One of the many reason I love being a freelance photographer in Arkansas.

I love my job, every damn day. I feel very fortunate that I am always happy to go to work and that I get paid to do something I love.

There are so many reasons that I enjoy being a professional photographer, but one of them is meeting people and hearing their stories. We all have a story, and I love that I have been able to hear so many in my lifetime. As my assistant recently said after portrait session, “He touched my soul and I only knew him for five minutes.”

Those words are so true. Sometimes I don’t get to spend too much time with my subjects, but in that time I have to pull out their personality so it reflects in their portraits. Other days I get to spend a large amount of time with them and really listen to what they have to say. That was the case when I photographed Robert Runyon for Out Here Magazine, put out by Tractor Supply Company.

 

Runion is a self-taught craftsman and constructs log cabins with hand tools and two mules. He lives on 200 acres in Winslow, Arkansas, where I traveled to photograph him. All of the coordination for the shoot was done through his girlfriend who lives in a home on top of Mt. Gayler, since Runyon lives a bit outside of cell phone range in a nearby valley. As we planned the shoot, she had to ask what kind of car I drove because there is always a concern about being able to make the 3.5 mile trip down a gravel road to his cabin. Luckily my car of choice, a Subaru, is perfectly suitable for back roads in Arkansas… and let me tell you that this is the worst one I’ve ever been on. I’ve never doubted where my car could take me, but this day I was a little concerned as we traveled to his home in the middle of nowhere.

His cabin has been a work in progress for many, many years. He raised his children in the home that has no public electricity, modern amenities (tv or computers) and is heated by a wood stove. Water for the home comes from a gravity flowing spring, and solar panels produce electricity to run the refrigerator, fan, lights and freezer. It is a truly beautiful place nestled into the peace and quiet of the woods.

View of a finished side of Robert Runyan's home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)View of the back of the home of Robert Runyon in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

Interior of the kitchen sink at the home of Robert Runyon in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

This photo taken at his kitchen window is among my favorite images I’ve ever shot. There’s something about the light and stillness in all of the interior images that takes me back to my college art history classes and reminds me of Jan Vermeer paintings.

Interior looking from the kitchen to the living area of the home of Robert Runyon in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

Interior of the home of Robert Runyon in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

Runyon showed me part of his collection of hand tools that were all stored in carefully labeled wooden boxes in the upstairs bedroom of his home. He laid them out on a nearby bed as he talked about what each one was used for when building. The red blanket and dappled light coming in through the window made for a beautiful image of the tools.

Antique hand tools used for log work lay on a bed at the home of Robert Runyon in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

Robert Runyon looks through a box of antique hand tools at his home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)Robert Runyon looks through a box of antique hand tools at his home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

Robert Runyon uses hand tools to shape rock outside of his home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

We spent the afternoon talking about his work, and his life. He introduced me to his Belgium-cross mules, Jenny and Jasper, that he uses to haul and hoist logs, as well as move native stones. They even did a little bit of work while I was there.

Robert Runyon walks his mules Jasper and Jenny through his yard at their home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

 

Robert Runyon uses his mules Jasper and Jenny to pull a log through his yard at their home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)Robert Runyon stands with his mules Jasper and Jenny at their home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

Robert Runyon uses his mules Jasper and Jenny to pull a log through his yard at their home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

In 2014, Runyan was named an “Arkansas Living Treasure” by the Arkansas Arts Council for his accomplishments in log and stone construction. It’s something I found out before I ever met him, otherwise I wouldn’t have known. He’s a simple man living in the woods with Athena his dog, his mules and homemade moccasins. It was a truly enjoyable time that was spent with him that fall afternoon in 2015.

