Two years ago today my friend (and friend to so many others) Larry Sommers passed away suddenly. Larry was the Health and Safety Coordinator and the Printmaking Technician at the University of Washington where I got my BFA in Printmaking. He was always there in his office in the Printmaking department - ready to answer any question, troubleshoot any problem, and most importantly have a good chat or a hearty laugh. He was extremely intelligent, politically passionate, and cared so much for the students he worked with. Did I mention he was funny? He was. I can still hear his laugh and picture that look he'd get on his face when you shocked him with some hilarious (or dirty) joke.
Larry had a way of bringing people together, through the information he shared with us as students or the warm atmosphere he created in the studio by just being there. The studio felt like a home away from home for so many of us, and a big part of that was due to Larry. We felt safe there - with him watching over us, and helping us make the art we loved without risking our heath to do it. For many of us, it was a time that was shaping such an important part of our future - the decision to be artists or to make art a part of our lives forever.
After I graduated I took a position as a Printmaking and Painting Tech at a small, private art school in our town. When I walked into a huge heath and safety disaster on my first day (for one - the school had no way of disposing their mineral spirits, had been storing them in huge barrels over the years, and hinted that I might just dump them outside behind the school) I called Larry. I was in way over my head. With his guidance I was able to organize the school's first Heath and Safety Committee that still stands today. Without his help and encouragement that would have never happened.
The last time I saw Larry I had been asked to visit a UW printmaking class and show my current portfolio of work. Part of me felt a little ashamed, because what I was showing was graphic design and illustration, not Printmaking. Larry was always excited to share with students what exactly people did with their BFA's. He kept a running list on a yellow legal pad. Each year he'd catch up with former students, add to the list and read it to the graduating class. I remember feeling filled with hope the year he read it to us. But somehow, returning as one of the people on the list I felt like I was betraying my roots. When I opened my portfolio Larry said "Wow! You can really see that you have a Printmaking background." Knowing that he could see that in my work made me beam - it meant the world to me.
He is missed.
Here is a link to the Larry Sommers Memorial Art Fellowship (currently accepting calls for submissions) at Seattle Print Arts.