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Renowned Kent artist Joseph O'Sickey dies (with gallery)

By Jeremy Nobile | Staff Writer Published: July 25, 2013 4:00 AM
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Joseph O'Sickey lived for art.

He began drawing at 4 years old, sketching the barnyard birds his grandmother would hatch. He dedicated seven decades to painting and teaching in Ohio.

He died Monday, one day after an exhibition of his work at the Canton Museum of Art called "Joseph O'Sickey: Unifying Art, Life and Love" came to an end. He was 94.

"When he was painting, he was his most alive," said M.J. Albacete, executive director of the Canton Museum of Art. "That's all he dreamt about doing, to get back to the easel, back to the canvas."

Albacete considers the past exhibition, which featured 160 pieces of O'Sickey's work, as the capstone of the renowned artist's career.

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While ever humble, Albacete said the adoration O'Sickey and his works received spurred his energy despite waning health in his twilight years.

O'Sickey was awarded the Ohio Governor's Award for the Arts in the individual artist category this past May.

"This recognition, the show, brought him to life. I think it made him want to live longer," Albacete said. "And what other proof of that do you need that he passes after his exhibition closes?"

According to O'Sickey's obituary, the Twin Lakes resident battled lymphoma for the past two years. A private service was held Tuesday at the Wood-Kortright-Borkoski Funeral Home in Ravenna.

O'Sickey was known to have his own style, Albacete said. He taught and embraced the idea of capturing multiple perspectives. And while he was influenced by French impressionists, O'Sickey had his own unique take on the style and a way of making it his very own.

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Albacete describes O'Sickey's style as "spontaneous."

"I wanted to do my own things," O'Sickey told the Record-Courier in May. "I wasn't interested in what was going on in New York. I knew different artists, the great artists, would do work out of the mainstream."

Albacete said many artists like to consider their works as a view through a window, but O'Sickey took a different approach.

"For Joe, his art works best when your attention is drawn not through the window, so to speak, but to the surface of the paper. You're looking at the work on the paper and how he captured the scene," Albacete said. "That's the beauty of Joe's work."

"I made no conscious effort to decide on what subject I was going to draw," O'Sickey said in May. "I drew on my way to work. I'd get out of the streetcar and draw. I'd draw in the wintertime. When I was working in Akron, I would pass the racetracks on the way to teaching and I'd go early and draw. I didn't go to the races. I just went to draw the horses and a lot of strange people. I didn't have to choose a subject matter; the subjects took me over."

Many of O'Sickey's prominent oil and watercolor pieces captured the elegant beauty of his Twin Lakes home garden. Others reflected his unyielding love for his wife, Algesa, who died in 2006 at 89 years old.

O'Sickey was rarely seen after Algesa's death without one of her scarfs tied around his neck.

Albacete said O'Sickey's legacy lives on in each piece of art and what it leaves its viewer.

To students and faculty at Kent State University, where O'Sickey taught for about 30 years, his legacy lives on in the students he touched.

"One of the things Joe always talked to people about was perspective really in terms of many things: living your life, being creative, thinking about art, drawing and painting," said Shawn Gordon, director of advancement for Kent State University's College of the Arts. "He was constantly challenging you to sort of think outside of what you think you see."

His teaching methods never allowed for criticism, though.

"I believe in helping people, so I don't have critiques. I don't like them," O'Sickey said in January.

Gordon also was a neighbor of O'Sickey's in Twin Lakes for several years.

She recalls how O'Sickey gave her 14-year-old daughter, Maddie, a journal and conveyed to her the importance of drawing everything she sees. Sketching, she said, was crucial in O'Sickey's eyes and was basically his way of seeing.

"He inspired generations of students to look at things differently and question perspective," she said. "The beauty in all this is that his legacy is in not only the art he created, but in what a wonderful friend he was to so many and his long-term success."

Gordon said O'Sickey's son, Joel, is planning a public celebration of Joseph's and Algesa's respective works in the future. Algesa O'Sickey was an artist and designer and was often a subject of Joseph's own works. The couple actually met at the 1030 Gallery in Cleveland and married in 1947.

"She taught me a lot about women's fashion," Joseph said in May. "I remember when we were getting married, she told me not to buy her an engagement ring. She took me to a sewing shop and pointed at a little machine and said, 'I want this so I can make my own clothes.' She was a great artist."

O'Sickey was an active member of the Ohio artistic community for more than seven decades, as both an artist and a teacher.

He was born in Detroit in 1918, moved with his family to Cleveland when he was 4 months old and settled in the Polish neighborhood of St. Stanislaus Parish.

He attended East Tech High School and took classes on Saturday mornings at the Cleveland School of Art, now the Cleveland Institute of Art. He continued his studies at the Cleveland School of Art until March 1941 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in World War II.

"I was in the Army months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and I was in the Army seven months after it was all over," O'Sickey said in January. "I couldn't get a ship home. I was in North Africa and we took a boat to India and we went into Burma. I came back with over 750 drawings of Africa."

