Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Henry Whiddon - Rest in Peace

I got a message on the answering machine the other day that delivered the sad news that Henry Whiddon, UNT Art Professor Emeritus, had passed from this veil of tears.

Henry had been one of my professors when I was in graduate school at UNT and eventually served as my thesis advisor, as well as my mentor, role model and friend.

At the time I started graduate school, I had just finished working eight year in advertising, with the result that I had developed an unfortunate sense of emotional detachment from my work.

I did stuff I thought was clever that I didn't really care much about.

Henry was not the only one to see through this lack of involvement, but he was the one patient enough to talk about it; usually with roundabout parables and analogies that made his point with kindness and gentleness without bitch-slapping. He had a rare gift for telling you things you needed to hear, both good and not so good, but with a kindness that never left you feeling beat up or defeated. His sense of calm was infectious and much appreciated.

I called Chris Goebel, who'd left me the answering machine message and we regaled each other with our memories of Henry. Chris had been an undergraduate at Texas Wesleyan College (now University) when Henry was chairman of the Art Department. It sounds like they had the kind of freedom that comes from not being noticed.

Reading the online obituary I learned a few things I'd never known about my former teacher: he'd worked as a senior set designer for the Atlanta Municipal Summer Theater while a grad student at the University of Georgia. TWC hired him when he was only 30.

By the time I'd washed up on his academic shore he was in mid fifties (ironically, where I am now). He never lost his appreciation for the silliness of life but could, at the same time, conjure up these little life-altering suggestions. I remember once, when I'd used up my store of clever (i.e. crappy, contrived) ideas for paintings, he recommended I go find a copy of The Golden Bough by James Frazer. When you get stuck, he told me, turn to any page at random and start reading -- you're bound to find something to inspire you. I took his advice and found an idea I used for 3 years.

Now when I teach, it is his encouraging, kind and patient manner that I attempt to emulate when giving feedback to my students. I don't always succeed, but at least I know what I should be doing.

God bless you, Henry, where ever you are.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Repair job

I finally got around to doing a little painting repair this weekend.

Background: we had an old painting my wife's aunt had done many years ago. Somehow in its travels it managed to acquire an inch long tear, no doubt from something poking it. The painting wasn't valuable in a monetary sense, but it had sentimental value. I said I'd repair it.

Before going much further I consulted the source of all wisdom, my ancient copy of Ralph Mayer's Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques. Among the chapters is one on conservation, which includes a section on repairs. It became my road map for this project.