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Art@ThomasMore – Darrell Brothers Collection

Hello, my name is Seth Sherman. Welcome to another episode of Art@ThomasMore. This initiative sheds light on a permanent collection of artifacts and artwork at Thomas More University. Today we’re looking at several paintings bequeathed to the university by the longtime chair of the Art Department Darrell Brothers. Professor Brother’s tenure in the art department began in the ’70s and lasted into the ’90s. There are three prominent pieces located in the Saints Center with a fourth piece, a portrait of his wife, Betty, located in the Art Department. In this episode we will hear from Monsignor William Cleves, and Dr. Dan Mader, Thomas More class of 1971, about Professor Brothers, his philosophy regarding art, and his influence on the higher ed art scene in this region.

Monsignor William Cleves: Darrell Brothers, was the chair of the Art Department at Thomas More and two of his students at Thomas More were Bernie Schmidt ’58, and Dan Mader ’71. Mader, became the chair of the Art Department at Mount St. Joe; Bernie Schmidt became the chair of the Art Department as Xavier. Brothers was the kind of the au grandé of art at universities in greater Cincinnati. Darrell willed a whole bunch of pictures to us and his death. In one of them was Darrell, Bernie, and Dan. They were up in the library when I was president and they were sitting around an anatomical skeleton studying it. 

Dan Mader ’71: We were very close, he was the first faculty member I met; he was always my advisor. I went to the college art conference with him about 20 times all over the country. We socialized, he and his wife Betty, because I went to work after I finished my degree at UC at Mount St. Joseph, and Betty was at that time, she wasn’t chair then (there was another nun that was going out) but Betty became chair. So we were very close, along with Bernie Schmidt. He left quite a body of work when he died. Darrell had a gallery in Chicago, and some of the work went there. Then when he died, his wife, Betty, dispersed it to, first of all, she kept some and a number of friends. She gave away the artwork and then a large group of it went to Ball State University, and to Indiana U(niversity). Darrell had gone to undergraduate at Ball State and then Indiana U(niversity) for graduate school to get his MFA. Mount St. Joseph has some too, we in fact have a beautiful one of Betty that’s in our stairwell over there. But these big paintings that you’re familiar with were done pretty much, I would say in the ’80s and ’90s. Darrel came to get very introspective and thinking about the big picture as most of us do as we get older and he worked on a monumental scale. I didn’t know he could paint realistically like that, I had known him more as an abstract painter. I knew his earlier work that he did but the pieces that he did later were really, I thought, quite profound. Most of them were six feet wide, eight feet tall; enormous pieces. I knew he had two models that worked for him, I believe, the two that show up in that Harlequin piece. I saw some photographs of them and I think it was over in the studio. They pretty much turned up in his paintings except for I think he actually did several portraits of Betty and several portraits of himself. We used to always go to the college art association meetings in February. So usually at that time we’d touch base and we would go to any city but we especially loved to go to New York. We’d go to the art shows and then we come back with lots to play with, with our classes and so on, and then we talk about something we wanted to have happen. I believe after one of those trips, I don’t remember the date of it, Darrell had said he wanted to do a portrait of the three of us because we were always essentially hanging out together. He had us go over and, as I recall, we went over the first time and he took photographs of us. And then we went back about two or three times more. There was a thing they used to call super realism or newer realism in the ’80s/’90s, something like that. He was very interested in it, to the point he actually went to a gross anatomy lab for an entire – I thought it was for a whole year – over at University of Cincinnati Medical School and Darrell really got into it. That portrait that he has with the skeleton – he got skeleton models for his figure drawing classes. He became very caught up in, you know, sort of that – I tend to see it now because I’m older now than I was then – but in sort of the essence of things and what’s important and what’s the basic and what are the unanswered questions that continue to be there. I was fascinated to see it when it was done, I haven’t had anyone ask to do a portrait of me, needless to say. When he wanted to have the three of us, I thought well that’d be fun. I thought it was always fascinating where Darrell was standing, he was standing in the back and he was pointing and then we were just kind of looking around and looking out. It reminded me very much – Darrell and Betty travel a lot, I learned a lot about a lot from them – he knew Italian, I’d say trecento and earlier stuff pretty good about Giotto’s and some of his figures looking out and forming a circle. I found it fascinating that this had a kind of timeless look that like we were all three people thinking about existence or something like that. There was a kind of poetic, a kind of symbolic quality to his pieces that is rather inexplicable and that was the way he taught. He always taught us not to do anything that was really obvious. He always believed that a painting should leave more questions and be something that one could look at and look at again, and to avoid ever doing anything that was like wallpaper.

To read an article by Professor Becky Bilbo from the spring 2005 Moreover magazine covering on the reinstallation of the Brothers Artwork Collection to the Saints Center, CLICK HERE.