Work of long-time R-C photographer on display in Kent

By Diane Smith | Staff Writer Published:

For nearly 40 years, Richard Sweet was the "man behind the camera" for the Record-Courier, shooting thousands of photographs that would document Portage County's history.

For the first time since his death in 2005, that work will be on display for the public in Kent in three separate shows.

"A Timeless Community: Photographs of Richard Sweet" will open Wednesday and be on display until Aug. 9 at the School of Art Gallery, located on the second floor of the Art Building at Kent State University.

The event coincides with two other events in downtown Kent. "Time & Town: A Sweet History of Kent," will take place at the Downtown Gallery, 141 E. Main St., from July 24 through Aug. 24.

Meanwhile, the Kent Historical Society also will display more of Sweet's work at its museum at about the same time as the downtown gallery's show. "Richard Sweet: Art, Innovation and Community" will be the title of the event.

There will be a joint reception and art walk between the three events from 5 to 7 p.m. on July 25.

Anderson Turner, director of galleries for the School of Art, said the focus of all events will be to celebrate Sweet's work, and not to mourn his passing.

"There have been thousands of showings of Picasso's work since his death, but we don't mourn Picasso," he said. "The purpose of showing Richard's work is not to mourn him. It's to remind us of the quality of his work."

Brenton Pahl, graduate assistant, said he and school of art students spent months combing through the thousands of Sweet's photographs made over the years. About 45 to 50 of them will be displayed in the gallery, and another 24 to 30 will be displayed downtown.

"We've tried to keep the ones with a more artistic focus here," he said. "We've saved the Portage County and Kent photos for downtown." A few of the first photos selected for the exhibit at the School of Art show feature a horse show, a top-down photo of a child, and a shot taken near a wooden roller coaster in the 1960s. Another photograph shows people watching a piece of performance art at the School of Art.

Pahl, who has only been in Kent for a few years, said he enjoyed seeing how Kent and KSU changed over the years through the photographs.

"It was cool to see all the pictures from the 1970s, and see how the landscape has changed in Kent," he said.

Turner said he met Sweet several times as he photographed events at the gallery.

"He didn't really focus on the artist part of his work," he said. "He was more into the technical side. But you could always see the artist part, and even when he was just doing the job, he did it in his own way. You can really see more of the artistic side when you look into the way he worked ... That's what's exciting to me."

Sweet, who came to KSU to study architecture, ended up getting a degree in fine arts. He started working for the R-C in 1966, when he was still a student at KSU. He became full-time photographer in 1971.

Shortly after his graduation from KSU, he took a short course in photography in Cleveland, which featured the work of world-renowned photographer Ansel Adams. That sparked his lifetime interest in photography, and Pahl noted that he could clearly see Adams' influence in Sweet's work.

Sweet retired from the R-C in 2004, and died less than a year later. He was 65.

Prior to his death, he donated his collection of photographs and negatives documenting KSU's theater productions. A collector of antique cameras, he also had donated some of the more valuable ones to the Portage County Historical Society. He and his wife, Betty, also had set up a scholarship for students at the KSU School of Art, and prints of his work will be sold at the shows to raise money for the scholarship fund.

Turner said he was in touch with Betty Sweet for months to work out the details of the exhibits.

He noted that Pahl has an interest in becoming a curator, and can use these exhibits as work experience to further his career.

"I really think Richard would have liked that," he said.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1139 or

dsmith@recordpub.com

Facebook: Diane Smith, Record-Courier

Twitter: @DianeSmith_RC

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