In Memoriam–Philip Dedrick (1921-2001) Part 1

In Memoriam–Philip Dedrick (1921-2001) Part 1

By Susan Johnson

By Susan Johnson

Copy Editor

The educational community and the art world recently lost a man of immeasurable talent and great humanity, Philip Dedrick, who died July 6, 2001. His keen instincts for acquiring objects of significant cultural value and his infinite capacity for communicating knowledge to others will be sorely missed by both students and faculty. In the course of his life, he contributed much to our accumulation of knowledge of man’s continuously developing art heritage.

Born in 1921 in Broadhead, Wis., Dedrick was described by friends at Rockford College as “a gentle, medieval artist who strayed innocently into the 20th century to give joy and inspiration to generations of Rockford College students.” In the citation of an honorary degree, he was described as “exotic as a unicorn, and yet, four years later, the same student on Commencement Day views him with deep gratitude and affection worthy of a truly great teacher.”

Dedrick was educated at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he earned a B.F.A. in 1948, and he received the Anna Louise Raymond Foreign Fellowship and studied in Europe from 1947-48. He earned an M.A. from the University of New Mexico in 1958 and also did some graduate study at the University of Chicago. He was a member of Delta Phi Delta, and attended the Taos Field Session at the University of New Mexico. He did much research in media, especially egg tempera.

As he traveled, Dedrick began collecting objects of art which he found of significant cultural value and best exemplified samples of early civilization’s art. In addition to what he has contributed to Rockford College, a large portion of his collection is on loan to the Freeport Arts Center. He has been the Freeport museum’s major benefactor, establishing whole areas within the collection. The Dedrick donations include the oldest pieces in the Pre-Columbian, Ancient Near East and Classical collections. He contributed many early prints (including Schongauer, Durer and Lucas Cranach, among others) as well as prints of the 17th and 18th centuries (Goltsius, Hogarth and William Blake).

A brochure states: “Textiles are the greatest strength of this collection, which begins with Coptic material. The [variety of objects] in tribal cultures includes costumes, tapas, ikats, warrior costumes, headdresses, a mountain Toraja warrior’s armor of deer jawbones, and gold fabrics of the Maninkabau. Extensive ethnographic holdings, representing five continents, magnify the significance of this collection, allowing whole cultures to be represented.

“In addition, a major group of Pre-Columbian pottery, small stone carvings, and carved petrified ivory spans the Western Hemisphere from the Bering Straits to South America. Textiles, baskets, and pottery of the 19th and 20th century Native American groups represent almost as wide a geographic distribution…

“… the collection also includes a very large number of Modern and contemporary paintings and prints, both European (Redon, Miro, Ernst, Belmar, Kollwitz and others) and American (A.B. Davies, Blackshear, Ginzel, Jenkyn, Poska, Langoussis and more).”

Dedrick began putting his collection on loan to the FAC in 1985, beginning with approximately 500 items: 15th, 16th and 20th century prints; Pre-Columbian textiles; masks and ethnographic objects from Africa, Australia, Asia, North and South America. In the next 10 years, he loaned more than 300 objects of the same type, but also included 18th and 19th century glass; Greco-Roman objects and Roman glass. In the last five years, he added another 400 items, focusing heavily on Southeast Asian textiles and East European/West Asian costumes. Many of these items have now been given permanently to the collection. Dedrick was a very active board member of the FAC from 1988 to 1994.

Suzanne Kaufman, professor emeritus of art at Rock Valley College and one of the group, Friends of Philip Dedrick, shared some of her recollections of him shortly before his death. She said he had many dear friends “because he is the most extraordinary person I’ve ever met. We call him our national treasure. We think that Rockford College was so fortunate to have his knowledge, his wit, his humor and his incredible memory. His knowledge is vast; his interests range from Coptic art [early Christian, particularly Egyptian], medieval and arts manuscripts. He has the most incredible collection that he has given to the Freeport Arts Center of ethnographic textiles and objects from Central and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Oceania and also Native American…

“It’s difficult to explain why he is so dear to so many people. His kindness—I don’t think I’ve ever heard him speak ill of anyone. He is loved for his humanity and by all of his students and friends. He has, unbeknownst to many people, raised and given money to send students through college. The Freeport Arts Museum this past year named its gallery in Philip’s honor.”

Ms. Kaufman explained that she first met him in 1961 “when I finished my bachelor’s degree at Rockford College after many years of interruption. He was my advisor and professor, and he became a very dear friend.” She noted that his own work was in egg tempera (from the early Renaissance) and she classified his work as “neo-surrealist.”

Last month, some of Professor Dedrick’s admirers gathered at a reception to honor their friend and benefactor in his 80th year. More reminiscences of his friends and colleagues will follow.

Next week: Contributions to Rockford College

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