This year’s Festival International artist is a teacher at heart. By Karen Kaplan

Monday, April 1, 2013

Although my husband has always been the love of my life, I have a confession to make: I have been in love with my college art professor for 25 years. In fact, I picked him up recently and over margaritas at LaFonda we caught up. I found that my love for him is as strong as ever.

You see, I love a good long passionate lecture, and that’s exactly what Fred Daspit delivered during my first Survey of the Arts I class at UL. And this went on, class after class — and again for Survey II. I too share a passion for the arts, and he was ready, willing and beyond able to quench that thirst.

Several years ago I was excited when I heard he was showing art at Gallery 549. I didn’t know that Fred had been making sculpture since his retirement. Suffice to say it was a beautiful show, and my husband and I returned home with two of his wonderful pieces.

Fred was born in St. Martinville and when he came of age joined the Air Force for four years. One month before he was discharged, he married the love of his life. After “honeymooning” in New Mexico for a year, he returned to his beloved Louisiana and got busy. He earned his B.A. in art education from UL, and his M.A. in fine art at LSU, all this in a mere four years.

He is an educator at heart and loves to share his abundant knowledge of art and architecture to any enthusiastic listener. There are legions of former students who have remained close to Fred throughout the years, even after his retirement, stopping by his studio to say hello and chat for a few minutes.

Fred was hired by then-USL to teach art education immediately after he graduated from LSU. And there Fred stayed for 36 years, doing what he loved: educating his students in the arts. He taught a myriad of classes from history of interiors to the survey of the arts classes I took.

He prepared a new course on Louisiana architecture in the fall of 1980 and spring of ’81. He traversed the state taking photographs of buildings, then researching each building and the architect responsible, taking in excess of 3,000 slides relevant to teaching this class. He also traveled to London, Rome, Florence, Venice, Amsterdam and Paris, doing research and study. These European trips culminated in his photographing and cataloguing over 3,000 slides for his art history lectures.

This man has lived and breathed art and architecture for so many years that it makes perfect sense his current work encompasses all of that and more. He was approached to be the official artist for Festival International this year, and a compilation of three wood sculpture pieces graces this year’s poster. It’s a real beauty.

Fred likes to listen to music when making his sculptures, usually opera, and admits his mind wanders back to his travels as he works. He labels a lot of the process “ritual.” He begins a sculpture with a rough sketch of his concept on thin plywood. Someone cuts out the sketch for him since Fred has macular degeneration and is legally blind.

He then begins to “build” the piece by attaching small wood bits of different shapes to his “support” to create texture. To further define the piece and give it its individuality, he utilizes even smaller bits of thin wood circles, squares, triangles, ovals, wood dowels, Popsicle sticks, practically any shaped piece of wood could find itself on one of his sculptures. He then “ages” the wood through a process that renders it the look of rusty iron. Sometimes he will integrate a little color, blue, red, green, or even gold leaf. I remember he taught me the art of gold leafing 25 years ago.

Fred admits that no piece has ever been completed the way it began. He acknowledges his muse arrives and guides him to a state in which he doesn’t really “think” about the construction but instead “feels it.”

His pieces have a strong presence about them and all those years of art and architecture merge in his sculpture. His love of ornamentation is evident as the pieces are intricate puzzles of design that grab the viewer and pull them into his world. One can’t seem to pinpoint the exact origin; it doesn’t fit into one time period or architectural style. One piece may appear Balinese, another Gothic, periods all seem to merge into one. No other artist could create these grand works, as they are a manifestation of Fred’s life and unique to his experiences.

“The metaphysical quality of Fred’s sculpture is what continues to hold my attention; in other words, that which transcends the reality before us such as the structure, the wood, the paint, the look of rusted metal,” says Donald LeBlanc, owner of Gallery 549 on Jefferson Street where Fred exhibits his work. “What resonates with the viewer is a hint of the incorporeal, the ethereal and the spiritual. There is also the possibility that his work exists at this time because it has arrived from some other realm. It may originate from another culture, from another time period or, better still, from elsewhere in the universe, in which case we may have only begun to comprehend the power of his efforts.”

I was excited once again when I learned Fred has a solo show opening May 1 at Gallery 549. This selfless 82-year-old man stole my heart years ago, and I’m good with that. He’s easy to love. His work is easy to love. See the show and I’m sure you will fall for him, too.

As Fred and I parted, I asked him if he has any regrets. “Any regrets? Good Lord, no! I’ve had a most fortunate life blessed with wonderful, good people.”

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