~Not to pay a debt but to acknowlege it~

"These brighter Regions which salute mine eyes
A Gift from God I take:
The Earth, the Seas, the Light, the Lofty Skies,
The Sun and Stars are mine: if these I prize."

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Andrew Langoussis..."

I distinctly remember not distinctly remembering when I first met Andrew, but he was always a constant topic of conversation with P.D., and Andrew's ceiling to floor 'Bone Zipper' painting in P.D.'s apartment was completely mesmerizing. "I was especially touched when Andrew gave me that," P.D. said, "since it came at a time when Andrew was struggling financially."

But I do recall an exhibit in the college art gallery that featured Andrew's other paintings, pastels, and especially his dynamic self portrait- as well as the marvelous eight foot tall, four-sided work that looked as if there were figures pressing out from the other side of the canvas. All this incredible figurative work for which I was starved since I had spent my time in the art department being told "the human figure is dead." P.D. explained that Andrew had suffered much the same while in grad school.

A student at Rockford College, Andrew took a painting course from P.D. as an elective. "Dedrick's teaching imparted 'insight', not just sight'," Andrew explained. He changed his major from chemistry to art in his final year. He received his graduate degree at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan and faced familiar head winds. Andrew recalls he was, "The only student working without masking tape: the quintessential tool for hard edged abstractionists." He confided his angst with P.D. who replied, "Why would you want to paint like everybody else?"

Andrew returned to Rockford where he taught at high schools and community colleges, as well as night school at R.C. We would run into one another on occasion and I regretted never having him as my teacher. His work instilled me with wonder and great envy. As the years passed he joined the faculty full time and eventually became the head of the department. I know of no other case where student achieved chairman, and carried a full class load at the same time!

Over the years Bo-Bo would tell me not only of Andrew's continued creativity, but the warehouse he converted into a studio: well impressed by his industry and unflagging energy in constructing what is... well... a college art department. 

The top floor with its giant sky light a painting studio and beautiful gallery of work and the floor beneath an industrial playground of wood working machines, metal casting material and where he constructs 'architectural fragments'- distressed surfaces with broken edges lined with twisted rebar.

These have become his new canvas. His paintings are sculpture, his sculpture are paintings. He incorporates classical images from past frescoes with the modern figure. Michelangelo would be proud... as would Philip Dedrick... Andrew's teacher, mentor, and friend who, I rightly believe, he misses still very much.

P.D. & Andrew
Photo by Randi Williams

Friday, October 19, 2012

"The Apel of My Eye...."

... is how P.D. often referred with great affection to my fellow figurative artist and my long time friend Chris Apel. She had thought to study at the Art Institute of Chicago until she saw what was the beauty of the Clark Arts Building and immediately changed her mind. Always bedizened with a multitude of rings and bracelets she never took ceramics (all that messy clay, you know?). But I managed to remove the jewelry... and more. Chris also modeled for the art classes and to this day I call her 'My First Naked Lady'.

~Ellen & Chris~
Robert  John Guttke

One time P.D. inspected my sketch book and chuckled, "I would recognize that nose anywhere," and yet I had drawn so much more!

Occasionally I'd pass through the drawing studio as she posed on the dais and just matter-of-factly say, "Hi, Chris," which startled the students nervously huddled behind their sketch books. I recall a time when she had felt faint and drifted down like the petal of a flower. The class didn't move an inch. Seemingly apoplectic. I brought her water which brought her back to her (bare) feet and the class relaxed. Another curious incident was an elderly dentist friend of P.D.'s who took it upon himself to sit at the back and observe the 'class'. I took it upon myself, especially for the model's sake, to tell Mr. Dedrick that his friend's appreciation for art was... shall we say... dubious? Thus in the parlance of dentistry: the man was extracted.

Chris' senior show was notable for what was excluded as well as included. She created a marvelous tongue-in-cheek photographic series: a young girl whose attire slid off bit by bit until the final frame revealed only a pile of clothes- and beneath this, matching frame for frame, was a banana suffering the same fate until the final image was just the peel. This celebration of the female form and fruit, alas, was taken down.

Chris Apel

No one, however, took issue with the masterpiece of her exhibit: the blue paper drawing of the figure of a young man gently dreaming. The story goes that Peter Graves, a member of the swim team, would drop by, drop his clothes, drop across the bed, and drop off to sleep... while Chris was busy with graphite and white pencil. Comatose models are always the best.

 More than thirty years later the results remain breathtaking.  Today Chris continues drawing, painting and accepts portrait commissions.

