Alumni Couple’s Lives Filled with Art and Adventure

Painting of a horse
Mosaic Appaloosa, lifesize cast fiberglass, 2003, by Bob Coonts

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)

Among the many things that make Fort Collins a wonderful place to live is its art scene. Bob (B.A., ’63) and Sallie Coonts (B.A., ’77) are noted players in this scene and wonderful supporters of Colorado State University.

Photo of Bob and Sallie Coonts
Bob and Sallie Coonts

Bob grew up in Limon and did a tour with the Navy, where he met a commercial artist who encouraged him to go to college and study art. After his service was over, he enrolled at CSU and majored in art. After graduation, he worked in Denver for eight years at design studios and for the Rocky Mountain News.

He moved back to Fort Collins when CSU hired him to do a rebrand; the University replaced everything, from its campus signage to stationery, using Bob’s creative new design. He then became art director for CSU Publications, and from 1971 to 2006, he served as affiliate faculty member, teaching graphic design in the art department. He continued this role even after starting a business – Bob Coonts Graphic Design. Over the next 20 years, the company did rebrands and created graphics for businesses ranging from Aspen Skiing Company to Poudre Valley Hospital. Bob also created all the posters for CSU’s American West program.

A gallery in the CIIPE poster exhibition
The 21st Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition, featuring the work of 60 designers, runs from September 19 to December 14 on campus at Gregory Allicar Museum of Art in the University Center for the Arts.

Another of his contributions to the Fort Collins art scene was helping faculty members Phil Risbeck and John Sorbie launch the Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition (CIIPE). The largest such show in the country, it brings the work of the world’s best poster artists to Fort Collins every two years.

These days, Bob is known for his own work; he says, “I became a fine artist in 1994!” His paintings use bright colors and are “peaceful, happy, feel-good” pieces. They have a heavy design influence that he describes as “abstracted reality influenced by fauvism.”

Sallie also is active in the local scene, supporting the arts in Fort Collins and on campus. She and Bob married sometime after the death of her husband, George Van Dyne (B.A., ’54), who worked at CSU’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory. She had adventures all over the world with Van Dyne, using her anthropology degree to assist in his projects. She studied grassland ecology in Inner Mongolia, living in a yurt. She studied the pink-footed goose in Iceland. During that trip, a helicopter dropped the pair on a glacier to do research. When it did not return at the scheduled pick-up time, they started a hopeless trek in the direction of civilization. Three hours later, the helicopter finally retrieved them.

Multicolored Ram
Rocky Mountain High, watercolor/acrylic, 2003, by Bob Coonts

Bob and Sallie are CSU Alumni Association members, and their combined family includes several Rams: Brian Coonts (B.S., ’92); Brent (B.S., ’88) and Cindy Coonts (B.S., ’88; M.S. ’94); James Ellis (B.S., ’86); and current CSU student Shayla Coonts. Bob’s former graphic design students and employees also maintain a close relationship. Sam Cooper (B.F.A., ’77), who owns a local design business, says of his former mentor:

“Over 40 years ago, Bob graciously opened both his house and his studio to me…. While under his roof, I found my own voice, launched a successful design business, and met the woman who would become my life partner and the mother to our three amazing children.  Bob showed me the importance of being generous and open hearted as a path to good design and for living a happy life.”