Dean Meeker, American (1920 - 2002)

Dean Meeker, American (1920 - 2002)

Dean J. Meeker was an internationally recognized printmaker and sculptor, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dean Meeker was born in Colorado on May 18, 1920, to the late Isaac and Jeanette (Edwards) Meeker. He attended Northwestern University part-time on the G.I. Bill, and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he earned the degrees of Bachelors and Masters of Fine Art.

In 1946, Meeker began his teaching career at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, and during his unprecedented 46-year tenure in the Department of Art, served under every Dean in the history of the School of Education. It is also notable that he was the first Art Department faculty member at the UW to have earned a Masters of Fine Art degree.

Although Dean’s developing interest at the Art Institute was sculpture, at the University of Wisconsin he soon began to draw upon past experience to pioneer expanding fields of artistic expression. One of the ways he supported himself in his late teens during the depression was by painting billboards for a sign company, and when he moved east to Chicago, he found similar work. It was here, at a Midwest signage shop, that he was exposed to silk-screen printing techniques.

With his infectious exuberance and creativity, Meeker transformed this once commercial process into evolving generations of increasingly complex expression. He found his motivating interest in art reflected in the Paul Klee quote “Art is Process” - that one discovers principles through exploration, rather than allowing known principles to limit the work.

In 1948, Meeker began teaching silk-screen by way of an unofficial and unaccredited course that he offered to his students. The popularity of his classes led to the creation, in 1950, of the first ever university-affiliated course in serigraphy.

In 1954, he received the first Graduate School Research Grant awarded to Studio Art Faculty. In 1957, he was invited to exhibit the first one-person serigraphy show at the Print Department of the Art Institute of Chicago, which was instrumental in breaking the “fine art” barrier for this medium. In 1959, while developing an innovative combination of serigraphy and intaglio printing, he was awarded the first Guggenheim Fellowship in the UW Art Department. Dean’s work held the distinction of being the first of any faculty to be the subject of a doctoral thesis in Art History.

Meeker used his Guggenheim Fellowship, one of the many fellowships and grants awarded to him during his career, to build on his expertise of the intaglio process. It was a year of study in France that culminated in a one-man show at the La Gravure Gallery, Paris. He was one of the first printmakers to overprint silk-screens with polymer intaglio and, and to this end, he collaborated, with engineer John McFee, to invent the Meeker-McFee motorized etching press. The combination of these techniques allowed him to build images so seemingly three-dimensional that, as one critic said, they “almost dance and sing.”

It was this progression, from the flat sheet of the serigraph, to the combination of silkscreen and intaglio that brought Dean full-circle, back to his first love of sculpture. By the time he formally retired from the University in 1992, his artistic energy was prolific, as he cut, cast, rolled and formed bronze, copper, stainless steel, wax, wood and marble into figures and forms - from the small and personal, to the truly monumental.

In 1988, the Hakone Open Air Museum in Japan commissioned Prof. Meeker to produce a large bronze sculpture entitled “Minotaur” for the 2nd Rodin Grand Prize Exhibition. He was one of only two Americans selected for this International Competition, and was awarded the Utsukushi-Ga-Hara Prize for his work.

Professor Meeker loved teaching almost as much as he loved creating. He inspired his students with his unquestionable passion and dedication to the field of art. He took great pride in following the achievements of his student’s careers, and, when at a loss to put a name with the face, he would ask, “Describe your work”, which would bring back the details of their relationship. His advice to students was tellingly focused: “Get up, go to work, and keep your brushes clean”.

During his career, Meeker exhibited in 90 one-man shows, and was recognized as one of the outstanding printmakers in the country. During his tenure at the University of Wisconsin, the Department of Art’s graphics program ranked as “world class” and “number one in the nation” – due, in no small part, to Dean’s contribution to the faculty.

Professor Meeker also served as a Juror for prestigious competitions, contributed to numerous publications, and catalogued over 180 prints. His sculpture and prints appear in over 100 collections throughout the world which include, in part: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee Art Center; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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