O'Sickey's teaching career began in 1946 at Ohio State University and lasted until his 1984 retirement from Kent State University.

He worked as a faculty member at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Akron Institute, and took on jobs outside of education, including fashion painting, architectural rendering and perfume advertising.

Besides art, Albacete and Gordon both said O'Sickey will be remembered for his humble, gentle and loving nature.

"One thing I'm very grateful for in my life is all of the encouragement I got from different people and different artists," O'Sickey said in January, referencing the announcement of his governor's award. "I can't thank them all and they were wonderful and generous."

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or jnobile@recordpub.com

Facebook: Jeremy Nobile, Record-Courier

Twitter: @jnobile_RPC


Joseph O'Sickey was the subject of the Western Reserve PBS documentary "Joseph O'Sickey: The Art of Life," which premiered in May.

To celebrate O'Sickey's life, Western Reserve PBS (WNEO 45.1 / WEAO 49.1) has changed its program schedule for today to accommodate an encore presentation of "Joseph O'Sickey: The Art of Life" at 10 p.m. The Western Reserve PBS documentary showcases the remarkable life and career of the Kent-based artist, who received the 2013 Ohio Governor's Award for the Arts on May 15.

Born in 1918, O'Sickey spent seven of his more than nine decades painting and teaching in Ohio, first at The Ohio State University. He joined the KSU School of Art faculty in the 1960s and retired from there in 1989.

O'Sickey won numerous awards in painting and had more than 50 solo exhibitions throughout his life. His works can be found at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, the Canton Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art and in many other private and public art collections.


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schultzie Feb 21, 2014 12:30 AM

I just took one painting course in the late 60's but was highly influenced by Mr. O'Sickey's teachings, color selections, placement, and charisma (and more). Upon graduation, I promptly told my mom that I would LOVE to have one of his 6-0 x 6-0 paintings shown in a gallery on Shaker Square in Cleveland. That did not go well!! I always vowed that I would love to own one of his paintings, and for some strange reason I was on Craigslist four or five years ago,  and one was available!  It was meant to be and it now hangs in my office - so there! Anyways, I wrote Mr. O'Sickey about my little story, he promptly called me - and we then continued to chat on the phone off and on. The dapper artist had many stories, and he would sometimes send me one of the programs from his art shows. One Christmas he sent me a pen and ink drawing of the blue jays in his back yard....I had it framed and it now hangs in my kitchen near a window.

We comizmerated about our Polish backgrounds in Cleveland, and the fact that I that I went down the pathway of becoming an interior designer, colorist, and rug designer....just as his wife, Algesa had done (and much, much more). I am truly humbled by her work also.

In April I spoke to him just before his four big events were about to take place and made the mistake in asking 'what he was up to' ????? (Canton Art Museum, a gallery permanently named for him, the Governor's Award, and the taping of the PBS program)...his dance card was absolutely full at 94!!!. 

I called him around the New Year to wish him well. The phone was disconnected - and I was shaking....it had become a pleasant association - a habit, in fact, and I will surely miss him. If anyone perhaps knows how to reach his son, or if any other memorials might be scheduled in the future, I would surely appreciate being informed.

Thank you, Mr. O'Sickey

Arlene Schultz - schultz2006@comcast.net  - 02/20/2014



glassfuser Jul 26, 2013 10:45 AM

I learned to draw when I took classes from Joseph O'Sickey at KSU in the late 60's. He introduced me to the concept of the "figure ground relationship". It transformed my way of looking at my canvas, subject and greatly helped me to orgnaize compositions. I retired from teaching high school art in 2010 and during my 30 years of working with high school art students I passed on and refined his basic concept to my students. My last teaching position was in North Olmsted High School in the Art Department. 

I recall the buzz among undergraduate art students at Kent State's School of Art when we heard that a well established painter with New York city gallery connections was coming to KSU to teach. Several  profs from the Cleveland Institute of Art had also come to teach at Kent and there was excitement  and anticipation about them strengthening the Art Department. I studied with other contemporaries  of  O'Sickey's; Harold Kitner, Dan Rohn, Ian Short, Marlene Mancini ( my beloved advisor) and Elmer Novotny, the Chair of the School at that time to mention several.

My good friend Ken Gessford and I became comrades when we both were attending Graduate School in the early 70's. When I saw the recent PBS special about O'Sickey, Ken was interviewed and it brought back many memories.

I am currently operating a studio in the Lake Erie Screw Factory in Lakewood, Ohio, teaching glass fusing courses for CIA's Continuing Education Department, at my Lakewood Studio and taking part in a number of outdoor Art Festivals including Cain Park and the upcoming Lakewood Festival on August 3rd. Please contact me at: dan@danielpruittstudio.com or view my website at : danielpruittstidio.com

I would love to reconnect with old colleagues.