Obituary by Glenn Whitehead

September 24, 2019


Glenn Rush Whitehead


A charming wit, a sharply observant eye, an intelligent articulation and a relentlessly honest intuition about human behavior suffused Glenn Whitehead’s 76 years of making friends and art.    

“Even though my life was a mess, I liked to laugh and I loved to hear the laughter of others.  I loved to see things. I loved seeing, hearing, touching, tasting.  I loved good food and good wine. I could be wonderstruck. Look! A sculpted cumulus cloud, Listen! Wind in a leafy tree.  Someone singing.  Wow!  Light and shadow on my street. I loved being alive on this beautiful planet."

He and Dave Hickey regularly scandalizing the management of UT’s student magazine “The Texas Ranger,”   Glenn drew whimsical armadillos in the text and margins. 

“I loved the absurd.  That explains why my one splash was as the first cartoon artist who popularized the armadillo, a creature I found amusing, even ridiculous, one which, to my surprise, became a potent symbol for Texas.”

It was later cleverly commercialized by others and became disseminated into the meme it is today. 

He was born in Houston and was forever grateful to his Bellaire High School teachers Shirley Wily and Norma Henderson.  At UT Austin, Barry Schackman taught him how to draw the figure.   

“He made a lasting impact on at least two generations of young draughtsmen and painters.  I owe him.  And I owe Al Buscaglia, the best of all my teachers.” 

But, his father was a tyrant and a bully and constantly belittled Glenn as a child.

His first wife, Carmalee was speaking to him on the phone when she killed herself with a gunshot to the head.

He never recovered from the death of his beloved older brother Fred. 

 Bill Helmer said, “He was the man who invented despair.”  

When in despair, he took solace in Helmer’s 1978 Texas Observer Armadillo article wherein Helmer said, “I’ve met few people as intelligent, creative, sensitive, thoughtful, sensible, rational, perceptive or humorous as Whitehead … .”  

He died July 14, 2016 in Pflugerville, Texas after decades of declining health marked by increasing consumption of the booze with which he gleefully distracted himself from his demons. 

In the early 60s he moved to New York City and took art classes at the Brooklyn Museum, the Arts Student’s League and the New School and also sat in classes at NYU and Columbia.  He haunted art museums.

“I spent most of my free time in museums, concert halls, libraries and evening and weekend art and writing classes. I did not know I was poor. To the contrary, I thought I was rich.”

He obtained an MFA from Stanford in 1972.  

He met the “saintly and immaculately cultured” John O’Neil at a college convention, and O'Neil's connections resulted in a job in Wichita, where he taught painting at Wichita State University in the mid seventies. 

That art department with painters John Fincher and Steve Berman, printmaker John Boyd and art historians Mira Pajes Merriman, Jim Moore and Stockton Garver, was a brilliant commune of intense artistic creativity and innovation. 

He again scandalized management and wrote hilarious letters of recommendation for graduates, including Bruce Pagaz and Larry Webb.   

It was in Wichita that he met the lovely and delightful Wanda Gamble.  Smart, spirited and talented, she was also the epitome of a classic American pin-up girl.  

“I was obsessed with Wanda and it was a magnificent obsession. She remains the light of my life”   

In 1976, he painted his entire car with bright flapping flags, black snakes and huge letters reading “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Bicentennial Barracuda.” He drove around Wichita gleefully shocking and entertaining the population.  

His backyard marijuana patch was over ten feet high.

“I never believed I should seize the day.  I always said ‘Squander the day’.  Our days are not to set the world on fire but to make a good bacon and tomato sandwich.”

He found teaching to be a distraction from his own work. He and Wanda married and moved to Austin and then to Smithville.

“For over forty years, Wanda Gamble and I have been together in one way or the other.  Friends, lovers, married, divorced, we shared a studio and painted together, sometimes side-by-side.  In my life, Wanda was the big gift.” 

His paintings and drawings are a rich testament to his intense love of nature and women.  

