In January of 1996, Steve O. Black and his wife, Judy, moved to Denison, where he was hired to head Grayson College’s Art Department. After more than 20 years with the visual arts department at Grayson College, Black will be hanging up the hat that has been a part of what he calls his great hat adventure.
“At Grayson, I began with the idea of building a program that not only fostered the arts in higher education but also to help develop the arts in Denison and the Texoma region,” Black said.
For 15 years before beginning his work at Grayson College, Black taught at Bauder College, a two-year, private college in Arlington.
“At Bauder, I honed my teaching skills and later became an administrator, chair, director of education, and the chief executive of the college,” Black said. “It was at Bauder I began working with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in Texas in developing guidelines for private, two-year colleges.”
Going way back to his childhood, Black reminisces about being an artist at a young age.
“When I commandeered a workspace between two garages and took discarded things to make cars, spaceships, robots and just about anything I could imagine,” he said. “When given paper, I would draw. Once I covered my little sister’s arms and legs with lines and designs using my mother’s lipstick.”
A young high school teacher, Scotty Darr, recognized Black’s artistic abilities and brought his own oils and brushes from home for Black to use.
He “set me aside from the other students and instructed me on how to paint,” Blacks aid. “Mr. Darr quit the following year and my interest in making art waned with less inspiring art teachers.”
It wasn’t until much later that Black’s interest in art was rekindled. From 1968 to 1972, Black attended North Texas State University, now University of North Texas, and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1972. During this time, Black took a couple of art classes as electives.
“In 1973, I enrolled as an art major at NTSU,” he said. “There was no turning back. I took every art class I could. It was there that I began classes with Bob ‘Daddy-O’ Wade.”
Projects included giant frogs at Tango’s in lower Greenville, a giant map of the United States with iconic sculptures along various destination points within the map off Interstate 635, which was on the undeveloped outskirts of Dallas at that time, as well as several other projects.
“He taught me the ‘art’ behind the art — learning to wheel and deal in an art world,” Black said. “I graduated with a B.F.A. in 1976. It was also in a ceramic’s class at the university I met Judy Beth Kent from Corsicana, Texas, aka Miss Judy.”
Shortly after their wedding in 1977, Black and his wife moved to Arizona State University in Tempe where Steve Black earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting.
“I also began my teaching career at that time,” he said. “I was first asked to co-teach a class in drawing and later as an instructor in design and drawing classes. Upon graduating, I earned an Arizona teaching certificate and was hired by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Humanities to do an artist-in-residence in Page, Arizona. There I taught workshops for levels K-12 and teachers as well as teaching adult evening adult classes through Yavapai College’s extension program,” Black said.
Throughout his teaching career, Black continued to exhibit and garner recognition as an artist.
“As an artist, I have been honored to be represented by high-end galleries like Moss-Chumley and Craighead-Green, both in Dallas,” he said. “My art has been shown across the southwest and in Florence, Italy in 2003. I took 20 people — students, teachers, and professionals — on a six-day art tour of Florence and Rome, Italy in 2004.”
Reviews of Black’s art have been written in Texoma Living, Biennale Interazionale dell’Arte Contemporanea, Arts Dallas Magazine, Art Today, ARTSCENE, ArtSpace and ArtNews Magazine.
“I have recently been invited to show in a mail-art exhibition in Italy in May of 2018,” he said.
The impact of Black’s leadership, ingenuity and effort on the Texoma art community has been huge both in the classroom and outside. A good example is the Grayson College art booth at Denison’s Fall Festival where Black and his students help children make masks every year.
His influence can also be seen in events like Dia de los Muertos in which he played a big part in the planning and execution from the very start. Although there are many aspects of the Dia de los Muertos Parade, the giant puppets are a favorite part many. Most of the puppets were built under the guidance of Black in the Wednesday night puppet workshops at Grayson College.
“Since arriving in Denison, I began working on student and community exhibits at the college and other venues along Main Street,” Black said. “I first exhibited my art in a small walk-in window lined floor to ceiling display case in the Grayson College library. I expanded the space and exhibition venue at the college with six or seven exhibits a year held at various campus space ranging from the second floor of the Student Life Center, the lobby area in front of Cruce Stark auditorium, to the second floor of the library, to a makeshift gallery at the back of the college while the college rebuilt the Arts & Communication Center, and finally to its very own gallery, the second floor gallery.”
Meanwhile, art galleries and art groups were developing on Main Street in Denison. The Denison Association of Professional Artists began hosting exhibits and events along Main Street. ARTATTACK, a retagged art group composed of Alfred Robinson, Kay Merritt, Mike Winegarden, Mark Schley, Jess Reinhard, Debbie Wade, and Black, was created to add to the art mix in an evolving art scene in Denison.
“Later, Alfred Robinson, Larry Matthews, and I began meeting at Panera Bread to discuss art,” Black said. “The idea was originated from my Sunday breakfasts at Little Gus’s on Lower Greenville in Dallas where local artists and writers would meet and network. Other area artists were invited to join us and Sunday Morning Art and Coffee Club grew. The club has been meeting weekly every Sunday for over 12 years without missing a Sunday.”
As an instructor, one of the most gratifying things is to watch students such as Jess Reinhard, Chance Dunlap and Chris Douglas develop successful careers as artists and instructors, Black said.
“My goal in education has been to teach students not only to learn technique but also understand a working knowledge of the elements and principles of design,” he said. “I never tried to sway students to a particular style or approach to art but to learn to create on their own original works of art and to become problem solvers. Instead of giving students one way to resolve a visual problem I offered them three or four methods to approach a problem.”
Jess Reinhard, who is also an instructor at Grayson College agreed.
“Mr. Black was always heavily involved with the art community, with all of the galleries, and local art events. This gave students the opportunity to learn not just in the classroom, but also to learn in a professional setting working with local artists and galleries.”
One of the many Texoma artists encouraged and mentored by Black was Shelley Tate Garner. Garner met Black during a high school art exhibit back in 1996.
“It was one of the first shows I had entered and I was pretty amazed that I had won several awards,” she said. “Steve had such a sense of excitement about art and about what I was doing. It was really encouraging and validating to me at that point. It made me feel more confident in pursuing a degree in the arts.”
One of his judges at that show, Mike Williams, a local stained glass artist and gallery owner, also became a mentor and dear friend of Garner’s.
“I had no idea that at the reception that evening I had met two people that would dynamically shape my artwork, my pursuit of art education, and become true friends and supporters of my work for now 21 years,” she said. “Steve’s dedication to the arts in the community is outstanding. His support has shaped so many over the years and sustained the hope art inspires in this rural environment.”
Black said that his retirement is bittersweet.
“Due to an upcoming second spinal surgery and recovery, I, upon the advice of my neurosurgeon and encouragement of my wife, moved my retirement date to Dec. 31, 2017 — a little earlier than my planned December 2019 exit at the age of 70,” he said. “I do look forward to spending more time with my family in my studio and continue showing in galleries but will miss my daily contact with my fellow Grayson friends and students. I have had a blessed life which includes my career in art and education, my wife, my son and daughter, grandchildren, family, and friends.”
Black said that is he is asked if a person should go into art without hesitation, he would respond that art offers one an incredible adventure.
“As for me, I wouldn’t change a minute of it,” he said. “I thank the city of Denison, Grayson College, the Texoma region, my colleagues, my art friends, students over a 20-year span, and especially my family for their support. My life and career as an artist and educator has been awesome.”