I met Dan Wingren in 1980. That’s when I began modeling for his and other classes at the Meadows School of the Arts. I was also attending a Dallas community college, knocking off prerequisites for some sort of humanities degree. In 1986, I realized I wanted to teach studio art. So I quit modeling and attended UTD, got a bachelor’s degree, then applied to and got into SMU’s MFA program.
Larry Scholder, who chaired the Meadows studio art department at the time, assigned me to Dan, and for two years I was his teaching assistant. This anecdote illustrates the auspicious start to our partnership: in January of 1988, Dan and I met for lunch in the design studio to discuss the upcoming classes. We sat next to one another at one of those long tables, opened our identical paper lunch sacks, pulled out our identical lunches (peanut butter and raisins on whole wheat and a red delicious apple) and we cut our apples with our identical Swiss Army knives, which we discovered were gifts to us on our recent identical birthdays. We had a good laugh over all that.
Dan stood out in the Meadows School because, of all the teachers there at that time, he seemed to have the fewest prejudices. His knowledge was so vast that he effortlessly found significance in virtually every type of art. His highly structured demos, his presentations, and his gallery talks offered students new ways of thinking – as most teachers will. But Dan’s approach was very different. He looked at art from several angles that not only included the expected formal and stylistic aspects, and the history, but relative literature, music, politics, ethics, alchemy and more.
In the summer of 1997, I learned I’d soon be teaching college level 2-Dimensional Design in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I still live. Struck with fear, I called Dan. He assured me that I’d find my own way. And he was right. I did. That course became the most cherished of my teaching career.
When I envision Dan now I see his broad toothy smile, suspenders against a clean crisp shirt, the way he stood tall with his hands in his pockets, head held back a bit as he thought, particular moments teaching together in the design studio, and the final years of his life when he was undergoing treatment yet managed to keep his keen sense of humor—and so my memory of him returns to that smile.
I’d like to leave you all with something Dan said during one of my graduate committee meetings. Exasperated, I asked why it was so important to “draw from nature.” Dan replied, “Because the human mind can be so tedious and nature never is.”
Image: Dianne Schlies, Strength/Delicacy Contrast/Subtlety, Dan Wingren during lecture demonstration, 1988, ballpoint pen on stained paper, 12” x 9”
Courtesy of Dianne Schlies