Wednesday, September 22, 2010

22 September 1909: Artist Lamar Dodd is Born

On this day in 1909, Lamar Dodd was born in Fairburn, Georgia. He grew up in LaGrange, and at age 12, made an arrangement to mow the lawns at the LaGrange Female Academy, then an all-girls college, in exchange for taking art classes at the school. At 19, after a year of studying architecture at Georgia Tech, he went to New York to study at the Art Students League of New York and also took private lessons with George Luks of the Ashcan School, a movement of artists who believed in realism as a way to express the energy and changing images of the city around them.

Though well-received in New York, Dodd returned to the south in 1933, working in an art supply store in Birmingham, Alabama, and painting at night. In 1936, he received the Norman Wait Harris Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago's 47th exhibition for his painting Railroad Cut, now part of the permanent collection of the Georgia Museum of Art. The next year, Dodd was invited to be artist-in-residence at the University of Georgia, part of a national trend of sponsoring working artists on campuses as the universities attempted to establish fine arts programs.

In 1938, at the age of 27, Dodd was asked to head the department and build it into a national program. He created an active program of artists-in-residence, and invited others to guest lecture at the University throughout his tenure. The mural on the front of the recently restored Fine Arts building was painted by Jean Charlot in 1941 when the art department was housed there with the music and drama departments. Dodd advocated art as an important part of the human experience in everyday life, not something rarefied or exclusionary.

During Dodd's time at the helm, the School of Art expanded their programs to include printmaking and ceramics, as well as enhancing the existing programs of decorative art. The Georgia Museum of Art opened to the public in 1948, and growth of the art school throughout the 1950s necessitated a move to its own building, which opened in January, 1963, on Jackson Street. The modern style was not beloved, but was open to natural light for both studio and exhibit space, and was needed for the 800 students who used the building each day.

As the art school grew, so did Dodd's career. He continued to paint and exhibit, and also serve as President and Vice President of the College Art Association of America. In the 1950s, he was named U.S. Specialist to Europe for the State Department, and was an envoy in the first cultural exchange between the United States and Soviet Union. In 1963, he was one of nine artists invited to participate in the NASA Art Program. He watched the moon landing in 1969 from mission control in Houston, and worked with NASA through 1974, resulting in his Cosmos series of paintings. In 1972, Dodd was the official artist for the Department of the Interior, working in Colorado and Washington state.

In 1970, the Art School established the Lamar Dodd Professorial Chair of Art "to honor artists of international standing who have maintained a distinguished record of exhibition," and began the University's first study abroad opportunity for students in Cortona, Italy. Dodd retired in 1972, but continued to paint for the rest of his life. In April, 1996, UGA renamed the School of Art the Lamar Dodd School of Art. Dodd died later that year, the day before his 87th birthday.

Today, the Lamar Dodd School of Art is one of the largest university art programs in the United States. In addition to semesters in Cortona, Italy, the school sponsors Maymester study abroad programs in Costa Rica and Ghana. They offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in Art History, Art Education, Studio Art, and Fine Arts with concentrations in visual media from metalwork to interior design to scientific illustration to photography. Over 1,000 students are enrolled in the school, with a mission of not just creating art, but also "create a receptive environment for the visual arts."

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