As I mentioned in a post yesterday, untold hundreds of past and present University of Washington art students lost an important inspiration, ally, and friend this week with the untimely death of Larry Sommers. I can’t find information on the UW site regarding how long he was the tech in the printmaking program, but when I was a grad student there in the early 00s, it was clear he had been there long enough to have become thoroughly embedded into the fiber of the place.
In many ways, Larry was the printmaking program. When I was there, the future of the department was on shaky ground and my faculty were barely on speaking terms with one another. Larry was a calm eye in the storm; he had seen a lot of drama come and go and his only agenda was to help you troubleshoot the silkscreen exposure unit on the third floor or show you how to get that nice even aquatint you coveted.
The above photograph was taken outside Seattle Central before a protest march in 2004. Lynddie Englandesque thumbs-up aside, bending over for Bush was something Larry never considered doing. Firmly rooted in the social consciousness history of printmaking, Larry never used his artistic talent to achieve fame and fortune. He did, however, use it to produce stacks of silkscreened political posters that he distributed at parties.
Larry’s greatest work, of course, was his life and influence on the young people with whom he came into contact. Whether he was teaching you how to distinguish among various types of printing paper by smell or treating you to an a cappella fragment from his perennially half-finished rock opera about the inventor of lithography Alois Senefelder, the impact he had on those who knew him can not be easily quantified. I cound myself among the many who were transformed by knowing him.
UPDATE: David just found this touching post by a former student who clearly appreciated Larry’s sense of humor: http://www.yachinyou.com/?p=189. Whoever wrote it definitely has him pegged. To his/her vision of Larry’s personal heaven, I would add a pony. One time Larry told me if he could live in any place at any time, he’d be a rich girl in the 19th century because they all had ponies. I tried to tell him that if having a pony was a big priority for him, he could probably make it happen in his present life. He didn’t listen. He was too busy chanting “PONY PONY PONY!”