Reuben Saunders showed his work in Wichita.   “Glenn would obsess over the tiniest detail of his paintings.  He could focus on one little corner that he felt was near perfection, as though the whole was only the means to draw your eye to that one spot.  He described every piece he brought to the gallery. He never just handed over a painting – it was always a welcome lesson and a window to his soul."

He also had a long and happy relationship with Harrison Itz and his Harris gallery in Houston

“It was only later that I realized I had learned so much from looking, just looking.  Renoir said ‘You don’t learn about art from nature, you learn about art in  museums.’ ”  

Much of his work vanished into corporate collections.  That which survived in the homes of friends gave him greater satisfaction. 

“The writer Suzanne Winckler lives in a home full of my work as do Bryan Collier and Matt Swanson. Molly Ivins, that wonderful lady, visited me and bought work even when she was so very ill.”

He wrote constantly, making notes, long letters and piquant musings on life and the human condition. 

“I frittered away a lot of time writing …playing with words, beautiful words, whimsy, observations, letters, stories, poems, minutia all"

Smithville Times owners and writers, Bill Bishop and Julie Ardery collected his work and published his writing and drawings. 

 “I had enough friends.  I had enough time.  What more could I have wished for?  When I died, I was pissed off at no one.”

His own handwritten draft obituary was as stringently frank about his life, as is this writing.  Additional biographical vita is available on his website -

Outwardly my life was dull and static, even meek.  But I lived a rich inner life.  My dreams were thrilling and extravagant.” 

He may have felt like a Walter Mitty.  But in fact, he was an extraordinarily generous and humane man whose life deeply affected those who knew him.  Their lives are abundantly richer and better. 

He seemed to have found such great peace with his world and his friends, that it makes even more vexing the question of why he could never find peace in himself.

He wanted no funeral or memorial service. 

He wanted his friends to gather and eat and drink well.  

“Bury my ashes where calcium might do some good."


-Dan Rouser

Wichita, Kansas

Glenn' Wink--James Moore by Glenn Whitehead

Glenn’s Wink

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see.

Wm. Shakespeare, Sonnet 43

Forty-five years ago, or some say more, Glenn Whitehead rummaged through children’s toys at Duckwall’s five and dime – it was still Duckwall’s then – and with no goal in mind, he gathered up odd items for a piñata party on College Hill. This was a way of distracting himself from the gray thoughts that lurked in damp places and led him to question bureaucratic nonsense in meeting rooms, dull artspeak among critics and colleagues, or hollow feelings that crept up as he drove through the streets of his home in the center of the country. Far from the familiar Left and Right Coasts, he was indeed in the center of the world itself, if

you looked in his bathroom at the Mercator map that hung over the tub, where a carefully-lettered “You Are Here” sign was placed above an arrow which curved down to point at Wichita, Kansas.

But that day was not a dreary, overcast November of bureaucratic toil or annoying administrators. There were no meetings to bore one, or time to contemplate how far he was from the “centers” of the art world. Summer birthdays loomed in sight and there were children to delight and puzzle. With a thoughtful nod or two and the eye of a ten-year old connoisseur, he walked down the store aisle and gathered up a bundle of kitsch...a bubble-packed Peelers bulldozer, a peek-a-boo telescope with pin-up girl laughing and tossing her hair back, two plastic dolls with different dresses and identical faces, a Travel-Mate pocket game – impossible to do in a car - where you tried to get all the BBs seated in their holes, and a package of puzzle tricks, those metal loops in odd shapes that would never seem to come apart or go back together. Understanding that children were made to aggravate parents and “uncles” were put on earth to facilitate that torment, he put a drum in the cart. That was followed by a metal clapper with a brightly-painted clown’s face, a truly loud and annoying item, and he grinned at it. With a flick of the wrist, a wooden ball mounted on spring steel slapped the face repeatedly beside the right

eye, which was closed. Whapping it was like playing a Tibetan drum or a Oaxaca wedding bell,1 only it was ironically violent and unbearably tinny to the ear. Decidedly unmusical, it was perfect. After the party, Glenn kept it for himself. He quietly tucked it away and took it to his office, thinking it might be of use in a faculty meeting. He removed the ball and spring, made a few sketches, then paintings on paper, and soon the face of the former clown clapper became a motif that would occupy Glenn for several years. He called it a Winking Clown.2

