On a recent rainy Saturday morning, a constant stream of visitors made their way up a steep driveway to the burner Hugh merrillthe Central Hyde Park home studio. They were friends, neighbors and alumni and for an hour Merrill gave away free prints to anyone who wanted one.
“I think the power of art is when it’s in someone’s sight, when they’ve got it, they put it in place, they look at it,” Merrill explained, wrapping an impression in a large plastic bag. “The people who have collected me have been wonderful and I love them. But the work is not just for people who can afford it.”
Artist Bryan prather woke up early and drove from St. Louis. He said that “something clicked” for him sixteen years ago, when he was a student in Merrill’s art class at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI). Prather said he was eager to find a place on his walls for the work of a favorite instructor.
“I saw her post on Facebook and thought it would be the most amazing piece of art I could have right now,” said Prather. “It’s going to be an amazing piece to hang up. I’m so excited.”
About twenty framed works and fifty large rolled prints covered a work table in the center of the studio. Due to the large number of artwork he wanted to gift, Merrill asked his friend and fellow artist Kevin McGraw for help.
“When they walk up the aisle, it’s like they have this crazy glee in their body language in the way they approach the house, like, ‘Should I go now? OK, is it my turn? ‘”Observed McGraw.” And then they come in here and it’s like,’ Oh my God, this is framed. ‘”
Merrill is a prolific artist. Since graduating with a Masters of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Art, he has held an art exhibition almost every 18 months. Now 70, he has piles of prints he wants to put in good homes. For Merrill, that meant reaching out to his friends on Facebook.
“I have work at modern Art Museum and about 70 or 80 other museums, I’ve lost count. “Merrill said.” I’ve done projects on every continent except Antarctica and have upcoming projects in China and Buenos Aires. In a lifetime, you accumulate a lot of works of art. “
Donating works of art seems to be part of Merrill’s process. During his long career he also collected the works of friends and collaborators like Peter Winslow Milton and Ed paschke. Over the years, he has donated many prints from his personal collection to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
“So that’s part of my life, giving stuff,” Merrill said. “So now I’m probably in the last five years of my teaching at Kansas City Art Institute, and I’m looking to live a much calmer life.”
Justin bell hid a print under his arm before returning to his car. He graduated from the KCAI Sculpture Department in 1994. Bell now works as a blacksmith artist in Kansas City.
I think what he’s doing is great, ”said Bell. “Being an artist myself, I fully understand where he comes from. It is much more precious to have to work in someone else’s hands. “
Merrill said he wanted to donate prints he considered important.
“It’s not just about cleaning the studio,” Merrill said. “The work that I donate is work that is in museums. It is work that has been exhibited in large galleries in Kansas City and Chicago. I want this work to be in the hands of my students, teachers. with whom I have worked over the years. “
Chas Titus came to get an imprint for his mother who had been friends with Merrill for a long time.
“It’s a very, very generous gesture,” enthused Titus. “I think it shows a lot of his wisdom and his years and his life experiences that this is something he just decided to do. I think it’s really impressive.”
Prather loaded the framed print into his car before returning to St. Louis. He said his former teacher always found ways to inspire him.
“I think it’s absolutely amazing,” said Prather. “In fact, it affects my thought process now, even today. If I was a more prolific artist, like with my painting, and I had a surplus of art, then, yeah, that’s something. thing I would like to do. “