Over the years P.D. would visit Chris and her husband Robert Walker, also a graduate of Rockford College, when they lived for a year in Australia and often at their home in the nation's capitol. To say he thought the world of these two people is an understatement, his voice always lighting up when I mentioned I had just had conversation with Chris and The Vile Husband (as I 'fondly' dubbed him). 

Hearing from Pat Hoffman, it was Chris who called and told me about Bo-Bo's failing health and to hurry down to Rockford. During my last days with him, while he dozed in his chair, I discovered what must have been every postcard the Walkers had sent P.D. during their world travels. He kept them all.

'Dear Bob,

I'm so grateful to be able to sponsor your trip to Rockford to see Phil. It was so important for you to spend some quality time with him and to meet a number of his care-giving friends- to ascertain for yourself the quality of his care, and I hope- give you some peace of mind over his situation.

Death is a merciless task master- never waiting for a convenient time... We should all be blessed to have a myriad of friends taking care for us in time of need. Philip certainly touched countless lives- truly making a difference to so many of us. Thank yous are never enough. I feel bad that I am not able to see him and talk to him in solace- (though) I much prefer remembering him as he was. So I am certain it is true with you also- Phil is ALWAYS with me... his professional self at museums, the patient teacher standing next to me at my easel, the courtly gestures, the witticisms and his rapier sharp mimicry of those he was annoyed with. What a great man. And that greatness will always be there as long as one- even just one -of his students or friends remains living to remember and honor him.
May 17, 2001

~Chris Apel (with braces on her teeth)
& some guy, 1973~
Photo by Philip Bilse Dedrick

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Senior Seminar 1976 aka Krakatoa 1883."

Often I would get a special pass from Mr. Dedrick to stay late in art building, sometimes until early morning all alone without even a radio to break the silence. Occasionally the security guards would sit and watch for a while, fascinated I suppose by what was happening in clay.

One of those quiet nights I struggled with a piece that would eventually be the Egyptian god Horus, when surprised by Dave Bloomquist's sudden appearance. He had graduated the year before, co-captain of the swim team, and had modeled for me in front of the camera and for sketches. Physically he was a stunning example of mankind at its best; and as his fellow teammate Peter Graves described him, "A gentle giant."

Dave had a terrible cold that night. We chatted and I complained I was not getting this figure's anatomy correct. Volunteering, Dave went to the drawing studio and took off his clothes so I could do a quick sketch for better reference- though freezing and repeatedly blowing his nose. Sadly the statue was destined for doom since I stupidly glazed it- and glazing pooled over the details whereas staining in red-iron-oxide always proved the better result. Yet still, more than thirty years later, I have not forgotten the kindness of that 'gentle giant'.

Always locked away in my memory is the instance when I first saw the classmates who became my art. Art Dessureau in the empty gym, also from the swim team, wearing just a Speedo and shooting hoops. Elaine Nofsinger standing with a group of people in the hallway of my dorm- and in my eyes resembling Diana Rigg of 'The Avengers' with whom I had fallen in love back in 1968. Joe Tromiczak, bearded and hairy-chested, bent over while helping to look for someone's lost contact lens in the grass. Tom Pritchard, skin bronzed and blonde hair nearly bleached white by the sun, escorted into my room by his teammate Art (bless that swim team) and after brief conversion he shrugged and said, "Sure, I'll do it." Little Mahmood, an Iranian wrestler and the only model in my lifetime who could twist to reveal his butt AND bellybutton at the same time. Petite Pat Forester from the dance department with those gorgeous, almond shaped eyes and long hair that fell straight down to the small of her back. Lisa, a lovely girl I met in the litho studio (a townie student whose last name I never knew) that resembled a Renaissance Madonna- her face appeared in so many of my drawings.

Senior Seminar was a required independent study course. Gathered together we sat on the carpeted floor of the gallery to present works in progress. I set out a number of my drawings for inspection. I had learned a great deal from fellow art major Bill Bruning the benefit of working with various pencils, a gum eraser, and tissue for smoothing & blending on litho paper- a departure from my signature scratchboards.

~Pencil Drawing, 1974-
Bill Bruning

Timothy Mather whose position as chair of the department and ceramics instructor at R.C. was a brief two years, spoke the words that will never leave me: "Why do you work with perfect bodies? I remember the day when my waist size was smaller than my inseam. What is the difference between what you're doing and what appears in Playboy or Playgirl magazine?"

