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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Art Department bids farewell to Ralph Steeds with exhibition

“Ralph Steeds: 33 Years at UNCP” opened with a reception in the Locklear Hall Art Department Gallery on February 27.

From left: Paul Van Zandt, Ralph Steeds and Janette Hopper

From left: Paul Van Zandt, Ralph Steeds and Janette Hopper

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The retrospective exhibit reflects printmaker Professor Ralph Steeds’ work over 33 years as a member of the faculty. He paused for a moment before the opening to reflect.

 “Nothing was ever planned,” Steeds said. “I stayed here because I liked it, and everyone was good to me.

“This is a supportive and friendly place with good departmental leadership in Paul Van Zandt and Janette Hopper,” he continued. “I will miss the students most.”

Van Zandt and current department chair Hopper were the only chairs in Steeds’ three decade tenure. They were on hand for the opening.

“Ralph always contributed and was always there for his students and colleagues,” Hopper said. “Besides directing the gallery for more than 20 years, Ralph created a course in American Indian art and worked with the Native American Resource Center Museum and with many graduate students.”

‘I never knew where I was going’ by Ralph Steeds

‘I never knew where I was going’ by Ralph Steeds

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Van Zandt was chair in 1975 when Steeds arrived.

“I remember he came with a cat and some art, and that was about it,” Van Zandt said. “I took him around on my motorcycle to look at places to stay.

“We’ve had a great time all these years, and I’ve enjoyed having him as my friend,” he said.

Melissa Clement, art reporter for the Fayetteville Observer, also attended.

“I’ve known Ralph since he came here,” Clement said. “This is a wonderful show.”

Steeds looked to the future.

“Thirty-three more years of making art,” he said. “That’s the plan.”

‘In the Balance’ by Ralph Steeds

‘In the Balance’ by Ralph Steeds

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Dr. Richard Gay, an art historian and director of the Art Department Gallery, discussed the exhibit.

“The exhibition features prints, drawings and paintings spanning 30 years of production and demonstrating the creative ingenuity of the artist,” Dr. Gay said. “Known for its multilayered and sometimes chaotic pictorial space, the artist’s work is filled with veiled messages presented through decidedly personal imagery.”

Swimmers, circus performers, monkeys and other savage beasts are often metaphors for primal survival and keeping a balance in life and head above water, Dr. Gay continued.

 “Realistic elements coexist harmoniously yet in distinct opposition with childlike stick figures, establishing a duality of emotional and pictorial realms,” Dr. Gay said. “The dynamic figures energize the space and reappear juxtaposed and recreated in other works. Often autobiographical, the works invite the viewer to explore their polyvalent imagery and to question the artist’s message.”

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