Melissa Merli: Watercolor world lost a giant in Glenn Bradshaw

Melissa Merli: Watercolor world lost a giant in Glenn Bradshaw

The April 4 death of Roger Ebert overshadowed the passings of other arts notables, among them Glenn Bradshaw, a professor emeritus of art at the University of Illinois.

The "giant in the world of watercolor" went the way most of us hope to go: quietly, while sitting in his chair at his home in the woods in northern Wisconsin.

"I guess maybe it's silly to be surprised when someone who is 91 years old with serious health problems passes away, but we were shocked," said his son, Todd. "His attitude was the best we had seen in years. He was still mentally sharp as a tack, and after a successful show at the Cinema Gallery in Urbana, he was gathering materials to start another batch of collages and negotiating for other shows in the fall."

Mr. Bradshaw, who died in late March, had shown his collages earlier this year at the Cinema Gallery but was unable to attend the opening reception.

He had taught at the UI from 1952 through '86 and before that, at University Laboratory High School in Urbana and Iowa State Teacher's College.

He led master classes as well, most notably the Springmaid Beach Watercolor Workshops in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The artist, who was born in Peoria, and his wife, Inez, moved to northern Wisconsin after he retired. They bought a lot in the woods in the late '60s and later built a modest summer home as well as a two-story garage there, with an upstairs studio for Mr. Bradshaw.

He lived alone with Dooley, his mutt, since late 2011, when his wife died of liver cancer. Dooley now lives with another son, Scott, in Peoria.

Todd Bradshaw, who lives in Madison, Wis., and his siblings visited their dad as often as possible and kept him stocked with food and supplies as he was basically housebound.

He had lost vision in one eye 10 years ago, leaving his five children wondering if he would quit making art.

"He didn't. It was business as usual, including teaching two-week workshops in South Carolina twice per year," Todd said.

Then Mr. Bradshaw developed what doctors misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis. The medications he took caused serious fatigue and hand tremors. During that time, he made little or no art.

Two years ago, he was hospitalized for a week after developing an ulcer. His children demanded that doctors straighten out his medications, and they did.

"Though his hands still weren't as steady as they once had been, about six months after Mom died he started working again," Todd Bradshaw said. "With a bad heart and diminished kidney function, he couldn't get up to the studio and could barely walk."

As a result, Mr. Bradshaw spent most of his time in a wheelchair at his dining room table, working on small collages.

Carolyn Baxley, owner of the Cinema Gallery, said people who saw those collages earlier this year at her gallery were "amazed."

"They commented that the works seem very young looking," she said. "But they were the output in just one year of a 90-year-old."

He created those modernist collages from pieces of earlier casein works on rice paper — those had been the subject of the cover story in the December-January issue of Palette magazine.

In addition to being a master watercolor artist, Mr. Bradshaw supported former students and other artists, among them retired Parkland College instructor Don Lake, also a master watercolor artist.

Lake knew Mr. Bradshaw only casually but found him to be a talented, intelligent and generous man. Todd Bradshaw shared a similar sentiment, saying his father was "a rare combination of a very kind, gentle, generous person with tremendous skills and talent, a passion for his work, and I think the ability to instill that passion in his students (and his children)."

Over his long career, Mr. Bradshaw showed his work frequently at the national and international levels. His resume lists numerous prizes, among them the Whitaker Prize in 1996 and '01 from the National Academy of Design in New York.

His works also belong to the permanent collections of various museum, institutions and corporations, among them the National Watercolor Society Collection and San Diego Museum of Art.

The Cinema Gallery will continue to carry Mr. Bradshaw's work.

Other deaths

— Irina Stewart of Champaign died April 13; she was just half the age of Mr. Bradshaw at the time of his death.

She had a degree in graphic design from the UI and started her career at Precision Graphics in Champaign. She later advised people on commercial and residential interior-design projects and after becoming a Master Gardener, on landscape design. She was a member of the Krannert Art Museum Council and helped organize its annual Petals and Paintings event.

"Irina was a passionate and talented painter, spending many hours in her home studio. She loved working in her beautiful flower garden creating unique spaces for her family and friends to enjoy," her obituary reads.

The Stewart family designated three arts organizations to receive memorials in honor of Mrs. Stewart: Station Theater, Box 2906, Station A, Champaign, IL 61825; Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign, IL 61820; 40 North 88 West, 1817 S. Neil, Champaign, IL 61820.

Another designee: The High School of St. Thomas More, 3901 N. Mattis Ave., Champaign, IL 61821.

— I knew Alison Fong Weingartner mainly as an excellent public relations person for the Champaign Urbana Ballet. She died April 27 at Carle Foundation Hospital at age 61.

She also had served on the board of directors of the CU Ballet. Memorials may be made to the Champaign Urbana Ballet, 2816 West Clark Road, Champaign, IL 61822 or via

Memorials for Mrs. Weingartner also may be made to H.M.D. Academy, c/o Master Namsoo Hyong, 1701 Woodfield Drive, Savoy, IL 61874.

She received her black belt in tae kwon do when she was 57.

UI theater

UI master of fine arts acting alumnus Brandon Dirden was nominated for a distinguished performance award from the new York Drama League for his work in August Wilson's "The Piano Lesson." He's in big company — literally and figuratively. Among the other 59 nominees are Alec Baldwin, Vanessa Redgrave, Scarlet Johansson and Nathan Lane.

Dirden also is up for a Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding lead actor, also for the Signature Theatre's revival of "The Piano Lesson." Those awards are to be handed out today in New York.

And UI Swanlund Chair Professor Dan Sullivan's production of "As You Like It," presented last summer at Central Park, received a Drama League nomination for outstanding revival of a play.

The 79th annual Drama League Awards will be given during a luncheon ceremony hosted by David Hyde Pierce on May 17 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square.

Dirden has another big role coming up. He will portray Martin Luther King Jr. in the American Repertory Theatre premiere of Robert Schenkkan's new play, "All the Way," about the early years of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration and the fight for civil rights.

Another UI MFA acting alum, Crystal A. Dickinson, will portray Coretta Scott King in that production in Cambridge, Mass. Portraying LBJ: Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad" fame.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

Topics (2):Art, Theater