Tribute to an Old Fart

Tribute to an Old Fart

 

 

Photo: Back cover of Carl Grupp’s ‘Figments, Fragments, and Pigments, Oh My.’ Published in conjunction with Scurfpea Publishing in 2014. 

A prominent southeast South Dakota artist passed away recently. The ripples of his artistic and personal influence as a teacher go farther than anyone could measure. Although we hadn’t talked to one another for some time, I considered him a friend and mentor.

A friend because he always took my phone calls, welcomed me into his home time after time, allowed me to take him on an afternoon road trip once (regaling me with stories of past antics with colleagues and his spontaneous, bellowing laughter propelling us through the McDonald’s drive through), and entrusted me to ransack his entire home in search of a missing cat once (which I never did find). Also, because he simply and quite genuinely told me he considered me a friend. I was not special—Carl Grupp had many, many friends.

He was also a professional mentor as I began my career as an appraiser who wanted to learn as much about printmaking as I could. He let me tap into his institutional and regional memory so I could understand the late 20th century art history of southeast South Dakota. As a small businessperson, I was honored he allowed me to offer his work for sale under an earlier iteration of my small business, Midwest Fine Art Exchange. In my time as a museum director, he gave me a “trust me” card by welcoming my staff into his home to curate an exhibition examining him as a collector.

Since hearing about Carl’s death, this post, a small tribute to him, has been rolling around in my head and I needed to get it out.

I am sad that Carl, the genuine, raw, humble and absolutely-no-airs-about-him man, is gone.

Whether you knew Carl personally or not, you might be interested to read a few things about this larger-than-life soul:

  • In an under-the-radar announcement in 2018, he donated much of his remaining artwork to the permanent collection at Eide Dalrymple Gallery (known as the Carl Grupp Collection in his honor), solidifying Augustana University as the nucleus of his legacy.
  • In the 1970s, Carl was approached by Associated American Artists, a gallery headquartered in NYC, and was asked to participate in its decades-long mission to make fine art more accessible to the middle class. He created at least one lithographic edition in partnership with AAA, a unique honor he shared with the likes of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood.  

  • He worked with a local publisher to publish a book called “Figments, Fragments and Pigments, Oh My.” It is a collection of his personal and professional memories that takes you on a raucous ride from his first visit to a strip club in 1956 to a raw and deeply personal explanation of his seminal work, Diogenes’ Dream.
  • Grupp is one of few “listed” artists from South Dakota. In an appraiser’s world, this means his art has a documented resale market and pops up in international auction databases as having sold at some level. It means that there is a nuanced market for his work and it has begun taking on a life of its own, beyond his sales to immediate collectors.

  • He established one of the best undergraduate printmaking programs you’ll find. Along with it, he grew a permanent collection with his students’ interests at heart. Truly a consummate teacher and mentor, he brought great works of fine printmaking to his small South Dakota campus to enrich his students’ experience. His collection continues to grow to this day.
  • Motivated by respect for Carl and the art department Carl grew for decades, one of his former students purchased the old Augustana art building and had it moved to the outskirts of Sioux Falls. For a time (and perhaps yet today), the building was used as a private residence which allowed this former student to live within the halls hallowed by Grupp and his mentors-turned-colleagues, Palmer Eide and Ogden Dalrymple.
  • His work is in the permanent collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center, the Chicago Art Institute, the American Embassy in London, and countless South Dakota collections—both private and institutional.
  • Carl was an animal lover–from his own beloved pets over the years to the flying, furry and finned animals that appear throughout his oeuvre. To know Carl is to know that the self-proclaimed “large fat man with a gruff voice” had an especially soft heart for non-humans.  

There is much more to Carl, of course. You can read my old “salesy” art dealer write-up about his career on askART, but, as with any artist, you’ll get to know him best by looking at his work. Better yet, talk to his friends and his students. That’s where he is.   

Here’s to the Old Fart.

 

Photo snapped from the catalog of his 2004 state-touring retrospective exhibition, “The Wonder of Life.” This photo of Carl appears on a page with reflections on his work by Jim Cambronne, a former student and established artist whom Carl often talked about when I visited him.