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Crossgrove Art Exhibits
Celebrate 'A Teacher's Legacy'
By John Wray
he impact of a former professor of art as teacher and mentor to a generation of artists is being celebrated through a combined exhibition of works by emeritus professor Roger L. Crossgrove and his former students, on display through May 25 in exhibit spaces in the Homer Babbidge Library, the Dodd Research Center, and the William Benton Museum.
Crossgrove, who taught for 15 years at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and for 20 years in the School of Fine Arts at UConn, retired in 1988.
More than 60 of his former students at Pratt and at UConn have contributed works for the exhibition at Babbidge Library and the Dodd Center. A concurrent exhibition at Benton Museum is devoted to Crossgrove's recent photographs and monotypes.
Background in the
He came to the University of Connecticut as department head in 1968, and taught in the School of Fine Arts until he retired.
His former students speak highly of him as a teacher.
"As an undergraduate painting instructor, Roger was a patient and supportive guide, gently and clearly suggesting ways to solve a problem at hand," says Julie Gross, a former student at Pratt who is now an art instructor at the Parsons School of Design. "I see these qualities as very important in the development of young artists with whom I have worked over the years."
"We knew Roger as a firm but friendly instructor with a ready laugh and a dry sense of humor," says Jos. A. Smith, one of Crossgrove's former students. "Roger made sure we were all grounded in the technical aspects of paint. He had us paint in a variety of genres, from still life to the model and from trompe l'oeil to Cubism."
Crossgrove says he still believes that for any student intending to be a professional in the visual arts to make a living at it, it is important to have a solid background and experience in the basic techniques like drawing and painting, as well as other techniques for producing visual images.
Smith, who later taught at Pratt, says it wasn't until after he had begun teaching that he began to fully appreciate Crossgrove's special efforts on behalf of his students.
"Roger would come into the school on Sunday afternoons to order to set up elaborate environments for the models," says Smith. "He would get up several hours before dawn to go into Manhattan to the Fulton Fish Market where he would select baskets of fish, one at a time, for their color, or to the flower markets for his painting set-ups.
"I never met a teacher," he adds, "who invested so much of his own time for those students who were lucky enough to be assigned to his classes."
The watercolor monotype has engaged his attention for more than 50 years.
A monotype is a print that is made from a painting that has been made on a smooth surface, such as glass. The artist paints the colors onto the surface of the glass, manipulates them to create an image on the glass and then paper is applied to the painted surface while the image is still wet. The painting transferred onto the paper from the glass is called a monotype because only one print is made from the original image on the glass.
The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service selected three of his monotypes for inclusion in their "New American Monotypes" exhibition, which toured the United States.
In 1976, Crossgrove began to explore various aspects of photography, focusing on the male nude. He says he was given a 35 mm camera as a going-away present when he left Pratt, but did not have time for photography until he went back to full-time teaching after a stint as department head.
"I was doing a lot of teaching of anatomy and drawing from the model," says Crossgrove. "One day, after class, I had asked this fellow to model for me in my studio. I was drawing him and it was not going well and I said, 'That was a great pose, but I'm not drawing very well today. If I were smart, I'd get out the camera and capture that pose on film!' 'Well, why not?' he replied. And that was how I got started photographing the male nude.
"There may have been a feeling once that photography was less artistic than or less personal than painting, or that painters shouldn't use photographs, or what have you," Crossgrove says. "But most of the old rules are just out the window today and artists are pretty much free to do what they want."
Speakers, including several former students, are: Tomie dePaola, artist; James R. Johnson, dean of the School of Fine Arts emeritus; Billie M. Levy, children's book collector; William E. Parker, professor of art emeritus; Sal Scalora, director, William Benton Museum of Art; Norman D. Stevens, University librarian emeritus; Tom Wilsted, director of the Dodd Center; David G. Woods, dean of fine arts; and Diane Bowie Zaitlin, artist.
"In addition to recognizing Roger's contributions to his many students at Pratt and at UConn, this is an opportunity to recognize Roger for his significant contributions to the University of Connecticut Libraries," says Brinley L. Franklin, director of University Libraries. "Since his retirement in 1988, Roger has established a strong bond with the libraries through his support for the Northeast Children's Literature Collections in the Dodd Center, as a valued member of the University Libraries Exhibits Committee, and as a key participant in planning the annual Connecticut Children's Book Fair.
Beyond the Libraries and the University, Crossgrove also has been closely involved in the cultural and artistic life of Hartford and Eastern Connecticut. "There is scarcely an arts organization in the region," says Franklin, "that has not been enriched by his knowledge, his enthusiasm, his generous spirit, and of course, by his own creative work."