Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lamar Dodd

No visitor to the University of Georgia, or, in fact, the state of Georgia, can avoid seeing the name Lamar Dodd plastered in all kinds of locations: The Lamar Dodd School of Art (University of Georgia), The Lamar Dodd Art Center (LaGrange College), Lamar Dodd Professional Chair (a real job title), and even "Light one for Lamar" (a real anti-smoking ban protest). With his name being such a part of Georgia vernacular, Lamar Dodd’s actual identity eludes many – wealthy benefactor? Ancient regent?

Lamar Dodd at the Georgia Museum of Art

Dodd is actually one of the South’s most important and influential artists, contributing more than just his name to buildings, schools, and strange protests. His paintings are held in the collections of the Smithsonian, the Whitney, and Metropolitan Museum of Art – and of course at the Georgia Museum of Art – as exemplary pieces of Southern art. He enjoyed commissions from the likes of NASA, and his prolific output still permeates Southern culture, and particularly the Athens community, which Dodd made his home until his death in 1996.

Dodd’s beginnings are rooted in the region. He studied architecture at Georgia Tech, and then taught for a while in Alabama, but finding his greatest interest in painting and developing his own practice, he headed to New York in the late 1920s/early 1930s. This was a wise move – his stylized scenes of Southern landscapes and daily lives charmed New York crowds. Often dark in color, and with heavy black shadows, Dodd’s paintings of the American south appear sombre, yet romantic. This combination led to his first solo show in the city in 1932, and toward a name for introducing a renaissance in Southern art. He soon won the Norman Walt Harris Prize for his painting, “Railroad Cut,” which is now on display at the Georgia Museum of Art. 

Lamar Dodd, "North of Pratt City"

Following this, Dodd was invited to become the artist-in-residence at the University of Georgia, and so gladly returned to Georgia, and the South, to make art and advocate for its inclusionary sharing. He began giving lectures and teaching painting, and was appointed head of an essentially non-existent art department at the university. He expanded its programs, introducing more classes and a variety of courses, funded scholarships, saw the opening of the Georgia Museum of Art, and founded the Cortona Study Abroad program that is still enjoyed by students today, growing the art school until it was the biggest and most influential in the South. He retired in 1967, 16 years after the original residency program that was only intended to last a year. However, Dodd's legacy doesn't just lie with the school – he never ceased painting throughout these years, and exhibitions of his work continue today. The Monehegan Museum in Maine is currently showing a series of his works in an exploration of his 'artistic history.'

Lamar Dodd is an excellent figurehead for our institution as a great leader of the concept that we still work toward today – art for everyone. His name is proudly used to reflect the values that he instilled in (what he didn't know would become) the Lamar Dodd School of Art, and that they maintain in his memory. The school was renamed after him in 1994, not long before Dodd's passing, in celebration and tribute to his contributions to Southern art and its community, and you can visit the Georgia Museum of Art to see some of the paintings from the beginning of this great movement.

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