‘A Retrospective of Lenn Redman’
When: Sept. 10 through Oct. 28; reception, Oct. 4
Where: Leo Castelli Art Gallery, John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts and Presidents Gallery, upstairs lobby of Pearce Auditorium, Brenau University.
More info: To learn more about Lenn Redman’s legacy and to keep up with progress about the exhibit, visit www.lennredman.com.
Lenn Redman enjoyed a certain level of celebrity, but within the confines of his home, he was just “dad.”
“I don’t think there ever was a point in my life that I realized my father was a big deal,” confesses Mark Redman, an Oakwood resident.
“I knew he was really funny at our family gatherings and I knew he could draw, but that was about the extent of it.”
As children are prone to do, Redman didn’t give his father enough credit.
He was the Lenn Redman, sought-after caricaturist, self-taught animator and talented fine artist.
“I was oblivious to his work as a child,” Redman said.
“My dad was on the ‘You Asked For It’ television show in the ’50s drawing pictures of people while blindfolded. One of my earliest memories is crying and crying trying to figure out how they got my dad in that little box. TV had just started back then and that was a serious moment for me.”
Now Mark Redman has found the ideal way to honor his father’s memory and work, gathering several pieces for an exhibit that will go on display next month at Brenau University.
From ‘Fantasia’ to cartoons
Over the course of his half-century career, which began with a then 21-year-old artist setting up a caricature booth at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, Lenn Redman amassed many credentials to his name.
In 1939, he opened the Lenn Redman Commercial Art Studio and counted companies like Saturday Evening Post, Delta Airlines and Chevrolet as clients.
Around that time, he lent his talents to Walt Disney Productions to illustrate two scenes — the sorcerer’s apprentice and the dancing elephants — in the animated classic “Fantasia.”
In the 1960s and ’70s, Lenn Redman worked on a number of Saturday morning cartoons such as “Archie’s Fun House,” “Scooby’s Laff-A-Lympics” and “The Batman/Superman Hour.”
He even spent some time in the classroom instructing art students and found time to pen, illustrate and publish several books, including “How to Draw Caricatures.”
“I define caricature as an exaggerated likeness of a person made by emphasizing all of the features that make the person different from everyone else,” Lenn Redman wrote in the book’s introduction.
“The essence of a caricature is exaggeration not distortion. Exaggeration overemphasizes truth. Distortion is a complete denial of truth.”
During his career, Lenn Redman saved originals of some of his work and artifacts from his career. There are caricatures signed by celebrities like Sammy Davis Jr., oil paintings and dozens of artistic interpretations of fine art pieces.
“He even has a letter and picture from Muhammed Ali,” Redman said.
“My dad apparently wrote a letter to Muhammed Ali in the ’60s backing him in his stance to not fight in the (Vietnam) war. Doggone if he didn’t get a letter back from (Ali) saying how much he appreciated my dad’s letter.”
Hidden treasure trove
After Lenn Redman died in 1987 from pancreatic cancer, his son did know how to process the 18-wheeler packed with boxes of his father’s works and collections that pulled up to his home.
So he did the most logical thing he could think of: Stack the priceless collection in his basement and push thoughts of it to the back of his mind.
It wasn’t until about three years ago that he realized the treasure he’d kept hidden away all this time.
“I had a friend, who was an art major, staying with me. He wanted to read one night, so I told him I had some books in the basement. He goes down and comes back and asks what was in all the boxes.
“We go down together and started going through some of them, he says, ‘You need to put this up on your walls Mark.’”
It took more than 20 years and prodding from an outside source, but Redman finally grasped the magnitude of the collection he’d kept hidden away.
“I probably spent a year going through everything, trying to pick pieces and deciding how to hang them in a way that told a story,” Redman said.
At first, the visual tale was just for occasional visitors to Redman’s home, but then a chance meeting with Gainesville artist Rosemary Dodd changed everything. After their initial meeting, Dodd pulled together a group of Northeast Georgia artist to take a look at his displayed collection, Redman says.
“They all agreed that it was of historic significance and that it was a collection that needed to be shown,” Redman remembers.
Realizing that he’d need a little help pulling that off, Redman reached out to the local arts community, which ultimately lead him to Brenau University.
“He came and spoke to one of my classes. He wanted to show us his collection and get feedback about what to do next,” said Summer Wilson, a junior studio art major.
“My classmate, MeKenna Cipres, and I saw it as a great opportunity and said that we would love to help him sort through his basement collection.”
After accepting the two students as interns, Redman opened up his father’s collection to them.
“We started by condition reporting each piece, then cataloging and deciding what pieces would be good for a show,” Wilson said.
“After a few months, we were certain we’d made headway, but then we’d come back and there’d be more boxes. We were kind of in shock.
“It truly is a remarkable collection.”
‘He’s finally got it’
Together, Wilson and Cipres and thoughtfully arranged select pieces for inclusion in the inaugural exhibition of Lenn Redman’s artwork, “A Retrospective of Lenn Redman.”
“As we were going through the boxes, we saw a story unfold of a man who really pursued the life of a working artist,” Wilson said.
“We took that as our angle for the show to be an inspiration for our fellow students to show them that they can pursue art and be successful.”
The students also pulled historically significant pieces that could set the tone for the time period that marked the different decades of Lenn Redman’s career.
The exhibit will be on display from Sept. 10 through Oct. 28 in the university’s Leo Castelli Art Gallery inside the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts and the Presidents Gallery in the upstairs lobby of Pearce Auditorium.
“I loved being able to be a part of each step,” Wilson said.
“It’s been interesting to be able to take it from being packed in boxes, to professionally (assessed) by a conservation group to professionally framed and readied for an exhibit.”
On Oct. 4, Brenau will host a reception and gallery talk with Redman. It will be free and open to the public.
“We’ve just scratched the surface on this round. We hope to turn this into a traveling exhibit that spends its time on the road,” Redman said.
“Early on after my father passed, I wasn’t in the right mind set to know that he’d left me the good stuff. I’m sure he’d hoped I’d figure that out at some point in my life.
“I know my dad is looking down on me now thinking, ‘He’s got it now. It only took him 25 years, but he’s finally got it.’”