This was a classic modern painter’s
gambit, the choice of a repeated motif which, in
setting aside the necessity of choosing a subject, became the occasion for endless variation and experimentation.3 After a few preliminary sketches,4 Glenn’s

Winking Clowns became an exercise in color and treatment of the faced, blue faced, red-lipped, blue lipped, white faced, black faced. Some are untitled and undated. Some are titled simplyWinking Clown; a few are dated.5

Some Winking Clowns carry
associative titles. In 1974 the Wichita State
University studio faculty developed an
exhibition of lithographs as a fundraising
project; Glenn’s contribution to the
“Faculty Portfolio Series, No. One” was a
Winking Clown, so titled in cursive writing
in the image, with “Only You” in designer
script overlaid.6 This was the first of the
clowns to carry a secondary title. It is
enigmatic and bordering on the absurd, yet
for someone like Glenn, who was a teenager
in the fifties, the hit song Only You, by The Platters, seems a likely reference.7 At a

distance of twenty years it may have seemed saccharine enough to carry some irony. Also that year he put provocative, humorous titles on some

Winking Clowns, suggesting that they were images of American presidents. “Somewhere along the way I linked the clown to those ornamental presidential dinner plates, and a series of clowns bore careful script lettering,The Twenty-First Winking Clown of the United States of America, and so forth.”8

The Twenty-Seventh Winking Clown of the United States of America, mixed media on paper, 1973

Winking Clown (Only You),

lithograph, 1974

Thus, like the plates, the Winking Clowns became a series. Each clown’s face was painted broadly and differently; a few had the title written in cursive handwriting but most had script lettering. Although he claimed that these were not political satire, stating that “it was more about ridiculous grandiosity visited on the winking clown...,9 his claim of art for art’s sake was written partly tongue in cheek at a time when the country was obsessed with the scandal of Watergate and the downfall of President Richard Nixon. To further suggest that they were not intended as social commentary, they carried the marks of art history...the sensitive, corrected-on-the-spot drawings of Degas, the bravura brushwork of Abstract Expressionism, the Pop Art choice to re-appropriate common non-art objects. In his notes he mused on the union of these disparate elements: “In trying to honor both Degas and the Keystone Kops I’m trying to fuse serious mood (poetry) and luscious surface and contemporary topical subject matter and blatant (intentionally mislay - narrative qualities...”10

Winking Clown, ink on paper, 1974

However, there is one of Nixon which is stylistically different from the rest, an aggressive portrait likeness signaled by a rough beard-like crosshatching, suggesting his infamous “five o’clock shadow.”11 Glenn’s notes indicate that he was fully aware of the topicality of The Thirty-Seventh Winking Clown of the United States of America.12

The Thirty-Seventh Winking Clown of the United States of America, mixed media on paper, 1974.

Such external references in the Winking Clowns appear several times, as in ones done in the “style” of famous artists like Marcel Duchamp or Pablo Picasso. These may read as parodies, but they are not overtly humorous. A clown face drawn on top of a reproduction of the turning figure in Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina is intentionally humorous, the clown’s face providing a winking “fig leaf” for the nude figure. A consummate and highly talented draftsman, Glenn makes the clown “fit” the style of Michelangelo’s drawing as if the Renaissance master had done it, and the result is an homage and a mocking gesture played off one another.13

The “presidential” series does not seem
to have an intentional structure and it was
not conceived to be a “complete” listing from
Washington to Nixon. With the exception of Nixon, the exercise of matching the paintings with actual presidents reveals no hidden intention. The image itself simply became a framework for an improvisatory form of detached work. In his notes, Glenn mused:

“...the picture itself is rather ordinary, a dull, obvious “solution” --- a pasting together... I look at it and realize it could just as easily be a kangaroo standing on the freeway...there is no visual, structural, formal necessity of the parts... So by indulging myself I have not become involved at all – I am detached, objective...the picture betrays too little interest in the picture and a great deal of interest in my ideas as “things”...14

