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 Lamar (William) Dodd  (1909 - 1996)

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Lived/Active: Georgia/New York      Known for: modernist-leaning landscape, genre, and still life painter, educator

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Lamar Dodd
from Auction House Records.
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter in styles ranging from realism to symbolic abstraction and a distinguished,much respected art educator, Lamar Dodd appears to be the state of Georgia's most recognized artist of the mid to late 20th century. He had a career centered in that state, although his education and some of his painting assignments, such as being an official artist for the National Aerospace Program, took him far beyond his home town of Athens. There at the University of Georgia, he was professor and chairman of the art department, now named the Lamar Dodd School of Art.

Lamar Dodd was born in Fairburn, Georgia in 1909 and was raised in LaGrange, Georgia. When he was twelve, his obvious art talent led to his acceptance as a special student at LaGrange College, then named LaGrange Female College. Studying for five years, he received a degree from the College at the same time he graduated from high school.

He then enrolled briefly at the Georgia Institute of Technology, 1926-1927, and spent time teaching in rural Alabama. However, he quickly realized that if he was going to advance his talents, he needed to get out of the South and go to an art center. In 1928, he began studies in New York City at the Art Students League with George Bridgeman and Boardman Robinson, and also took private lessons with George Luks and Charles Martin. Recalling the teaching of Luks and his espousing of social realism underscored by a sombre palette, Dodd said that his influence was that of painting in monotones. Later Dodd, reacted by launching into a much more colorful palette including the injection of gold and silver leaf, which provided highlighting and religious symbolism.

Dodd increasingly painted circular shapes over a straight line, fascinated by the contrast and by the unity of that which was nearly circular and to him suggested the sun and the moon. One of his paintings with this motif is "The Crucified Sun", a title he chose for the deep intense background against silver leaf, which turns green when exposed to the air. Of this he said the work could either make one feel angry or happy, but either way he viewed it as powerful---possibly it is the earth, sun, moon or just a big 'oneness'. Former President Jimmy Carter has the painting hung by his desk at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

In 1930, he returned to LaGrange to get married. He devoted the year to painting, which led to a one-person exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. In 1931, he returned to the Art Students League and became a student of Jean Charlot, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry as well as his earlier teachers. Benton and Curry stirred Lamar Dodd's interest in regionalism and his own part of the South where he returned in 1933. The year before he had had a solo show at Ferargil Galleries in New York, and reinforcing Dodd's obvious commitment to his own region, a reviewer wrote that "Dodd's paintings, one after another, all so consciously anti-academic, evoke 'Georgia, Georgia, Georgia.' " (Georgia Encyclopedia)

Moving to Athens Dodd joined the faculty of the University of Georgia, which was part of a national movement to put working artists in to academia. One year later he was named head of the Department of Art, and shortly after he established a Master's Degree program.

He brought much distinction to the school, earning artistic honors and serving as consultant to various federal agencies and educational entities. He was President of the College Art Association of America from 1954 to 1956, and in 1962 was named director of the National Council of Arts in Education.

In his own quest for painting locations, he was also expanding by travelling all over Georgia and onto the islands and coasts of South Carolina. He also started going to Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine in the late 1940s. In the 1950s, he began traveling world wide including to Europe, the Mideast, Asia and then to the Soviet Union where he was named a cultural emissary for the State Department. The travel, especially to France where he saw the work of Cezanne, had a marked influence on lightening his palette and adding elements of realism and cubism to his predominantly abstract style he adopted early in his career.

In the 1960s and 1970s, he took on two major projects, that in retrospect seem quite opposite to each other---the vastnes of the universe and the closed world of the human heart and the surgery performed upon it.

In 1963, Lamar Dodd was named an official artist for NASA for the Mercury Astronaut-9 project, and then served as a NASA artist for numerous other rocket launchings including Apollo 9 for which he did an abstraction titled "Totality Triptych". This painting reflected his interest in circular shapes, and their conveyance of unity and order. He was a part of this program for nearly twenty-five years and became totally fascinated by it. Dodd said that it opened his creativity to another world that was way beyond the solid form perceptions that had been guiding his work. For Dodd, being a NASA artist meant immersion in sun, stars, and colors never seen on earth--a real world few people had seen.

The second project was a series called "The Heart", which began in 1978 and resulted from his wife, Mary, having open-heart surgery. The surgeon asked Lamar Dodd to do paintings in the operating room to capture the sense of drama as well as the realistic details of the procedure. In preparation, Dodd talked to many doctors and did extensive reading, which resulted in eight years of focus on the series. He found it fascinating because, like the space program, the subject matter was complex, held his sympathy, provided challenge with its mysteries, and was linked to universal subjects of life, death and rebirth.

In the Series, Dodd did nearly sixty paintings, often using silver and gold leaf, in his abstract/realist style employing circular shapes and religious symbolism. The Heart Series was done when Dodd was getting old, and his own sense of mortality and the shortness of life made the subject even more compelling to him.

In the last two decades of his life, Lamar Dodd spent much time in Maine at Monhegan Island and also traveled throughout the United States and Europe. Many of his paintings were in watercolor and reflected his awe in the natural beauty of many of his surroundings. Some said that his career went full circle as it began in his own state, then expanded as far as outer space and then pasychologically returned to his 'own back yard'. However, he did not avoid harsh realities. One of his paintings, completed in 1995, the year before he died, featured the bloody glove of the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

Because Lamar Dodd had such a wide-ranging career and yet remained so anchored in Georgia, he has been described as "the most influential Georgia artist of his generation". (George Encyclopedia)

College Art Association, Gale Group Interview

Georgia Encyclopedia

Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
William Lamar Dodd (1909-1996)
The namesake of the University of Georgia’s School of Art, William Lamar Dodd grew up in a white-columned mansion in LaGrange, Georgia, the son of Reverend Francis Jefferson and Etta Irene Cleveland Dodd. His artistic aptitude and interests developed early and, at the age of twelve, he was accepted as a special student at LaGrange Female Academy, receiving art instruction in exchange for mowing the lawn and cleaning blackboards. In 1926, Dodd entered the architecture program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a track he pursued for less than a year, eventually deeming it one of the darkest periods of his life. He returned to LaGrange, where he began to offer art lessons to local students.  

