By Dan Tennant
Through September 30th, visitors to the Cazenovia Public Library Art Gallery will enjoy a remarkable exhibition of artwork by New Woodstock artist Gordon F. Muck (1926-1994).
Included are fourteen paintings on canvas, nine watercolors, and four drawings—all made possible through the generosity of Muck’s widow, Bertha Muck (1931-2013), who bequeathed her own private collection of her husband’s work to the New Woodstock Free Library. Additionally, a scrapbook documenting Muck’s life is on display as well as prints of two of his earlier floral watercolors available for purchase.
It has been said that people are born with their life’s work already inside them. Such was the case with teacher and artist, Gordon F. Muck. Born in Syracuse in 1926, he showed a propensity for drawing and painting at an early age. As a senior in high school, he won a four- year scholarship to study art at Syracuse University. At age 19, he was painting floral and local scenes. By the time he was a junior in college, he was displaying his artwork and giving painting demonstrations; his desire to teach was strong even at age 20.
After SU, Muck took a teaching position in the small community of DeRuyter. Here he taught a promising young student named Nancy Skeele, who later received a full art scholarship. Each year, DeRuyter was the smallest school to enter the Scholastic Art Awards Competition, and yet each year their students won the most awards of all the schools participating. Nancy Skeele, who later became Mrs. Nancy Edwards, went on to have an outstanding career as an art teacher and artist.
After seven years at DeRuyter, Muck transferred to Nottingham High School where he taught for four years. While there, he mentored a student teacher named Jim Ridlon, who would continue his full and varied career as a professional football player, professor of art at SU, and nationally recognized artist.
A comment in 2000 from Ridlon, “When I first walked into Gordon’s art room, I saw this skinny, over-dressed chatterer and thought I had just entered scene three of a bad play. I was dead wrong…. I soon found out that his life revolved around his students,… and I wanted so much to be like my mentor.”
The years 1961-1965 became a new venue for Muck’s huge talent. He became art supervisor for the entire Syracuse school system at the age of only 35. In this capacity, he oversaw the art departments of all city schools and also became the art critic for The Post Standard in 1963.
Muck’s final teaching position was at Fayetteville-Manlius High school where he served as department chairperson and full time high school art teacher. During these years from 1965 to 1981, his department won as many awards and scholarships at the annual Scholastic Art Awards Competition as any other school district in the state. His name was synonymous with success in that competition.
Muck loved being an artist, and his passion for art was infectious. No matter where he taught, he squeezed every drop of talent out of each of his students, and they excelled.
An artist statement from Gordon Muck: “My work for the most part reflects an involvement with the landscape and growing things here in Central New York. This is the area I know best, love deeply, and feel most at home in…. I would term myself a romantic naturalist following a continuum that is strongly based on age old traditions…. I paint and draw because I love to and feel compelled to do so. I enjoy the challenge that is ever present in any creative endeavor. I love beauty in all of its multifaceted forms and if in some small way I am able to impart some of this feeling, then perhaps I have succeeded.”
Muck was a serious painter and had an exhibit at the Everson in 1976. Although he was not well-known outside of Central New York, around the Syracuse area he was a legend. His influence continues today as many of his former students still create or teach, and they always acknowledge the immense debt they owe to his influence. Add art critic Katherine Rushworth’s praise–“flamboyant…colorful…creative…unforgettable”—and you have Gordon F. Muck, teacher and artist extraordinaire.
The Cazenovia Public Library Art Gallery is open during regular Library hours: 9:00 am to 9:00 pm weekdays and 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Saturdays. Stop by and enjoy the rare opportunity to see the work of Gordon F. Muck. It’s a visual feast.
For more information on the art exhibits or other events at the Cazenovia Public Library, call 655-9322 or visit www.cazenoviapubliclibrary.org.