Robert Cole Caples Correspondence with Anthony Shafton

Identifier: 2011-17

Scope and Contents

Anthony Shafton began saving Caples’ letters in October 1977, although their correspondence began many years prior to that in 1964. This collection is comprised of eight letters from Caples to Shafton and five from Shafton to Caples, the latter sent to Shafton with other items by Caples’ widow Rosemary following Caples’ death in 1979. The earliest letter is Shafton’s February 1977 response to an unsaved letter from Caples concerning Shafton’s book Conditions of Awareness (a copy of the book is included here). Also included is a photocopy of Caples’ “A Letter to a Recent Reader” of The Potter and His Children; two letters from Rosemary Caples to Shafton, one enclosing an inscribed photo; 11 of Caples’ “off the wall” notes to himself, probably also sent to Shafton from Rosemary; and a letter from Carl Heintze to Shafton with a copy of Caples’ obituary.

A special thank you to Anthony Shafton for providing both the biographical notes and the scope and contents note for this collection.


  • 1977-1980



Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Biographical Note

Robert Cole Caples (1908-1979) came to Reno, Nevada from New York City in 1924 to live with his father, a doctor who had relocated after divorcing Caples’ mother. Caples was a largely self-trained artist and autodidact intellectual who never graduated high school. His national reputation was never higher than in his early twenties, as portraitist of Reno divorcees. Regionally his reputation rests on the Indian portraits he drew during the Depression under the Federal Arts Project (later reproduced in two portfolios by University of Nevada Press) and on the mountain landscapes of his maturity. Caples was the model for the artist Lawrence Black in The City of Trembling Leaves, a novel by his friend Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Caples left Nevada for Connecticut with his fifth wife Rosemary in 1958. There he eventually stopped painting. In 1971, he self-published his spiritual testament, The Potter and His Children, an illustrated children’s book. Caples, whose health had always been fragile, died at age 70.

Caples exhibited in numerous group and solo shows during his lifetime, the most significant being the 1964 retrospective mounted by the University of Nevada, Reno. The predecessor of Reno’s current Nevada Museum of Art (NMA) held a posthumous retrospective in 1981, and in 2009 the NMA published an online Education Guide to accompany a traveling Caples exhibition, an initiative of the Nevada Arts Council. Caples works are held by the NMA, the Nevada Historical Society, the Nevada State Museum, this university, and in many private collections.

Anthony Shafton (1937- ) is a Chicago native and Reno resident, with degrees from Harvard College and Stanford’s graduate Creative Writing Program. He has published five books, most recently The Nevada They Knew: Robert Caples and Walter Van Tilburg Clark (2017). It was as a result of writing a fan letter about The City of Trembling Leaves to Clark that Shafton, through Clark’s introduction, met Caples in 1964, overnighting at Robert and Rosemary Caples’ Connecticut estate. Shafton never met Caples again, but the two corresponded from 1964 until the artist’s death. The Nevada They Knew is the story of the friendship between the Caples and Clark and a critical study of their works, wrapped inside a memoir of Shafton’s connections with the two men and their influence on his life. Shafton’s earlier books are The Apostate Heriger (1962), a novel; Conditions of Awareness (1976), a monograph on primate psychology and human paleopsychology; Dream Reader (1995), a survey of psychological approaches to dream interpretation; and Dream-Singers (2002), a sociology of African-American dreaming and dream sharing.


0.21 Linear Feet (6 folders)

Language of Materials



Anthony Shafton (1937- ) is a Chicago native, Reno resident, and author whose correspondence with Robert Cole Caples (1908-1979) began in 1964 until Caples' death. Shafton began saving the letters in 1977. Caples was a largely self-trained artist most well known for his portraits of Reno divorcees and his Indian portraits drawn during the Depression under the Federal Arts Project. Also included are other documents and letters from Rosemary Caples and Carl Heinze.


Materials are arranged chronologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Anthony Shafton in 2011.


Inventory to the Correspondence of Robert Cole Caples and Anthony Shafton
Jessica Maddox
January 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)