Robert Runyon stands in the doorway of his home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)Detail of the moccasins Robert Runyan made and was wearing outside of home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

Robert Runyan sits with his dog Athena outside of his home in Sugar Tree Hollow in Winslow, Arkansas, for Out Here Magazine. Photo by Beth Hall (Beth Hall)

 

 

 

20 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Colin
October 1, 2018 at 9:04 pm

Just watched a documentary about the every day life of this truly special individual , we could all learn a lot about our outlook on life and what’s really important , my admiration for this man exceeds all other things I have try to do in my Life,

Beth Hall
November 2, 2018 at 7:20 pm
– In reply to: Colin

He is a really neat person, and artist.

Marilee Barry
February 15, 2020 at 10:29 pm

Watch the Ben Fogel special of his stay with Robert Runyon. Very special insight into his passion and exceptional talent as a builder and naturalist.

Beth Hall
February 17, 2020 at 5:09 pm
– In reply to: Marilee Barry

I will look into it. Thank you for sharing, he was such a neat person.

András Feig
February 19, 2020 at 6:58 am

I saw the Ben Fogel documentary on him yesterday. I was totally enchanted. I wish I could be his apprentice. Is he still alive? Is there a way to contact him?

Beth Hall
February 19, 2020 at 4:27 pm
– In reply to: András Feig

I need to watch the documentary, you’re the second person to mention it. I do not know how to contact him, it’s been several years since I photographed him and I think I had to go through someone to get in touch with him. I can’t really remember the details.

Janice
February 19, 2020 at 8:24 pm

Me and my husband SAW the Ben Folge documentary this month and we are so amazed of his creativeness and the love of mother Nature. He is trully an artist and a inspiration.

Helen Owen
February 23, 2020 at 1:06 pm

What an inspiring & talented man Robert Runyon is. I’ve just watched the UK Channel 5 documentary “Lives in the Wild” aired on February 21st 2020, where Ben Fogle spent a week with this amazing 79 year old man

Beth Hall
February 24, 2020 at 1:38 pm
– In reply to: Helen Owen

I really need to look up this documentary. It sounds interesting.

Amanda jane
March 16, 2020 at 10:35 pm

What an amazing talented man. Bless him! Sadly robert passed away in 2017 🙁 i do hope he managed to finish his fantastic house as that was his ultimate goal! RIP

Beth Hall
March 19, 2020 at 6:51 pm
– In reply to: Amanda jane

I’m sorry to hear he passed away.

Joe Carroll
October 19, 2020 at 12:28 pm
– In reply to: Amanda jane

As far as i can find thats another Robert in another part of Arkansas. Hopefully This Robert is still alive and crafting!

Morten Andersen
November 24, 2020 at 10:35 am
– In reply to: Amanda jane

Im quite sure you got that wrong. It seem that he is stil alive and kicking.What a wonderful and inspiring man he is

Martin O’Reilly
March 18, 2020 at 1:40 pm

Its really grounding and far from what’s becoming a crazy crazy world!

Beth Hall
March 19, 2020 at 6:51 pm
– In reply to: Martin O'Reilly

Yes, I really enjoyed my time with him and his home was so peaceful and remote.

Nick Cook
June 28, 2020 at 4:48 pm

Hello I’m not convinced he did die in 2017. I think that was someone with the same name. I saw a recent newspaper article about him which was dated 2020. https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-8424109/amp/Hermit-raised-family-away-civilisation-continues-work-house-40-years-later.html

Torben
November 24, 2020 at 8:14 pm

Hi condolences to his family,,I watched the fogel documentary and was really impressed with Robert ,would loved to have met him so sorry to hear he has passed on.

Ludmila Vasile (Roumania)
May 14, 2021 at 7:26 pm

ROBERT RUNYAN DID NOT DIE, HE LIVES !!!!! Look for interwies with him – 2019 , 2020

CK
July 12, 2021 at 12:43 pm

He was still alive as of late 2020. Also, I have a feeling Ben Fogle would be told if he had passed on. There’s been nothing on his Instagram.

Stephanie Biasotto
July 25, 2021 at 2:17 pm

Hello i am french i see you on tv robert vivre loin du monde reportage.nice house courage .we like you