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A Third Career, As Artist

dining:conference table

An article in a small town Maryland paper caught my eye. Robert Brandegee ’54 has designed furniture that was then fabricated by self-taught Cumberland, Maryland folk artist Donald Dicken. “Well Worn and Usable Art,” an exhibit of their art, is being presented through July 19th at the Gilchrist Gallery in Cumberland. ┬áDicken has realized Brandegee’s designs by fashioning the furniture on exhibit from hand-hewn parts of antique barns and log cabins. During a long career in marketing, Brandegee was also a collector and dealer in folk art, and branched out into furniture design in 1998. For more information on this Eph’s work and to see more of his designs, check out his website.

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#1 Comment By lgeorge On June 19, 2009 @ 11:49 am

The notions of creatively re-using the remnants of what can’t be saved out of America’s simpler architectural times, and of the original fabricators as folk artists, intrigue me. I am fascinated by machinery from the Industrial Age viewed as art, but the warmth and elemental nature of this worn wood is something else again. I wish some of these pieces could come to Williamstown so that the students could see them. (And that Mr. Brandegee could accompany them and tell of his life and the paths he took when the roads diverged.)

Here’s an idea that I have for a program for alumni to fund and help set up at Williams. What about, just as there is Storytime about current students, there were a showcase for old alumni, particularly those who had taken unusual paths, to come to campus to speak (with their art or music or photographs of things that had been meaningful to them or whatever)? And maybe the film collective could record their talks for podcasting, for showings in subsequent years, for inspiration over at Career Counseling, and as a melange of the cool paths others before them had taken for the wannabes visiting Admission to see. Stills with captions and explanatory texts could be put up as an exhibit in Paresky (and the alums would love the whole thing, at Reunion time or as online ticklers for reunions) — and this could also generate a chance for collaborative curatorial experience for some students. In general, I’d love to see more student-produced work (including, as suggested here, about alums’ work) and the students’ excitement and creativity manifested over at Bascom and more interconnection between current Ephs and post-campus Ephs.

Yes, we are in a budget crunch, but talk is cheap and inspiration priceless — and many older Ephs who have fascinating tales to tell have weathered more than their share of adversities. There are lots of ways this project could go, including working with the chaplains on highlighting older Ephs who have had roles in policy and charitable campaigns. There could be a different theme or departmental cosponsor each semester or year. It could all start off with a gentleman who lives in a restored log cabin and designs furniture to be made out of the detritus of works created as housing and workplaces in a lost age.

Where are all those student leaders when we alumni want them to carry out our dreams? (Said with a bit of self-deprecation, in case you missed it)

#2 Comment By sophmom On June 19, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

Glad you posted this, LG. This man’s work is wonderful. (Mmm, I could find a spot for that glass-topped dining table.)

And speaking of career tracks, take a gander at Henry’s post on Perrott (the writer of Sure-Kill), and the interesting path and accomplishments he has under his belt. And now to have published what appears to be a first novel. So inspiring!

You are right that people like these have much to teach us, and that schools (not just Williams) should take advantage of them more than they have been doing.

Also, I noticed that Brandegee was co-showing with *Gil Mares, a photographer whose work I started noticing a couple of years ago. His close-up photos of weathered hulls of ships are beautiful…utter representation that at first glance looks like pure abstraction. (I think I know what Varnedoe might say…concerning the close relationship he observed between photography and contemporary art, but that is a longer post)

(Dick, if you see this, I want you to know these kinds of posts and musings make me think of you, and wonder what you would add here. Come talk with us!!!!Let us hear about your trip, please)

*comment updated with better link for Mares

#3 Comment By rory On June 19, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

i like your idea, larry, but not the age-ism. Some people have great storytime stories in their 20s to share (like the time i got fired from a non-profit after 3 days and learned to see that as the best thing that ever happened to me. others are even better, i’m sure).

In fact, i’d love to see alums from different eras doing potentially synergistic work (artists of different ages and media, scholars of different levels and different disciplines but similar issues, etc.) be able to visit at the same time and discuss with each other as well.

#4 Comment By lgeorge On June 19, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

Rory – I agree with you. My comment was unintentionally ageist, but the thought behind it wasn’t. I was only thinking about the older people because I think of Williams as a bit of an age ghetto, and the gulf between the two groups as very wide (to the regret of the older ones, especially, probably). I well remember the excitement created by the tour of the young alums and their fellow English major types who have taken “unusual” paths (Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr of Idiots’ Books and their friends) when they came to Williams and other colleges this past winter, and would love to hear of a lot more of that sort of thing happening. I was thinking of the wisdom of the elders, but it certainly needn’t be confined to any age group — and I, too, would love to see synergistic opportunities created by collaborations and interactions among many age (and other demographic) groups with the broader Eph community.

And, Dick Swart, you need to come back, please.

#5 Comment By rory On June 19, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

i know, i was kidding mostly with that line.

#6 Comment By sophmom On June 19, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

I read about this guy, Matthew Crawford a few weeks ago.

His book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft”, sounds good. He is young (ref to Rory) and yet his path so far has taken him from a U of C degree in political philosophy, to owning his own motorcycle repair shop (and writing). He makes a good case for the value of “hands-on” work. I am particulary intrigued by what he says as I fear we are short-changing our young students with the focus on Academics at the expense of other learning experiences. Our local high school shut down Shop class recently…

#7 Comment By lgeorge On June 19, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

Re #6: This whole subject brings up my need to comment about how very cool some of the Williams Winter Study opportunities are (and to hope that they encourage some Williams students to follow passions for hands-on activities, whether as the center or on the periphery of their lives, for life). I think they can go hand in hand with academic pursuits in the lives of people like Ephs who are really smart and often multi-gifted.

And I wish I were college-aged again and still had four Winter Studies to go….