Indeed, like so many painters of his generation, his attention (and his claims about art) are directed toward the non-objective act of making a picture, not depicting a subject, yet the shift in artistic practice in the sixties required that a “subject” be chosen, yet picked out as gratuitously as possible, like the idle choice of a clown noisemaker, and the marks on the surface are meaningless in regard to any conventional visual syntax. In rejecting “personal” ideas, Glenn explains this metaphorically, equating painting and writing. “A picture then become(s) a list of my involvements and interests, like a list of words – verbal substitutes and

illustrative symbols are easier to handle than intense, involved, fusion and development of visual ideas... 15 Glenn was a careful writer, never satisfied with a draft, always searching for precise words. He once wrote a humorous letter with a “conversation” about being stranded on an island, and what book one would choose. After a few exchanges and rejections from his questioner, he’s told that it must be

“...a book that will stimulate and inspire you, a book that explains everything, a book you can turn to over and over again. What I’m talking about is a book for your sanity, your mind, your very soul.”
“Okay, okay. I know just what it would be.”
“Good. So what book would you want with you on that island?”
“A good dictionary.”

The letter concludes with the comment that “People who really love words think of the dictionary as a huge, well-stocked refrigerator. I keep opening the door to see what’s in there.”16 One has to remind oneself that most of the Winking Clowns are pictures with words.

It is tempting to see the Winking

Clowns as inherently
humorous, perhaps
because this was not
the first time Glenn
was known for a
“series” of images that were droll and a bit absurd. In 1965 he began working for Bill Helmer as an illustrator for The Texas Ranger, UT’s

student humor magazine. Glenn drew an armadillo in
the corner of the new logo and soon each issue
contained marginal drawings of armadillos doing all
manner of un-armadillo-like things...dancing, roaring,
lying on a couch in therapy, sneezing in the face of a
chemistry professor, standing idly in a cowboy hat with an arrow shot through it. As an undergraduate, before he went off to graduate school at Stanford, and before Jim Franklin commercially popularized the armadillo as a Texas icon,17Glenn was the “armadillo man,” as Glenn’s friend Helmer explained.

He personally identified with the armadillo (he eventually admitted) because of its myopia, stupidity, harmlessness, defense mechanisms, overall design, and anachronistic presence in a biologically advanced and

dangerous world---where it obviously had to have something going for it just to survive. In short, the armadillo could cope, and for this reason, if no other, Whitehead admired the critter.18

As armadillo imagery became ubiquitous in Texas in the 1970s, Glenn regretted the rise of the armadillo’s popularity.

He worries the at this somehow compromises the armadillo’s integrity, feels partly responsible for its loss of
innocence, and takes comfort in the
knowledge that armadillos are both too

stupid and self-secure to care one way

or another.19
Glenn’s wry description of the armadillo as
myopic and anachronistic, yet a critter who
“could cope,” parallels his sometimes self-
deprecating humor.20 One senses in Glenn a
strong identification with the armadillo, and it opens a window onto the Winking Clowns.

Clown. The clown is an archetypal and transcultural figure...jester, fool, and trickster. Made impersonal behind the mask, he is a reservoir of bipolar energy, silly and serious, creative and destructive, known universally, his identity is hidden (or faked). He is mischievous and annoying, and he smiles while his heart is breaking. He is Pierrot of the commedia dell’arte, forever pining for the love of Columbine and
always rejected. He
trusts, and is the
victim of pranks.
He is the circus
clown of Glenn’s
the Clown, the
ever-sad Emmett
the lighthearted
but sad Jimmy
Stewart, a good
doctor hiding his
crime behind

painted makeup in The Greatest Show on Earth. He is the jester in the court of kings, speaking truth to power, and he is the dreamer of grand schemes who trips over his own shoes. He is the eternal pratfall. We laugh at him, and with him, taking a moment in time to cover our own sorrows, for he holds a mirror up to all of us. He is us.

