A Tribute to a Dear Friend and Kitemaker. . .
Most of you probably didn’t know that bill had a soft spot for Las Vegas. Once or twice a year (at least), he would run away from responsibilities in Lubbock, take Betty Street in tow, and spend a couple of days in Vegas. Not the casual gambler, but certainly not the high-stakes high-roller you might read about, bill was loyal to Circus-Circus, where he knew the pit-bosses by name, chatted up the waitresses, and polled employee-friends on where the hot dollar-slots might be. I note this facet of bill’s life because it’s typical of the unexpected faces that you might not have seen from bill.
I knew bill was kindred spirit as soon as I met him – it was at the American Kitefliers Association Convention in Newport, RI in 1986 – here was another who had chosen geometric patchwork as a statement for geometric kites! If you have the issue of Kitelines Magazine from just after that Convention, you’ll find a two-page spread with one of my first kites featured. But you’ll also see me talking with bill and Betty Street at the moment the photo was taken. From that moment, he began teaching, encouraging, and mentoring me, just as he had done for so many others as an art professor for so many years at Texas Tech University. He quickly re-enforced the ideals I had tried to make my own; quality workmanship, dynamic use of color, and fierce individual creativity. That personal thumbprint was bill’s measuring stick for his students’ work.
Those years in the late 1980’s took bill and Betty to kite festivals around the world and we were all lucky to see the new creations that flew out from the pair’s machines. After an invited trip to Malaysia, he was so impressed with the kite culture; he looked for a way to repay his hosts for his life-changing experience. Establishing the international kite retreat at Junction, TX began that payback. For ten years, bill helped to bring the world’s best to this out-of-the-way art campus. Even one “junction experience” is liable to top your kite memories (chasing armadillos, THE BAT CAVE, tubing, blow darts, baseball and Mrs. Sato, Jurgen and the box), but the long-term effect of this international exchange cannot be underestimated.
Bill began moving away from making just one great kite at a time and started concentrating on series of kites of different types that all had the same unifying image – his Owl Series is as fine a group of kites as exists. He was one of the first to share his patchwork techniques to the German kite-fanatics who descend every year on the Danish island of Fano. His expertise as educator came forward in countless workshop situations, with children or adults. He was a great listener and kept his own creative juices flowing with ideas from his classrooms.
Just a couple of years ago, Stan Swanson (Condor Kites, if you’d forgotten) and I travelled to Lubbock for an evening to honor bill. He was the first head of the Art Department at Texas Tech, so it was appropriate that he be honored (remember, he started that department over thirty years ago), yet nearly every subsequent art department head was there in attendance that evening. Not to mention the numbers of students who also made the pilgrimage. This show of respect and love for bill brought this student to tears.
Knowing bill as we did, seeing his kites, his trademark red jumpsuit, and corncob pipe, we might forget that bill had a career as a fine artist before most of us knew him. His rope sculptures give insight to his patience, craftsmanship, and creativity. (They used miles of rope in their fabrication, and Stan always laughed, thinking about bill’s local ranch-supplier, asking, “how much do you need!?”)
You might also not have known that after a stint in the Air Force, stationed in Palau, bill went back there as an artist and amassed a notable collection of carved “storyboards”. These he gifted to the Mingei Museum in San Diego.
I think the trait that binds all these varied facets together is the trait of giving. As mentor and teacher, bill gave support, knowledge, friendship, and criticism to his students. To friends, he gave almost constant insight in to the life of a true Texan gentleman. As art advocate he gave sizable and notable collections to the Mingei Museum and the Drachen Foundation, not to mention years of service -after his formal retirement – to Texas Tech. bill will be missed by all, but for those of us lucky enough to know him, we know that there will always be some of bill inside us. We might even have to learn to runaway to Vegas now and then – it might be just the tonic to push us to that next great project.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
August 25, 2009
Bill passed on quietly at his home in Lubbock, Texas on Saturday, August 8th, he will be missed by us all.