I stood in shock. My agony Promethean. My anger off the the Richter scale. The sun turned black & the stars winked out one by one. I waved my hand over my seated classmates like a scythe slicing tense air and bellowed, "You can talk to the rest of these sheep like that but you do not talk like that to me!" I do not know the record for gathering up drawings and storming out of a room but whatever it was, I broke it. Later I cornered Mather outside his office and growled, "You did that on purpose, didn't you? Just to create controversy and stir up conversation at my expense!" He stared at me for a while, then silently nodded in agreement. I hurried to Mr. Dedrick with the earnest hope he would have the ceramics instructor killed (after all, his office was filled with New Guinea war clubs and equal lethal primitive paraphernalia).

Bo-Bo told me later of his exchange with this teacher who did not understand me any more than I understood him. In his calm fashion he explained to Mather that I might just possibly be the next--- and here I forget the name, but it was a French artist of the Art Nouveau period. Didn't see the connection, but did see the familiar smile and faint amusement: the ultimate diplomat at work using his superior knowledge of art history to smooth over hurt feelings and homicidal propensities- and as always his unwavering support. However, I refused to ever attend that Senior Seminar course again.

Scored an ~A~ in the class.

~Drawing, 1976-
Robert John Guttke
The Philip Bilse Dedrick Collection
Freeport Art Museum

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"The Illustrated Dedrick."

'Phil possessed a great sense of humour, which he inherited from his mother, a close friend of my husband's mother. We lived with Kenny's folks for a while with our parakeet, Casey. Casey had the run of the house. When Phil stopped by one evening, Casey settled on his head. Phil, fully aware of how funny it looked, continued visiting without mention of the bird.

While I was studying for my degree at Rockford College night school, Phil substituted one evening for my drawing teacher. When Phil came to my desk while viewing the student's drawings, I said, "Don't get mad, Phil." Without hesitation, Phil replied, "I spent all my vitriol on my morning class."

There will never be again a Phil Dedrick.'
October 1927- March 2009
Freeport, Illinois

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Our Fairy Princess."

"When I look at her," a fellow student said so many years ago, "I always think of a fairy princess." I believe that is exactly what we all saw when delighting in Ellen Powell's company. The masses of long, curling golden locks, the blue eyes, the rosy cheeks and red lips.... and of course the all encompassing smile and bursting laugh sounding somewhere between a foghorn and a train crash. When the rest of us starved during the noon art history class, Ellen brought along a prepared lunch. I always said the girl could eat Cleveland and never gain a pound. When Mr. Dedrick was witty in class and we all chuckled, often there would be a ten second delay before that laugh erupted out of the darkness. Ellen had finally got the joke. She wasn't frequently in the art studios, happy to work on her illustrations in her dorm room with her pet mouse secretly stashed in the closet. Her fashion style was unique; a mens hat, suspenders, a flannel shirt tied high above her waist and baggy pants.

Her art was whimsical... I remember a water color series about the adventures of "Peter the Pea", I believe, that would make any curmudgeon smile. Naturally I made her part of my art... photographs and drawings... but only portraits, mind you. When requesting more, all I got in return was that honking laugh that knocked me backwards three feet.

I had a photography assignment to tell a story... so of course I enlisted the aid of my 'regulars' to model for me. This rather charming photo essay became part of my senior show as well.

Ellen and I talked when Mr. Dedrick became ill. She was very concerned about me... how I was dealing with the situation. Later she wrote to Pat Hoffman, "My friend Bob called to let me know our Philip Dedrick is ailing. I am so sad to hear of his declining health and wish him the best."
In the passing years Mr. Dedrick would tell me all about Ellen's successful greeting cards as well as the half dozen books she had illustrated. Her work appeared in more than 300 stores and repeatedly commissioned by The National Wildlife Foundation.  "Do you know," P.D. said to me with true amazement, "that every Christmas I get a card from her, she has never forgotten me." Like so many others there was a special bond between student and her professor.

~Joe & Ellen 1976~

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"At Precisely The Right Time."

"We were there at precisely the right time," so Alice Hansen told me recently, reflecting upon our years at Rockford College.

Randi Williams had written me, "Who would have imagined it would be a privileged time… I only wish I had been more wide awake working the slide projector in Art History so I could have fully appreciated the beauty those Coke bottle-bottom glasses enabled Philip Dedrick to see."

