I will never forget the first time I met Jack Richard.
It was about 14 years ago. A friend and I had just moved to Cuyahoga Falls, and we decided to stroll through the riverfront area on Front Street. When we were just across from Mr. Richard's studio, we saw a small, pudgy golden-colored dog, her muzzle white with age. As we admired this sweet dog, a tiny old man -- about as tall as I am -- came out and greeted us warmly. He introduced himself and his dog (her name was Honey). He offered to give us a tour of the studio, and we agreed.
Within a few seconds of walking into the studio, I knew I was in the presence of a master artist. I recognized a few of the works, particularly Mr. Richard's detailed portrait of late "Peanuts" artist Charles Schultz and golfing great Arnold Palmer (one of Richard's many commissioned portraits for golfers who received the Ambassador of Golf award). But that first meeting with the artist who created these portraits was just a cool experience. Since that time, I stopped by his studio on several occasions over the years, either to see his work or write about his latest exhibit.
So I was saddened to hear about his death earlier this month. Jack Richard, 92, died Aug. 6 after a single car accident near his studio.
Mr. Richard was probably best known for his portraits. A sampling of the people he was commissioned to do a portrait of include Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, and former presidents George H.W. Bush, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald Ford. He loved talking about the people he had met through the years through his portrait work. But the scope of his art was practically limitless. Landscapes, abstracts, still life, fantasy work -- he did it all.
But a big part of his life was in teaching.
Mr. Richard loved his students, and in my visits to his studio, I quickly came to realize that the successes of his many students was his favorite topic. Indeed, on one occasion, I was trying to do more of a story on Mr. Richard and his art, in connection with his portrait of First Lady Abigail Adams being displayed at the First Lady's library in Canton. I figured it would be a fairly easy story because Mr. Richard liked to talk. But I discovered that while he liked to talk, he did not like to talk about himself. This was part of his charm (even if it did make it exasperating for me). Despite my best efforts, he always steered the subject from himself to his students, and his expression was like that of a proud father any time he spoke about his many successful protégés. So, I did what any sensible writer would do in such a situation. While I did, of course, write about Mr. Richard, I did make sure to highlight his students as well. Sometimes, it's just wiser to surrender.
A sampling of his students include Chris Heindel, who designed and crafted the bronze lion at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and Andrew Voth, who was the director for the Carnegie Museum in Oxnard, Calif. Then there's Colleen Black, who was commissioned by Gen. Colin Powell to create a sculpture that would be presented to the Medal of Honor recipients under his command. And Mark Giangaspero, who worked with Mr. Richard and has one of his pieces in the permanent collection of the Butler Museum of American Art in Youngstown. And many, many more.
Mr. Richard was a World War II veteran, and was stationed in Japan for a period during the occupation. I'll never forget the story he once told me about how his unit got an extension on their stay in Japan: by convincing the higher-ups that more time was needed to study camouflage. He laughed as he described the absurd tactics they used to gain a few more months. Eventually, Mr. Richard said, the ruse was uncovered and they had to leave. But he always spoke fondly about his time there, and several of his works, including a couple of my personal favorites, have Japanese themes.
I don't think I ever heard Mr. Richard raise his voice or speak in an angry tone, but he did have many strong opinions, especially when it came to art coverage, particularly the fine arts. He also had no qualms in speaking his mind when he disagreed about something, but he always was a gentleman.
One thing Mr. Richard always stressed in our conversations was his belief that the student should always outshine the teacher. Given the reactions to his death I saw online, Mr. Richard touched a lot of lives and set a very high bar for his students to reach.