Hill Blackett Jr.-Portrait of the artist
Blackett carves powder and sculptures with grace at age 79
March 30, 2004
Hill Blackett Jr. is a worldly man. “I don’t know anybody who has done as many things as he has done,” said Ray McKown, a longtime friend of Blackett’s. “He has done everything an adventurous person would want to do in the world.”
Blackett’s hobbies have taken him far from his home in Steamboat Springs.
Sailing has taken him both ways across the Atlantic, around Cape Horn, Tahiti, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean several times, and in hundreds of competitive races.
Fly-fishing has taken him to Russia four times, Argentina seven times, Central America several times, Alaska and New Zealand.
Skiing has taken him all over North America, but a row of Steamboat ski passes dating back 25 years and stapled to a wall in his workshop are evidence of the time he has spent at home on the slopes of Mount Werner.
Blackett is an age-defying man.
Blackett skied almost as many days as his age last year. At 79, he’s a true powder hound.
From his home in the Soda Creek Highlands subdivision, perched high above Strawberry Park, he has a clean view of Lower High Noon, Rolex and other runs at the Steamboat Ski Area. Blackett uses that view — or lack of view — to judge when he hits the slopes.
“I can lie in bed and if I can’t see the ski hill, I know I need to go up there,” Blackett said, pointing to the mountain.
Blackett skis 75 to 100 days per year with a group of eight to 10 friends in their 60s and 70s. And even though Blackett is the oldest in the group, he’s one of the most active. A few weeks ago, he was taking mogul skiing lessons, McKown said.
“I thought he was very active when I met him 25 years ago, but he’s just as active if not more active now,” said friend Don Silva. “He just hasn’t slowed down.
“He’s a great role model, especially for those guys who use age as an excuse — those that have kind of this idea that, ‘Oh I’m 40 years old, I can’t get around like I used to.’ Hill is out in his yard splitting a load of wood. He’s out walking the dog. He’s out there in chest-deep water in currents so strong it’s pushing the gravel underneath his feet downstream, with 40-mph winds blowing on him, and he’s saying, ‘this is fun.’
“He won’t even catch anything, and that in itself would tire out the younger guys. But he’ll talk about going out there again tomorrow. He’s a one-in-a-million guy who’s been able to maintain the spontaneity, energy and excitement of going and accomplishing things. He has such a great spirit that it’s too bad you can’t bottle it.”
Blackett is blind in one eye, but he can still tie his own flies. He also is deaf in one ear, so his ski buddies call him “a half-ass skier,” McKown said.
Blackett is an artistic man.
When he isn’t carving the slopes, he is often carving wood, molding clay, pouring plaster or bending, banging or welding metal. His sculptures adorn all corners of his house, inside and out. Some are completely abstract. Some are realistic-looking animals or people. Most of the sculptures, however, are abstract interpretations of realistic things.
Though he says his sculptures don’t belong in an art gallery, some of his pieces are on permanent display in Steamboat Springs, such as an abstract bronze sculpture of a man with arms outstretched, on display at the Yampa River Botanic Park; and a bronze sculpture of a mother holding a child to her chest, on display near the cafeteria at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Blackett began this hobby more than 30 years ago, as a result of liking to work with his hands and attending night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago.
He doesn’t know where the inspiration comes from, but he said completing a sculpture is always fulfilling.
“Every once in a while you do one you really like and it’s very satisfying,” Blackett said. “And it’s satisfying when other people like it too. Sometimes you look back and you don’t even know how you did it.”
Blackett was born and raised in Chicago, where his home neighbored that of his wife Nancy when he was 7 and she was 3.
Blackett enlisted in the Air Force halfway though his senior year of high school. He was a bombardier in World War II, dropping countless bombs over Japanese military shipping bases. He was stationed at a nearby Japanese island the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He also stood a few hundred feet away from the Japanese negotiators who came by several days later to surrender.
Blackett returned from the war, finished high school and enrolled at Princeton University. Before receiving a degree in economics, he married Nancy in his senior year. They then moved back to Chicago, where Blackett had a successful career as a corporate advertiser.
During that time, Blackett was also a competitive sailor, racing in hundreds of races on both fresh and saltwater courses.
Blackett was featured in the March 13, 1972 issue of Sports Illustrated for being the overall winner of a series of races in the Caribbean. He defied odds by defeating hired sailing crews on large, high-tech boats with a crew of his friends and family on board his much smaller boat, “Condor.” Blackett sailed for the pure fun of it, but he sold his beloved boat soon after retiring and moving to Steamboat Springs in 1980.
“Fly-fishing took over,” Blackett said. “It’s more relaxing, and you can do it by yourself or with a group.”
These days, if Blackett isn’t fishing, sculpting, skiing or working in the yard, he might be tracking the stock market on his new computer in his office with books on sailing, fishing and wildlife crammed on shelves lining the walls.
“He’s an unusual man,” Nancy said. “I feel I’ve been lucky to have him. It’s never boring around here, I tell you that.”
“He’s one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met,” McKown said.