Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Norman Bradley


David Tanner

Whatzup Features Writer

Published March 25, 2004

Heads Up! This article is 18 years old.

Wearing jeans, a neatly ironed striped, button down-collared shirt

and soft suede leather boots, retired IPFW art department associate

professor Norman Bradley moves effortlessly through the suburban

ranch style home he and his photographer wife Dixie share in

southwest Fort Wayne en route to their shared basement studio.

A smattering of the couple’s work is scattered in the upstairs

rooms, then gathering in numbers, they seem to cascade along the

stairway walls before erupting in a bounty of dozens of works – old,

new and in progress – hung, stacked and stored like a combination

gallery and storage room.

Overwhelming in quantity, style and color, the scene cries out for

guidance which Bradley kindly offers in the comfortable, familiar

manner of the art historian and artist he remains.

Alluding to several deft landscapes which have been the subject of

his efforts over the last two years, Bradley volunteers that he’s not

a ‘plein air’ painter, rather he works from his imagination and

intuition.

“These are not of a specific place or time,” he explains, “but pure

invention. They draw on memory and feeling. I don’t work from the

photographs Dixie has taken during our many travels but from here in

this basement where I draw my inspiration.

“Some viewers look to spot, identify objects like trees, houses and

so on, but that’s not what they’re about. I’m a ‘painterly’ painter, and it is the paint and its quality that is the subject matter.

“Purposely I keep them small. I began the series with these smaller

(8 x 10-inch) images then moved up to these larger (18 x 24-inch)

pieces. The idea is that I want the viewer to move closer and examine

the impasto and inspect the brush strokes, and blotches of color.

“For my nonrepresentational work I use a much larger field (measured

in square feet, not inches) and they are better to view from a

distance to get the effect.”

Bradley confesses to being a fast painter. After first rapidly

covering his canvas to completion he may go back and revisit certain

paintings, sometimes years later, to “touch up” a spot, but he’s

mostly interested in capturing the immediacy of the creative act and

wants the viewer to have the same experience.

On the other, hand in other pieces like the pair of Abe Lincoln

portraits he continues to nurture the images and, though they are two

years old, he doesn’t consider them quite finished.

The Lincoln paintings can be traced to Bradley’s long and avid

interest in American and the Civil War history, a fascination that

was perked when he served as a U.S. Army illustrator between his

academic studies in Mexico.

Born in Fort Wayne, the youngest of six siblings, Bradley grew up

during the Depression. When his older brothers and sister moved out

of the nest. his mother rented out rooms of the family’s home on

Fairfield to families whose relatives were patients at the old

Lutheran Hospital across the street. (“It was a bed and breakfast

before we knew what they were,” Bradley added.)

His father, who eked out a living in the insurance business, had

flown bi-winged aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force in World

War I and along with his wife encouraged the young Bradley’s ideas of

higher education. But, alas, there was no money after he graduated

from South Side, so he began his pursuit in the fine arts at the old

Fort Wayne Art Institute.

After a year there Bradley and two like-minded classmates – Don

Kruse and John Heitzman – pooled resources (Bradley earned his from

working at the former Centlivre and Falstaff brewery) and headed off

to Mexico City in Heitzman’s 1940 Plymouth. Bradley would return

several times to Mexico City College (later in his own 1950 Buick)

and the brewery until he graduated in 1959. After time out for the

military he would earn his master’s at the University of the Americas

in 1964. (“It was essentially the same school; only the name had

changed,” said Bradley.)

During his studies in both art history and Spanish, Bradley became

fascinated with the field of pre-Columbian art, a subject, along with

Spanish, which continues to inspire and inform his work to this day.

Moreover he acknowledges his admiration for painters like Turner,

Constable and Bellows.

He launched his extensive run of shows (more than 200 so far) almost

immediately after graduation and then found work as an art history

and painting instructor at Parsons College in Iowa before he returned

to Fort Wayne in 1967 to the Art Institute and later IPFW, from where

he retired in 2000.

Bradley’s work can be seen in private and permanent collections and

at public places like Chops, and he’s preparing an exhibition for the

Artlink “Self-Portrait” show scheduled to open April 9. The event

which will feature upwards of 125 entries should be an exciting vista

of local and area artists with specially taken, real-time photos

affixed to each entry as they are hung.

“I think some who haven’t been in touch lately may find my offering

a little shocking since I’ve lost my hair as the result of the

treatments I’m undergoing since I was diagnosed with lymphoma,”

volunteered Bradley. “It (the cancer) seems to be under control and

they’re taking care of it.”

Aside from the forthcoming Artlink invitational Bradley is excited

about a summer’s showing in the Focus Gallery at the Fort Wayne

Museum of Art. Although it hasn’t been made exactly formal, FWMA

representatives have extended an invitation to Bradley for a

two-month solo appearance which will focus on the cross-over between

his landscapes and abstract renderings.

“There’s an obvious similarity with the way I fashion clouds and

landscapes and my nonrepresentational work, and I was pleased that

they (the Museum) recognized the carry over,” Bradley said. “I’m

honored to have a chance to have my work there.”

Although Bradley expresses some disappointment in the fact that some

people these days don’t appreciate the great influence of American

abstract painters (a visitor to one of his exhibitions once scribbled

“a waste of paint” on a comment card), he has faith that the general

public will understand, maybe even like his paintings.

In the meantime, while people catch up with Bradley, he and his wife

will no doubt continue their travels to Latin America and Europe to

refine their focus and frame their fields in search of that very

special place.

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