Museum exhibits highlight former Springfield artists

Randolph H. Deer has been associated with the Springfield Museum of Art for nearly 75 years. Paintings he's created over a 50-year span are part of an exhibition of his work now on display. Courtesy photo
Randolph H. Deer has been associated with the Springfield Museum of Art for nearly 75 years. Paintings he's created over a 50-year span are part of an exhibition of his work now on display. Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

By Brett Turner

Artists who have lived in and were inspired by Springfield are sharing their creations in two recently opened exhibitions at the Springfield Museum of Art.

“Paintings by Randolph H. Deer” in the Deer Gallery features the works of a man whose association with the museum spans nearly 75 years, while “Beneath the Smokestacks: Paintings by David Knapp” in the Halley & Klein Galleries includes a painting of one of Springfield’s noteworthy businesses and one for which he earned a local award.

The museum, located at 107 Cliff Park Rd., is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 12:30-4:30 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students with ID and seniors ages 65-older and free for ages 17-under.

As a young man, Deer earned the museum’s inaugural Young Artist Award in 1946 when the museum was new, and his enthusiasm for art, the museum and the city haven’t wavered. Now nearly 90, he spends his time between homes in Florida and Indiana, but has shared his benevolence and creativity with the museum.

Back in 1946, he won the museum’s inaugural Young Artist Award. A Korean War veteran, Deer was Executive Vice President of Bonded Oil here and supported various Springfield organizations.

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For a 1993 Springfield Museum of Art capital campaign, Deer underwrote construction of the Randolph H. Deer Gallery. In late 2019, he made a gift of $1 million to the museum, the largest individual donor financial gift in its history.

“He’s incredibly special, a painter and a lover of the arts,” Jessimi Jones, Executive Director of the Springfield Museum of Art, said.

The exhibit, which was originally scheduled to open last winter but delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, has 20 Deer works from the 1960s up through today. They are large-scale and many are of landscapes done in abstract and expressionism styles.

“It’s very thoughtful work,” said Jones. “You can tell they are based on real places he’s recognized, from California to Ireland and in between.”

One of Deer’s proudest achievements is an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters honor from Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis for outstanding achievement in the arts and humanities, and for community engagement and public service.

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This exhibition is open through Nov. 8.

Knapp was a foundryman and engineer by trade, with painting a hobby, although in the last six years since his retirement he’s taken up painting full-time in New Albany.

A former resident of Springfield’s Ridgewood neighborhood, Knapp won a best in show award at the museum’s Juried Members Exhibition in 1971 after his wife, Estelle, submitted the painting “Kiln Tire,” which is part of the exhibit.

His work in foundries gave him a unique perspective. A key to Knapp’s art is to not just show the factory itself, but those who labor there.

“He uses color in a real interesting way, not drab paintings of a factory, but vibrant,” said Jones. “He knows the process and how people work and recognizes the power of machinery and buildings. But he wanted to focus on labor. You’ll notice he has people doing their jobs in every single image.”

Local visitors may be especially drawn to Knapp’s depiction of the O.S. Kelly Company, the Springfield business that makes piano plates for Steinway & Sons, one of the world’s most prestigious piano manufacturers.

The Knapp exhibition runs through Nov. 29.

Other current exhibitions include “Celebrating Women: Female Artists from the Permanent Collection,” in recognition of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, including acclaimed artist Yayoi Kusama’s sculpture “Pumpkin” and “Vision 2020: Dayton/Kyoto Print Exchange 10th Exhibition.” Opening Aug. 15 will be the 74th Annual Juried Members’ Exhibition.

For more information on the Museum of Art and its exhibits, visit its social media pages.

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