Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Magazine Fall 1993

KCAC Forum Magazine Fall 1993

On July 26, 1993, the Kansas City area art community lost an incredible talent to a tragic accident. On August 17, 1993 another incredible talent died of complications from leukemia. Both deaths are untimely and left family, friends, and students stunned.

by Deanne Pearson

On July 26, Dale Eldred was working in his West Bottoms studio with a group of friends,  trying to move his art work from the first floor, where it was threatened by the rising waters of the Kaw River, to the safer second floor. In July 1991 he had lost countless works and records in a studio fire, and he was determined not to lose everything again if he could help it.

In the midst of the moving and the commotion, Eldred accidentally stepped through an opening in the floor of the studio’s second story and fell some 20 feet to the first floor below. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Bethany Medical Center. He was 59 years old.

An internationally recognized talent, Eldred had worked as an artist in Kansas City for more than 34 years. Shortly after graduating with a masters in science from the University of Michigan in 1959, he came to Kansas City to take a position on the faculty of Kansas City Art Institute. In 1960 he was named chairman of the institute’s sculpture department, a position he held at the time of his death.

A scientist at heart, Eldred rejected the more traditional sculptor’s path of carving stone or casting bronze and instead chose to manipulate more ephemeral elements, like light and time. Working with concepts plucked from his fascination with science, Eldred created massive outdoor installations that demonstrated the action of the earth’s rotation around the sun, the way light fractures and refracts, and the visible traces of the passage of time.

The innovation and spirit of these massive scientific works earned for Eldred a myriad of awards, including a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and built for him an international reputation as a sculptor. Locally, he staged a sculptural exhibition called the “Time Light Incident” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in 1979. Another of his works was permanently installed in the courtyard of the Johnson County Community College. During his career, his temporary solar  sculptures have been seen in cities as diverse as Houston, Texas: Phoenix, Ariz., Minneapolis, Minn., and Helsinki, Finland. He also had major permanent works commissioned by many private and public institutions throughout the world from Portland, Ore., to Herning, Denmark.

Eldred’s death came at a time when he was exploring other, more intimate avenues in his art.  His most recent show was lat January at the Jan Weiner Gallery. It featured smaller, more intimate works, which were a distinct depature from anything Eldred has created before.

Wanting to work out his thoughts in a more immediate and manageable scale, Eldred’s most recent works were smaller manipulated creations that incorporated miniature models of familiar sculptural monuments like Michelangelo’s David, the Statue of Liberty,
and a Roman portrait head. Each monument was enclosed in a Plexiglas box, where it
appeared to be overcome by a symbol of nature and time sand, vines, liquid mercury.

These works dealt more with the concepts of art than the concepts of nature. About them Eldred wrote, “These intimate pieces are very important to the way I think. They give me the chance to work out, on a manageable scale, what’s on my mind right now. And right now I’m thinking about monuments….To understand the visual world you have to appreciate the truth inherent in erosion, irony and accident.”

So we are left with a career’s worth of work and a handful of quotes to appreciate, analyze and use to remember one man. An artist who tried within his work to harness the most ephemeral and fleeting forces of nature. And who died trying to outrun another.


by Stephen K. Smith

Dr. Timothy Frank Mitchell, professor in the department of art history at the University of Kansas, died August 17, 1993, at a Lawrence hospital from complications of leukemia, which he had battled for one and a half years. He was 49 years old. Mitchell was chairman of the department of art history from 1986 to 1992, director of graduate studies from 1984 to 1986, and president of the Midwest Art History Society from 1989 to 1991. He was a gifted teacher and lecturer, knowledgeable, interesting, and entertaining. An example of his popularity throughout the university was his nomination by students for the university’s H.O.P.E. award.

As well as being a skilled teacher, Dr. Mitchell was a significant contributing scholar. His book, Art and Science in German Landscape Painting 1770 to 1840, is scheduled for publication by Oxford University Press this fall. He was also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles and Modernism: Art in the Age of Historicism, a book-length study currently under consideration for publication by Cambridge University Press. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas, his masters degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his doctorate from Indiana University, Bloomington. He had been a professor at KU since 1980.

Far beyond all these kudos and accomplishments, however, Mitchell was a valued advisor and friend to those of us who worked with the art history department at the University of Kansas. Despite his illness and the pain associated with it, he retained a sense of humor about himself and the world around him. His unfailing dedication to teaching and research kept him working until just a few weeks prior to his death.

His friend and colleague Professor Linda Stone-Ferrier spoke for all of us who knew or were associated with Mitchell when she said, “It’s a tremendous loss for me both personally and professionally.”

Mitchell was buried at Grand Center Cemetery in Waldo, Kansas the kind of landscape that he both loved and studied throughout his professional life. On October 22 of this year he would have been 50 years old.

Plans for a public memorial service to be held this fall are being discussed. It is suggested that those who wish to do so make contributions to the Leukemia Society of America or to the Department of Art History at the University of Kansas. Mitchell is survived by his wife, Nancy, and his two daughters, Kristina and Sarah.