~Randi & Mr. Adair~

I think back to sitting in his apartment reading exam papers out loud to make it easier on his eyes. Discussing my growing appreciation for classical music, P.D. saying he had been in the audience in England while Sir Adrian Boult conducted the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. That he had met the mystery writer Josephine Tey. Telling stories (doing all the voices) from old radio shows. His fascination for Edith Sitwell’s eccentric musical forays. His annoying habit of leaving you stranded in the living room for what seemed countless hours while he spoke on the phone in the kitchen which always (unfortunately) rang.

Donna McClusky dragged a prop chair from the drawing studio into ceramics and sat knitting to keep me company late into the night while I finished my first really grand sculpture: St. Michael battling the dragon at the end of the world (when completed I sighed to myself, thinking, I could die now... a few years after graduation it was accidentally destroyed).

Lou Petritz discovered a baree in the snow, washed it, happily wore it until I told him who it belonged to. Returning it to the proper owner, Lou would afterward refer to P.D. laughingly as “The Grey Fox”.

~P.D. & Friends Circa 1949~

Befriending Lou's mother who let me stay with her during holidays... eventually bringing this lovely and sweet woman into the Dedrick circle and enjoying many meals together with Mrs. Petriz addressing him cordially as "The Professor."

~Judy Petritz~
Photo courtesy of Anthony Louis Petritz

Mr. Dedrick cursing, “Oh Juno!” His fluttering gestures of pleasure accompanied by, “Absolutely delightful!” When things went wrong his lips would turn down and he’d mutter, “It was positively grim,” or widen his hands in exasperation saying, “It was a complete swivet!”

By 1976 it was coming to an end. Graduation was ahead as was my senior show. The glass cases and walls of Clark Arts' second floor promenade would display my work and I had planned a surprise for Bo-Bo... not knowing that he would in return surprise me.

I had come to Rockford with a proclivity in creating scratch-board drawings… I learned about pencils… discovered how to make sculpture in clay (that did not blow up in the firing), had developed some small ability with photography- mostly for reference to my other work, and found a bevy of willing youngsters ready to be immortalized.

 I learned the value of knowing about the art that came before me... not just names and dates... but the motivations, the philosophies, the struggles, and the wounds to the soul that drove mankind to create.

My exhibit opened and my classmates who modeled for me, suddenly shy, lurked behind pillars or in the shadows. When P.D. came through the door he looked around and announced, “This is very much like the college year book… except no one is wearing any clothes.”

Elaine Nofsinger who modeled for me was there… as was her mother. This made me very nervous because I had been informed that mom did NOT approve of her daughter’s association with the arts, so to speak. But knock me over with the biggest feather when it turned out that she actually purchased a nude of her daughter- it was framed behind glass and displayed at the family home for years, so I was told. Elaine said recently, amused, “You could spot it on the wall just behind group family photos.” Art Dessureau emailed that one of my drawings of him had been framed on the wall for over twenty years.

My portrait of Bo-Bo waited for him. I had been approached by many requesting its purchase but planned all along that it would be a gift to my art professor. Soon he spotted the drawing and bent in close. “My stars! I always thought I looked more like Tony Curtis!” he exclaimed.

Inspecting the rest of my work he stopped at another portrait: a rather unrefined and hasty pencil study. He knew the history...

Eyes resting on the drawing for a short eternity, P.D. observed quietly, "This is as much a portrait of you."

Soon classes would come to an end. The studios would be cleaned. Sketch books retrieved. Drawers and lockers emptied. People with whom I had spent three years of my life would, for the most part, fade away. Yet time would reveal an enigmatic bond created in this enigmatic place.

I was headed for Minneapolis where I would attempt to be an adult… and follow my path... the only path I was meant to follow. But not alone. In one manner or another Philip Dedrick would be there. I would continue to learn about life from this man in the years to come. "What do you do when you find yourself repeating the same mistakes over and over again?" I had asked. He answered, "I tip my hat and say 'Hello old friend'".

One rainy night I had received a phone call in my dorm room. Bo-Bo had just begun to wear contact lenses and had lost one in his eye. "I’ll be right over", I said, but no, he would come to me. It was very unusual for him to ask for a favor. With a nervous finger I poked about a single eye. Afterward we strolled across the campus together. A damp mist within the dark was illuminated by halos of yellow lamp lights. I don’t remember the conversation but abruptly he linked his arm with mine and time seemed to melt away. We were like two Edwardian gentlemen taking in the midnight air. He insisted on leaving me at the college gate, returning to his apartment on his own. I stood and watched for a very long time, watched him grow smaller, dimmer, and finally disappear into the grainy dark.