Jim Leedy was a painter, printmaker, sculptor, performance and mixed media artist, but he considered clay to be his preferred medium.
“Clay has always been part of my life,” he said told writer Kara Rooney. “I grew up playing with it.”
He added: “But from the start of my life I knew I was an artist. And it’s strange because there was very little art around.”
A retired artist and professor at the Kansas City Art Institute, Leedy helped run the Crossroads Arts District. He died early Sunday morning at the age of 91 in Lake Lotawana, Missouri.
Leedy was a professor in the Department of Sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute for over 40 years, from 1966 until his retirement in 2008.
Artist Hugh Merrill began teaching at KCAI in 1976.
“And I don’t really remember the first time I met him,” Merrill told KCUR, “but I remember a general feeling here is this guy who’s bigger than life, with that jacket on. jeans on and through the denim jacket, it’s probably 2000 different types of buttons. ”
“And, it was like, this guy is really cool,” Merrill said. “You know, a stage character and a larger than life character.”
At the cost of renting space in Westport for a studio and gallery, Leedy began looking for a new location. In the 1980s he purchased dilapidated buildings along Baltimore and Wyandotte in downtown Kansas City and co-founded the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center in 1985 to 1919 Wyandotte. He encouraged others to move into the neighborhood.
The area, now known as the Crossroads Arts District, is full of restaurants, shops and galleries.
“A lot of people would agree if I said he was a visionary,” his daughter, Stephanie Leedy, told KCUR. “Because by buying these buildings and just diving into something, he could see that there was a future here on earth. “
Leedy was born November 6, 1930 in McRoberts, Kentucky, and raised in rural Montana, Ohio, and Virginia. His artistic talents led him to stints in caricature for a local newspaper and in photography – a skill he honed while serving in the United States Army from 1951 to 1952 during the Korean War.
After the war, he moved to New York where he worked in the same circles as abstract expressionist artists such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock.
He went on to obtain a BFA from the Richmond Professional Institute (now known as Virginia Commonwealth University), an MFA from Southern Illinois University, and an MFA in Art History from Michigan State. University.
Leedy began teaching at Northern State College in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and from 1960 to 1964 at the University of Montana in Missoula, where he formed influential friendships with ceramic artists Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos.
In 1966, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to take a professorship at the Kansas City Art Institute, where he taught for 42 years – and continued to do art.
“Well inspired by the history of art, including early cave paintings, non-Western sculpture, ancient Chinese pottery, Méret Oppenheim, and abstract expressionism – Leedy says his best teacher is nature,” wrote curator Heather Lustfeldt when Leedy received a 2003 Visual Artists Award from the Charlotte Street Foundation. “His works and assemblages of totemic and visceral clay reveal his respect for nature and the creative spirit that inhabits him.”
Leedy’s service during the Korean War and the horrors he witnessed is reflected in his work, including War, which was exhibited in 2000 at the Grand Arts Gallery in Kansas City. It featured, as Leedy described it, “a massive wall of skulls and bones titled ‘The Earth Lies Screaming.'”
“With their brilliant colors and lunar surfaces, some call them (Leedy’s paintings) cosmic”, wrote former Kansas City Star art critic Alice Thorson. “His ceramics – made of discarded, torn and twisted clay – broke new ground.”
Leedy’s work is in the collections of many museums, including the American Craft Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Leedy family posted a statement on Facebook on Sunday: “We are reassured to know that Jim will continue to live on through his extravagant stories, genuine friendships and influential works of art he has created around the world. Thank you to all who have shared, and continue to share, your memories of Jim. It fills our hearts during this difficult time. “
Services are on hold.