Wink. In the Oxford English Dictionary, a wink is defined as “a glance or significant movement of the eye (ofen accompanied by a nod) expressing command, assent, invitation, or the like.” But more complex meanings also layer onto the word...a short nap, a moment in time, the slightest amount, one two- thousandth of a minute, a blink. The act
itself, the movement of an eyelid, can be an
act of knowing something in common, or
knowing something you do not. It is
inherently contradictory and only the context
will tell.

In one, The Thirty-Fourth Winking
Clown of the United States of America, 
word “WINK,” shoots up from the eye in bold
caps, with cartoon “movement lines” for
emphasis. But Glenn surely cared little that
one thinks of Eisenhower. In spite of the
inscriptions on the paintings, it is best not to
associate the Winking Clowns too quickly
with a presidential wink indicative of
cynicism, privileged knowledge, or
condescension, for the wink is universal. Like
the humble armadillo, who “could cope,” the
Winking Clowns are “Everyman,21 uncertain, conflicted, but carrying on.”22

Bill Helmer concluded his laudatory article anointing Glenn as the armadillo man of the sixties by briefly commenting on the winking clowns, which he saw in 1974.

At that time he had long since abandoned the armadillo and was painting winking clowns. Only winking clowns, in fact. Nothing else. He showed me a picture of one of his paintings---a classic children’s happy clown in billowy polka-dot costume, bulbous nose and cone-shaped cap, laughing and cavorting. But winking at you. A

knowing wink that, the longer you looked at it, became an increasingly cynical, contemptuous, deprecating, patronizing smirk.23
Did Helmer miss the point? As clear-sighted as he was on the armadillo matter, was he taken in by the clown’s duality? As Glenn’s friend he knew him well, and there was an element of truth in his comment that Glenn’s “wit and twinkling Irish eyes concealed a soul that was a monument to melancholy.”24 If he saw that, why did he miss the mark in understanding the clowns? Perhaps it is simply that the clown is elusive.

Glenn, setting the record straight, so to speak, wrote to a friend (or to himself)25 in answer to a question:

Matt --- Here’s something for your files on me. I think you will find it interesting. Helmer (the writer) is one of my long time good friends, and in this article he is so kind and complimentary (sometimes, when I’m feeling low, I have to read again all those nice words in the last paragraph of the first page), but he got the clowns all wrong, I am not cynical, and the clown’s wink is, in fact, a painful wince.26

Here Glenn reveals the dark side of his feelings, and the dark side was there.

There is one titled The in the middle of the night Winking Clown, and even The Nightmare Winking Clown. But looking again at the tin clapper, with the ball hitting the clown next to the eye, the “wince” seems a straightforward and accurate description. So, a wince becomes a wink, and then the wink becomes a wince. Things are what they seem, and they are not what you think they are. The clown laughs, the clown winks, the clown winces, and behind the clown is Glenn.

Glenn, the lover of words and a good dictionary, liked to write dialogues with himself about art and life, thoughts about artists he admired, odd games he’d invented, and lists. Papers left in neat stacks and piles of disarray, for others to sort through. And he wrote lists of one-liners.

