COLD, COLD ART

"I was teaching at East Texas State Teachers College for $15,000 a year," he says, "but I gladly accepted less money because I realized how much prestige there was in Chicago."
Bob Sennhauser teaches at Montclair State Teachers College in New Jersey but is being interviewed soon for a job that will pay him a higher salary.

"I suppose I should be flattered because I've made the short list of five from a huge list," Sennhauser says.

"But I can't help wondering about it all. There are so many applicants with strong artistic backgrounds that they could just take all our portfolios and roll them down the stairs and pick out a winner."

ù ù ù

McClurg shows me some slides of his ceramic work. We stand in a darkened room and he flashes the images on the wall.

The figures are wonderful, but I don't even know what they are. Are they ashtrays? Are they decorative pots for the living room? I am so ignorant I'm even afraid to ask, fearing that if McClurg knows how little I know that he will walk away in disgust.

"I play a game with myself," McClurg says, explaining the pieces he flashes on the wall. "I was a Catholic, so these images might be the Roman Catholic church. See how warm they seem. Notice, however, there is something uncomfortable about them, as if there is no place to sit. It is like the church. You can be inside and protected but you can't be comfortable there."

ù ù ù

Rich Hungerford is a supremely talented paper maker and artist who has been working to create a body of work for an anniversary show at Ellis Island in New York City.

He has been teaching for years and recently became interested when a job opened up at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"There were 500 applicants," he said, "and the job paid $15,000."
Since he is a faculty member, Hungerford has been given a cabin which has its own bath facilities. All the students must use communal showers and toilets.

I ask to see his work and Hungerford leads me to his small cabin. He creates his own paper and then paints upon it.

For six months now, Hungerford has been preparing for the Ellis Island exhibition. Here is how it works. A selected group of artists all over the country was sent photographs of artifacts found at the immigration site from the days when everyone's ancestors were entering the country.

From this Hungerford has created an extremely moving painting on which you can see Native Americans, immigrants, a large chair painted yellow and multiple eyes meant to represent all who passed under the Statue of Liberty.

"Will you frame it?" I ask.
Hungerford looks at me with a startled expression. He has a two-week growth of beard.

"I would never frame my work," he says. "That's an attitude toward art, I guess. By the very act of framing it, you make a statement that this is important. You secularize the work.

"Besides, I think a frame makes the piece lose depth. The glass acts as a barrier."
Hungerford tells me to watch what happens as he turns out the lights in the room.

The lights go out. Everything is in darkness, and then the large gold chair at the bottom of the painting comes to life. It glows in the dark!

After an interval, Hungerford turns the lights back on.
He smiles. "I know what you're thinking," he says. "You're wondering who will see the chair when the lights go out?

"The people who clean the library or the art museum where it's hanging will see it," he says.

"It's important that they enjoy it, too."

ù ù ù Leaving Ox-Bow on the final day, I think about some of the really fine work these people are doing. Glady I would offer to buy some of it.

But how much do you offer? Do you insult them by offering what you think you can afford? So I leave without making an offer.

And then I wonder. Wouldn't they have been glad just to hear that someone really wanted to buy?

THE BACK PAGE... v7-01-92

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