Lamar Dodd's Odyssey, 1909–1996: A Southern Artist Who Sought Majesty and Truth in the Extraordinary and the Commonplace
|Lamar Dodd, Self Portrait, 1936|
As much as Carr's Hill and the historic North Campus of the University, Dodd's world was equally the city dump, the North Georgia mountains, or his own backyard, where the loveliness of a late-blooming rose sent him scrambling for his watercolors. Elbert Hubbard remarked in the Roycroft Dictionary and Book of Epigrams of 1923, that "Little minds are interested in the extraordinary; great minds in the commonplace." In his career, Lamar Dodd sought the majesty, the truth, in both.
Influenced by LaGrange and New York
|Lamar Dodd, 1995|
|City Dump, 1939|
Dodd: South no cultural wasteland
And Georgia would be his next destination. By 1937, Dodd, Conrad Albrizio, Anne Goldthwaite, and a very few others, had served notice that the South was no cultural wasteland, that a growing community of Southern artists were fully engaged in the world of New Deal American artistic inquiry. Dodd received a letter from Hugh Hodgson of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Georgia, who invited the young painter, then 28 and without a formal degree, to join the faculty as artist-in-residence. The letter also held the astonishing news that, should he accept the offer, the annual budget for the visual arts program would be raised from $50 to $5,000. The invitation caused consternation in Birmingham, where Childers published in the paper a tongue-in-cheek refusal to give Hodgson a good recommendation of Dodd for the post, because Georgia's gain would be Alabama's irreparable loss.
|LaGrange Hillside, 1927|
The University found itself in 1937 with just such men in the persons of Hodgson and Dodd, who set about consolidating the three teachers, scattered in various departments across campus, into a recognizable department of art, with its own budget — the promised $5,000 — its own building and, most important, students. Nine enrolled as art majors after only one year, and a graduate program was established within the next three years. Dodd's world now became an academic one, but not one confined by walls of ivory.
Student artists popped up everywhere
|Dodd at work, 1945|
|Lamar Dodd, Alfred Heber Holbrook, ca. 1948–49|
Dodd was dedicated to the idea that a school of art must include the arts that until recently were defined as "support crafts, minor, or decorative." Thus, he recruited ceramicists, metalsmiths, fabric artists, and interior designers to join the more traditional painters, sculptors, printmakers, and draftsmen. The department grew and prospered through his tenure such that his contributions were recognized in 1996 when the School of Art was named after him. Of all the honors he received, the Lamar Dodd School of Art was the most personal, the most cherished, for it signified that his devotion to students would be forever remembered.
|Lamar Dodd, Old Botanical Gardens, Athens, 1938|
|Lamar Dodd, Open Heart |
|Lamar Dodd, Turkish Bazaar, No. 2, 1995|
New vistas: NASA and heart surgery
Dodd had to find new means of expression to depict the cosmos when he joined NASA's coterie of artists asked to document America's early adventures in space. His response was to fashion an art of elemental symbols, one where silver and gold emphasized the otherworldly preoccupations of scientists and artists alike. A decade later, in the 1970s, he used similar means to define another, more intimate universe: the surgical amphitheater, one that necessitated an equally novel language of sign and symbol to articulate deeply spiritual concerns about life and rebirth. In the last decade of his life, ever curious, ever impatient with infirmity, he found his subjects on the television screen or in newspapers. Restricted by illness to the community he loved, he searched his own backyard for inspiration, and found it in sunflowers, blades of grass, fossils, and, perhaps most important, in memories of the golden hillsides of Umbria, the glistening masts of sailing ships on the Bosporus, and the multicolored fantasy that is Jaipur. His drawings of this last period retain the vigor, the excitement, the surety of his first sketches of that lone oak tree and boat back in LaGrange. In the last year of his life, Dodd saw both the school of art and a new chair of art in the Athens-Clarke County School System named in his honor, a new museum building with a Lamar Dodd gallery, a major retrospective of his works from 1922 to 1996, and two books about his life and career. One day short of his birthday, he died, but the entire year had been his fellow Georgians' gift to him. The final world, therefore, for Lamar Dodd, teacher and artist, was the most important one: home.