“Let barking dogs lie.”
“Don’t face your future. Fake it.”27

James Moore, October, 2018

1 Glenn held a fondness for the art and culture of Oaxaca.
2 “Winking Clown” is a name Glenn gave to the object. Made by the Kirchof Toy Company, it was one of many tin lithography noisemakers, novelties, and household goods that date back to the nineteenth century and still served the niche party goods market. It had no “name,” but was one of their “Life of the Party” series.
3 This became commonplace in the late 19th century and through the 20th, as painting parted with the notion of conventional academic subjects meant to educate, enlighten and ennoble the viewer. Degas’ ballet dancers, Cezanne’s views of Mont Sainte-Victoire, Monet’s Haystacks, Bonnard’s series of his wife, Marthe, down to Motherwell’s many paintings titled Elegy to the Spanish Republic, to the Pop Art appropriations of Warhol in painting Campbell soup cans or self-portraits.
4 There are at least two pen and ink studies.
5 The dating is inconsistent, although they first appear in 1973 and continue until 1976. Most date from 1973-1974.6A copy of this lithograph is in the collection of the Wichita Art Museum, a gift of Dan Rouser, where it is titledWinking Clown, and subtitled “From the Faculty Portfolio Series, No. One.” The artist’s proof carries the handwritten title Only You Winking Clown. In addition to Glenn, the participating artists were Steve Berman, David Bernard, John Boyd, John Fincher, and Robert Kiskadden.
Only You (And You Alone) was a pop song written by Buck Ram (Samuel Ram), who wrote under various pseudonyms for many years for Broadcast Music, Inc. Ram produced all the recordings for The Platters (and played piano on Only You), and when Mercury initially pressed Only You on their purple “race music” label, Ram protested and Mercury relented, releasing it on their regular black label, giving it far greater radio play. It held number one on the R&B charts for seven weeks, and number five on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart for thirty weeks. It has been covered numerous times over the years and continues to be covered today. Neither Glenn nor any teenager in the fifties would have known the recording’s history, but it was, and remains, an iconic musical milestone of the fifties.8 Glenn Whitehead papers, undated.
9 Ibid.
10 Glenn Whitehead papers, undated. Glenn had the habit of “correcting” himself as he wrote (he never typed or wrote on a computer), rejecting, or trying out different words, much as he would “try out” and overlay different lines in drawing.
11 The first televised presidential debate pitted Nixon against John F. Kennedy. Kennedy looked young and tan, while Nixon, recovering from a leg infection, looked haggard, and he decided not to shave or use make-up, opting for a product called Lazy Shave. Under the bright lights of the television studio he sweated through the pancake make-up and his five o’clock shadow was visible. This was often cited as a reason for his loss; the important point was that on television, appearance was as important as the content of the debate.
12 Glenn Whitehead papers, op.cit.
13 Collection of the author. Michelangelo’s project for The Battle of Cascina was lost or never finished, but is known from engravings after the cartoon, and from surviving drawings. The drawing of the turning figure in the center of the composition is in the British Museum. The overt humor of this drawing is something of an anomaly.
14 Glenn Whitehead papers, op.cit.
15 Ibid.
16 Letter to the author, Autumn, 1996.
17 https://en.wikipedia.orgwiki/JIm_Franklin (artist)
18 Bill Helmer, “Tracking the armadillo,” The Texas Observer (December 29, 1978) 21-23. Helmer’s article was written expressly to set the record straight about the origins of this phenomenon in Austin and Glenn’s role in it. This is also discussed in Jennifer Lyn Richmond, Iconographic Analysis of the Armadillo and Cosmic Imagery within art associated with the Armadillo World Headquarters, 1970-1980. MA Thesis, University of North Texas, December 2006.
19 Ibid. 23.
20 Regarding work shown in the Austin Museum of Art’s annual auction, he wrote: “I laughed at how that museum normally would have nothing to do with me, would certainly never exhibit my work, embarrassed as it is by my old-timey pictures, and dedicated as it is to being hip and fashionable, but of course might stoop to approach me when it needed to raise money.” Letter to the author, Autumn, 1996, op.cit. After painting in a high modernist mode in graduate school at Stanford, when Glenn finally moved back to Texas he settled into a life of painting

landscape, still life, and figure compositions, essentially in admiration of his favorite nineteenth century painters and trying to see nature as they did.
21 The reference here is to the anonymous 15th century morality play, The Summoning of Everyman, required reading in many college English Lit classes in Glenn’s undergraduate years. The play addresses the calling of every creature to death and to give account of how they have lived. Everyman, who represents strength, can convince none of his friends to go with him, except for Good Deeds.

22 Glenn Whitehead papers, undated.
23 Helmer, op.cit. 23.
24 Ibid. 22. Helmer goes on to say “He was/is the man who invented despair.” Glenn expressed mixed feelings about the article. He was tremendously flattered to be brought out of the shadows as the creator of the armadillos in The Texas Ranger, but rejected some of Helmer’s rhetoric as too stereotypical, lacking in subtlety and perception, particularly regarding the clowns. Conversation with the author, 2016.
25 Glenn had a habit of writing notes or letters to friends and then destroying them, or never sending them.
26 Glenn Whitehead papers, undated. Note to Matt Swanson.
27 Glenn Whitehead papers, undated.

