought a double-pickup, single cutaway, black and white electric Silvertone guitar from Sears and Roebuck for $75.

“Seventy-five dollars was a lot of money in those days,” Routh recalls. “Nobody had to tell me to practice. I would play that guitar day and night, almost to the exclusion of everything else. I was hooked.”

Routh played in various bands throughout Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. While still in his teens, he decided to write his own songs, using his own voice to express his own thoughts and dreams, hopes and fears, putting them to his own music. As Routh developed his newly-discovered craft, a unique and gifted songwriter soon emerged.

At 23 he traveled to Nashville where he met Johnny Cash, who signed him to a songwriting contract. That meeting with Cash eventually led to Routh producing with Jack Clement and playing guitar on Cash’s records earning Routh two Nashville “Superpicker” awards and an opening slot on the Johnny Cash Road Show throughout the United States and Europe. While working out of Nashville, Routh played guitar and traveled on the road with the Cash-Carter Family. Jack also became a solo recording artist for RCA records with the legendary Chet Atkins as the producer.

Routh moved on to California where he soon met singer-songwriter Randy Sharp through Karen Brooks and Brian Ahern and also rekindled an old friendship with singer-songwriter J.C. Crowley. The collaboration with each of these writers has proved to be successful in song as well as friendship.

In 2000, Johnny Cash recorded the song “Field Of Diamonds” that he and Routh wrote while visiting in Jamaica. The song was included on Cash’s American III record, “Solitary Man,” and was a Grammy Nominee for Best Contemporary Folk Album with June Carter Cash and Sheryl Crow singing harmony. Routh had a 40-year friendship with Cash that only ended with the county music legend’s passing in 2003.

In addition to the Cash-Carter family, Routh’s songs have been recorded by such artist as Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Reba McEntire, Tanya Tucker, Karen Brooks, J.C. Crowley, Randy Sharp, Marty Stuart, Kathy Mattea to name a few. In 2005, Emmylou Harris recorded “The Connection” a song Routh wrote with Randy Sharp, for “The Very Best Of Emmylou Harris”—Heartaches and Highways Album. Emmylou won a Grammy for “Best Female Country Vocal Performance” for the 48th Grammy Awards Year 2005.

Routh’s songs continue to reverberate through world. One of his most recent successes is the song “Dreams of the San Joaquin.” Written by Randy Sharp and Routh and made famous by both Kenny Rogers and Linda Ronstadt, tells the story of a worker in the fields of San Joaquin Valley during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression in the ’30s and ’40s. It was recently redone by Michael McDonald and Willie Nelson as a fundraiser for the United Farm Workers and the Refugee And Immigrant Center For Education And Legal Services (RAICES), a nonprofit providing legal services to low income immigrants. The song also featured his photos in the YouTube music video and on the song’s album cover.

Routh didn’t begin his photographic career until 2012 when he purchased a Leica camera and had exhibits at the Los Angeles Center of Photography, and in the Leica Showroom at Sammy’s Camera in Hollywood. Routh currently resides in Three Rivers.

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Chuck Prudhomme offers his paintings to the Exeter Gallery exhibit."Potwisha Pool," painting by Chuck Prudhomme
Chuck Prudhomme

Routh will be joined by plein air painter Chuck Prudhomme, who graduated from Exeter Union High School, but was raised in East Africa. Prudhomme’s parents were missionaries on the plains of Serengeti National Park. His father was a nature photography with an uncanny eye for composition, which caught the eye of his son.

The family then moved to Exeter about 1962 where Prudhomme became member of the wrestling and football teams at EUHS and graduated in 1965. After attending COS, he joined the Army in 1967, serving in Vietnam as a helicopter door gunner and pilot. He is a Purple Heart recipient after being shot down three times in Vietnam, while piloting an observation helicopter and manning a machine gun for a medical helicopter to evacuate the wounded. Prudhomme later flew scientists into various locations in Antarctica and the Arctic Circle for the Coast Guard and performed dangerous search and rescue work in stormy weather over oceans around the world.

After retiring from the Coast Guard, he flew emergency medical helicopters in Texas, Arizona and for Redding Medical Center (now Shasta Regional Medical Center) and fire suppression helicopters for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He retired in 1998 after a heart condition grounded his career but where his journey as an artist began to take flight.

Other than attending plein air oil painting workshops with a variety of renowned oil painters, Prudhomme is self-taught. His preference for plein air gives him a reason to travel and capture the essence and spirit of the locations he visits. He prefers to paint in a loose, quick impressionistic style using a thick application of oil paint to create a tactile quality with bright expressive color and visible brushstrokes.

Prudhomme was selected to paint a large Christmas ornament depicting a waterfall at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in Redding for the White House Tree in 2007, and was invited to the White House by then-First Lady Laura Bush.

He is represented by The Gallery in Mt. Shasta, Highland Art Gallery in Weaverville, California, and Favell Museum in Klamath Falls, Oregon. He currently lives in Redding, but returns to Exeter often to visit his sister Christine who still lives here.

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