Determined to pursue a formal art education, Dodd enrolled in New York’s Art Students League in 1928, studying under George Bridgman and Boardman Robinson. He also took night classes at George Luks’ eponymous art academy, working alongside his friend and fellow student Eugene Thomason. Constantly drawn back to the South, Dodd returned home in 1930 to marry his high school sweetheart and to devote a year to painting Southern subjects with an Ashcan sensibility. During this sabbatical year, he was given a one-man exhibition at the High Museum in Atlanta and received an important prize from the Southern States Art League’s annual competition, honors that brought his name to the forefront of Southern artists. In 1931, Dodd returned to New York, where his roster of teachers grew to include John Steuart Curry and Jean Charlot. Upon completion of his course of study in 1934, he relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, working in an art supply store and painting in his off hours.

In 1937, the art faculty at the University of Georgia invited Dodd to serve as a one-year artist-in-residence. The following year—at the age of twenty-seven—Dodd was named chair of that department, a position he held until his retirement in 1973. Dodd was a passionate teacher—his pupils included John Kelly Fitzpatrick, Margaret Law, and Augusta Oelschig—and a lifelong learner. Committed to both his students’ artistic development and his own, Dodd continued to explore and experiment, participating in important national and regional exhibitions, and traveling throughout the South to find subject matter. His interests and aesthetics firmly fixed him in the American Scene movement, though his work grew increasingly modern and diverse over time. In the 1960s, Dodd was selected to participate in NASA’s burgeoning arts program, which sought to complement the new space program’s scientific discoveries with artistic interpretations of the universe. His works from this initiative have been praised as “imaginative and poetic . . . embodied in a style that is the freest and boldest of his career.” In the late 1970s, Dodd’s wife Mary was hospitalized for a heart condition. As she recovered, her physician invited Lamar to record his impressions of operating rooms and the human heart, once again merging science and art. Dodd dove into the subject, studying medical textbooks and eventually creating an intimate collection knows as the “Heart Series,” often executed in mixed media and laden with Byzantine, Renaissance, and Christian iconography.

Throughout his career, Dodd was a tireless arts advocate, serving on important national councils. These appointments provided him with opportunities to travel the country and the globe. Though he had spent a year in Western Europe as the recipient of a 1953 Rockefeller Foundation grant, his later work as an arts envoy with the United States Department of State took him to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. A skilled administrator, he oversaw the advancement of the University of Georgia’s art department into one of the country’s most comprehensive centers.

Following his retirement from the University Of Georgia, Dodd continued to paint, noting that, “I can’t imagine anybody retiring in the field of art. I think it gives you hope to face another day. There’s not retiring whatsoever.”  His work from this period often reflects a return to Southern culture and subject matter, but also includes landscapes from his beloved summer home in Monhegan, Maine, as well as expressive commentary on contemporary issues of social and political note ranging from the Oklahoma bombing to the O. J. Simpson trial. Today, Lamar Dodd is remembered as the most influential Georgia artist of his generation and a pioneer of arts education throughout the nation. The Lamar Dodd School of Art was named in his honor in 1996, just months before his death. His art is held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Georgia Museum of Art, and several other museums spanning the country.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina
Submitted by Holly Watters
Collection Assistant

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
Lamar Dodd’s remarkably diverse career in art and art education originated and culminated in Georgia.  Born and raised in the state, Dodd received initial art instruction at LaGrange College as a youngster aged 12, before relocating many years later to New York, where he studied at the Art Students League with notable instructors such as George Luks, Boardman Robinson, and John Steuart Curry.

Dodd returned to the South in 1937, becoming a faculty member in the art department at the University of Georgia.  He became chair of the art department the next year, a position he maintained until 1973.

Under Dodd’s vision, the art department flourished.  The art faculty and students expanded far beyond the paltry numbers Dodd faced in the 1930s.  His interests in painting and arts advocacy delivered him to foreign corners of the world and introduced him to environments beyond the South. 

As a professional artist, Dodd’s career spans many decades, from early studies in the 1920s and 1930s to the turbulent years of the 1960s and 1970s. “[Dodd]…has been the eyewitness and recorder of this critical phase in our history.” (1) As a result, Dodd’s stylistic tendencies naturally evolved as he experimented with reigning techniques.  His work often synthesized disparate movements in American art.

Dodd’s challenge lay in adhering to one style or movement.  He believed that he would always remain a student.  In the artist’s own words, “Painting, for me, is a constant and never-ending quest for artistic objectivity based indirectly and directly upon my personal observations and reactions to the visual world; but of even more importance is a search for, and an awareness of, the inner structures of matter rather than the surface appearance of things.” (2)

Sources include:
1. Hereward Lester Cooke, Lamar Dodd (New York: Frank Rehn Gallery, 1973), exhibition publication April 16 - May 5, 1973.  In addition, a more comprehensive survey of Dodd’s career and art is found in William U. Eiland, The Truth in Things: the Life and Career of Lamar Dodd (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1996).

2. Lamar Dodd, (New York: Grand Central Moderns, 1965), exhibition publication, November 6-27, 1965. staff, Columbus Museum

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