Cover photo for Stevan Robert Maxwell's Obituary
Stevan Robert Maxwell Profile Photo
1948 Stevan 2024

Stevan Robert Maxwell

June 5, 1948 — May 22, 2024

We said goodbye to Steve’s physical form on May 22, 2024, five weeks and one day after the surprise discovery of advanced pancreatic cancer. He was lovingly cared for during that time, at home in Palisade, by our family and a compassionate and skillful Hope West Hospice team. He died as he lived; gently, peacefully and without much fuss.

Steve was born in Denver June 5, 1948 to aeronautical cartographer Van C Maxwell Jr. and seamstress extraordinaire Margarget D Maxwell. 

He grew up with siblings Melvin (d. 2010) and Marcia Maxwell doing all the usual suburban things of his day: free play, baseball, bike riding, enjoying bologna sandwiches, hanging out with cousins and camping in the mountains. 

School was a requirement but Steve was a self proclaimed day dreamer, often brought back to attention when caught staring out the window during class. Likely he was conjuring the future fine art photos that he would create as a part of his legacy. 

In 1967 Steve headed west to Gunnison Colorado where he attended Western State College (now Western Colorado University) for three years before choosing to migrate to Crested Butte to pursue his new passion: skiing. He and friend Ron Kovanic had taught themselves to ski when at Western, and they were ready for more.

From his humble beginnings as a self taught skier, Steve joined the Crested Butte Pro Ski Patrol in 1972. From 1976-1981 he was the CB Patrol Director, earning the respect and affection of the assorted characters who comprised the highly adventurous ski patrol. They ran wrecks, threw dynamite to control avalanches, skied out of bounds powder and attended to multiple mundane duties on the mountain. There were long hours of camaraderie on the slopes and in the Patrol Room at the top of the mountain with a birds eye view of the West Elk Wilderness. No cell phones or internet, just radios and stories to stay in touch and pass the time.

In the off season Steve pursued his passion as a ballet dancer, and his love for culture and art. Traveling to New England and Chicago as well as other urban places fed Steve’s creativity and passion for beauty.

In 1979 Steve met Sarah Hutchinson, a newly minted RN who arrived to work in the CB Base Area Medical Clinic. Sarah, a native New Englander found freedom in the West. Steve and Sarah were a dynamic couple, his mellowness balanced her intensity, her cultural background fed his curiosity. They would go forward as partners for 35 years, and as grateful parents to three children: Teal Ann Maxwell b. 1983, Quinn Hutchinson Maxwell b. 1987 and Robin Hart Maxwell b. 1991. As their nest emptied Steve and Sarah grew apart, eventually consciously uncoupling in 2016. They remained in relationship as parents and grandparents, without animosity, their essential bond remained intact.

In 1981 Steve and Sarah moved to Vermont so Steve could attend the Doscher School of Photography, pivoting from Ski Patrol Director to fine arts photographer as Sarah moved into her nursing career. 

In 1983 they moved to Carbondale, Colorado to live and work at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School. Steve taught photography and they were dorm parents, outdoor trip leaders, ski instructors and directors of the Navajo Exchange Program. Teal was a baby when they arrived at CRMS, eventually followed by Quinn and Robin Hart, both born at home, on campus, with Steve as midwife at Robin’s birth. These were rich years of family, community, teaching and learning.

A sabbatical in 1991 took the family to Rhode Island where Steve attended the Rhode Island School of Design, deepening his expertise as a fine arts photographer. After that year, ready for a life outside of boarding school they left CRMS and the Roaring Fork Valley for Grand Junction, eventually settling in the village of Mesa Colorado, within sight of Powderhorn Ski Resort where Steve took up teaching skiing and two generations of our family have spent many happy days skiing together.

They bought an old farmhouse in a grove of huge cottonwoods and Steve slowly rebuilt the place for his growing family. Sarah lives there still, surrounded by the creative touches Steve, Quinn and Robin added over the years.

Steve dedicated himself to the art and craft of photography, experimenting with different cameras, spending hours shooting and in the darkroom. Those were the days before digital took over: think a mini fridge full of film, darkroom chemicals, red light and the patience it took to bring a photo into form.

Steve’s photography business combined income producing photography, from weddings to PR work at St Mary’s Hospital. On the side, Steve continued to deepen his skills as a fine arts photographer with large format black and white photos of landscapes. His work was inspired by Robert Adams, a prolific American photographer that captures profound lessons showcasing society’s impact on the natural world. Bob eventually became a mentor to Steve and when Bob learned of Steve’s diagnosis he wrote to him and said:

“I hope you realize how remarkable your life has been- lots of significant picture making, teaching… a life of strong witness for natural beauty and for human values.” ~ Robert Adams

Steve had a deep interest in the human condition, and a dedication to marginalized people. He photographed extensively on the Navajo Reservation, documenting hogans, and the people living in the traditional ways amidst advancing modernity. 

Steve became deeply involved in the reality of growing homelessness, photographing unhoused individuals and families. He and youngest son Robin went on to innovate a multi media show they dubbed Faces and Voices. Working with local social support agencies, the project was designed to offer the public the opportunity to see images of homeless people, and to listen to them via recording of them telling their stories via headphones as they told their stories. An educator at heart, Steve used his photography as a tool of social justice.

In 2007 Steve decided to pursue a Master's of Fine Arts in Photography, knowing it would qualify him to teach at the college level. Working primarily virtually he leaned into the work, completing his MFA in 2009. Shortly afterwards he began teaching virtually from home, and eventually took up in person teaching as an Adjunct Professor at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. This was a capstone experience for Steve as a master of his craft and teacher by nature.

Steve’s legacy also includes 30 + years of portraits of physicians at St Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado. Instead of posing these doctors in front of a generic background, Steve photographed them in the setting where they worked: the ER, a clinic, Radiology, you name it he hauled his gear there and created remarkable portraits, on display at St Mary’s.

Until the time of his death Steve was self publishing books of his fine art work. There is another book in the making, to be published posthumously. In collaboration with a local author, this book will capture human impact on western lands, the place Steve called the Hellscape. As always, it will be an invitation to the viewer to become thoughtful in deep ways.

Steve’s spiritual life, spanning decades as a mediator and student of Kashmir Shaivism as well as his relationship with Mother Nature in the form of light, shaped his graciousness.

Steve will be remembered as a Father, Grandfather, Teacher, Friend, Artist and Mentor. His kindness and patience are legendary and live on in his children: Teal Ann Maxwell Richards (Clint), Quinn Hutchinson Maxwell (Becca Raloff) and Robin Hart Maxwell. Three grandchildren, all skiers thanks to Steve: Ada Ann Richards (8), Otto Hemenway Richards(6) and Milo Carter Maxwell (7) are old enough to remember their Gramp and carry Steve with them into the future. Marcia Maxwell, Steve’s sister in Denver also carries on his memory.

A Memorial Service is planned for September.

If you are moved to do so, please send donations in Steve’s name to Homeward Bound of the Grand Valley to support the dignity and care of the unhoused.

Make your donation online: https://homewardboundgv.org/ways-to-donate 

Or mail a check to: 

HomewardBound of the Grand Valley

562 29 Road

Grand Junction, CO 81504

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Stevan Robert Maxwell, please visit our flower store.

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