Alum Creek--A Clearing by Glenn Whitehead

While driving around the Alum Creek area of Bastrop County I saw a clearing and lone chimney. I parked my van and stared at it for a while, then walked to it as though it were a magnet and I were a sliver of iron.

When you stand in the clearing, you're standing in someone's private space, I feel it. The kids slept right about here. Take a few steps; this is where the family sat down to dinner. And the chimney, solitary as a totem pole, slightly tilted, useless, a monument to --what?

Another failed farm? An Indian raid? (Although it's not that old, I know.) The Great Depression? Or nothing more than boredom. People do move on.

Truth is, the clearing interests me more than the old chimney, but the chimney is a useful focal point. Whether deep in the woods or out on the open prairie, clearings, you see, are so very, very human. Humans need their clearings.

And here, just outside the cabin's perimeter, right where I'm setting up my easel, a man stood breathing in the night air, trying to get over another disappointing day or thanking God for a good one.


Read More

Pondering Glenn by Glenn Whitehead

I met Glenn at night. We rode in the back seat of John Fincher’s car from the airport to a hotel. Glenn had come from Stanford to interview for a position teaching painting and drawing at Wichita State University, and I was surprised to learn that he had an exceptionally strong letter of recommendation from an art historian, Albert Elsen, who had been my professor at Indiana. Most studio artists steered clear of art historians. But Glenn was unusual in that way. He was unusual in many ways.

He and I were in the same generation of students, so we sometimes shared stories about our education. In the 1960s, studio training in all universities was rigidly cast in the modernist mode and directed narrowly by the serious art criticism of the time. If one intended to create “important” art, it had to be, by definition, non-objective and reductive. Glenn arrived in Wichita with a portfolio of large hard-edge abstract paintings, bold diagonal stripes curved at one end…what he referred to as his “peeler” motif. In those days, everyone had to have a “motif” to be distinguishable from everyone else. The struggle (and art was thought at that time to require great mental discipline and difficulty) was to be solely between oneself and the medium. The visual world out there did not intervene. But by the mid-1970s, we all had our tongues in cheek, and I detected a certain gleefulness in Glenn’s description of the “peelers.” He presented his “union card” for admission to our ranks, and we gladly accepted it.

Glenn reveled in mentoring his students. He was a fine teacher and a wonderful colleague. But like many artists who worked in universities, he longed for time for himself and his own art so, before long, he headed back south to Texas, to his homeland. Fully aware of the art-world scene of heavyweights on the Right and Left Coasts (weighted heavily to the Right), he nevertheless preferred the land of the free, where he could realize himself without the pressure of rigid schedules and equally-rigid critical structures. Like Paul Cézanne, who also went home to the south, he found his motifs in front of his eyes. 

While paintings in urban centers tried to shout each other down Babel-like, in ever-shifting, abstract languages, Glenn’s paintings became modest, quiet, contemplative…and realist. While learning to be a “real” non-objective artist, he had quietly absorbed the visual languages of art history, the techniques of the Old Masters, the sure drawing of Degas, the eye of Monet, the inner soul of van Gogh.

But we hardly ever talked about those art “heroes.” He studied and admired artists positioned on the side roads and up the backwaters of art history: Pierre Bonnard, John Singer Sargent, Albert Marquet, painters often relegated to footnotes in academic lectures.  These odd-man-out painters were the subjects of our conversations. And the world. Paint and the world. It was all visual luxury.

“See the light on Peggy’s hand? Sargent could paint that.”

“Marquet? He didn't work too hard (I mean that as a compliment), I mean he did not worry his paintings; there are no signs of a struggle.”

Joyfully eclectic in the land of art history, Glenn loved painters like Henri Fantin-Latour and Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, reveling in their “masterful ability to find equivalents between paint and things.”

It’s not that he forgot, or ignored, painting in New York, where he had once lived. In our sporadic correspondence he wrote to me, after a trip east:  “In recent years, and during visits to Big City museums, I was surprised how much I liked the Rothkos, they had held up, they were beautiful and poetic, and they interested me much more than the Pollocks and de Koonings and Barnett Newmans. They’re really very organic, and I noticed the Diebenkorn connection: beautiful surface without thick paint.” He saw those distinctions keenly, but it’s not what he painted.

    When Glenn moved to Texas he gravitated back to the Austin of his college days to see if one could really go home again, but even that was too much of a fast lane for undisturbed thought and close contemplation, so he sought out the slower streets and alleys of Smithville and the byways that wound through the landscapes of Bastrop, Fayette, Mason, and Lampasas counties. Hills, skies, creeks, roads, and trees became companions and models, lovingly rendered, always willing agents in seeking the equivalent between paint and things. In the larger scheme of frantic activity he left behind, this search was not even seen as an option. That kind of painting was “old stuff,” from the ‘30s and beyond. Perhaps even subversive.

Art dealers would probably classify Glenn as a landscape painter, for   people are made comfortable with classifications. But there are always exceptions that don’t easily fit into the pigeon hole: still life, figures, even fireworks. A night scene of people, a river, and pyrotechnic display in the sky…one might get a glimmer of an older art in this artificial and fleeting starry night, a reprise of van Gogh along the Rhone. Glenn might be amused by the irony of a comparison that linked France and Texas, but he would never hint at it in conversation. The beauty of the moment was enough. 

    Glenn would have bristled at the late nineteenth century French taunt “dumb as a painter,” which was launched at the Impressionists. But unlike Marcel Duchamp, his response wasn’t conceptual. He stubbornly painted his humble but beautiful surroundings and he filled them with compassion, imagination, and wit. We find this in his writings, which are sometimes notes, and sometimes one-paragraph essays. When he paints an old barn, he imagines the people who owned it, what they did with their lives, whether they were happy, and where they went…while wondering if he will have time at the easel to finish the painting before the fire ants find him.

    He found in nature something he sought in painting, and often in odd places.  Once he sent me a dried, mummified Texas blind snake, an underground creature rarely ever seen, embellished by his keen imagination and gracefully shaped, like the cursive dashes of his writing. 

“Look how elegantly the Texas blind snake shapes itself in death. a Celtic pin or, had there been two, pre-dynastic Egyptian earrings but it also reminds me of a bow Abyssinia? Crete? Well, anyway, this snake generously left itself on the planet in such a way that we may think of more than the snake itself. Why, in death, arrange oneself in artful symmetry!  I know, I know, the snake doesn’t really know about art and symmetry…so does it come down to this: Do our notions of beauty have to do with the patterns of life [and death]? Well of course they do. But I still like to think that the mummified shape of the blind snake was a last gasp effort at beauty.”

    Sometimes he would not write letters, but just send a practical joke, like the fake telescope black eye trick, or a whoopee cushion. Sometimes he would send a quotation he loved.


Wisdom is knowing what to overlook. William James

Seek simplicity, and distrust it. Alfred North Whitehead

Long only for what you have. André Gide

Extreme attention is the creative facility, and its condition is love.

                                                                       Carlos Fuentes

In some paintings he is fascinated by things that are difficult to capture, the transient, evanescent movement in nature, metaphors for arresting the fleeting moments of life. The play of shadows on trees, the glimpse of a wave as it crashes down onto a rocky beach. Many of his paintings have an uncanny familiarity, as if they are things one has seen, or sees every day. But when you look at familiar things through Glenn’s eyes, it is as if you are looking at them for the first time and seeing them through his slightly oblique awareness. A highway stretches into the dark night, into a valley and up a hill, and a brightly lit city appears in the distance. He is not on the highway. He stands beside the road, unseen, looking, a mute observer, and he invites you to join him, just to take a look. Although we met in the dark of night, Glenn always opens my mind to wonder and he turns my eyes to the light, to the sheer mystery and beauty of the world. 


                                        James Moore

                                        December, 2017


Jim Moore and Glenn as Winking Clown

Jim Moore and Glenn as Winking Clown