Chadron State College
Chadron State College

One-man retrospective spans more than four decades

March 16, 2014

Dirk Bird with one of the bronze platters included in his show March 17-April 4 in the Memorial Hall Main Gallery.
Dirk Bird with one of the bronze platters included in his show March 17-April 4 in the Memorial Hall Main Gallery.

Richard “Dick” Bird, Chadron State College visual and performing arts chair and art professor will open a one-man retrospective show March 17 in the Memorial Hall Main Gallery. The show will run through April 4 and include work spanning about 45 years.

A reception is planned in his honor March 20 from 3-5 p.m. in the Memorial Hall Lobby.

"It will reflect my approach to art. I never wanted to spend all my time in one media, although glass is my favorite. I always knew I wanted to teach in a small college, so I worked in a wide variety of media including ceramics, glass, fiber arts, photography, jewelry and screen printing,” he said.

He hopes visitors to the show will enjoy the beauty he tries to create through color, shape and texture. He said he doesn't make political statements with his art and the pieces in this show will not be labeled with names but rather the decade in which they were created.

When Bird’s students ask him why he is so happy, he tells them that it never seems like a job.

“I’m still playing in the sandbox. I’m really lucky. My hobby is my profession and vice versa,” Bird said.

Some ceramic and glass pieces will represent his days as graduate student at the University of Kansas where he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree. Others will be new and yet others will have been displayed in the 13-14 CSC faculty art shows during the 27 years Bird has been at CSC.

When Bird was first hired as a CSC art faculty member in 1977, he was the youngest person on staff and now, at 66, he is the senior art faculty member in Memorial Hall.

While there was only a fledgling glass program at CSC when he arrived, Hastings College had received a large gift to start its glass blowing program. Bird was invited to Hastings and spent a couple days showing the faculty there what he knew about glass blowing.

As much as he wanted to stay at CSC, the well-equipped program at Hastings drew him away and he became a faculty member there for six years.

His replacement at CSC, Paul Frame, brought CSC students to Hastings for weekend workshops, so Bird maintained his tie with CSC.

Bird was one of nine faculty members laid off at Hastings in 1984. He and his wife, Patty, spent several months in Colorado that year gaining experience with bronze casting. He will display at least two platters made with the lost wax process during this time period.

Bird and Patty then moved to California where Bird managed a manufacturing plant overseeing the production of drywall, ceiling textures and other related materials. His chemistry background from studying ceramics was useful in the job, but he was miserable.

As fortune would have it, a friend called Bird in late November, 1987 telling him that his old position at CSC would be open in January, 1988.

“We’ve been looking for you for six months,” former faculty member Noel Gray told Bird.

Bird traveled back to Chadron and began teaching while Patty and their two-year-old daughter, Kelly, remained in California until Bird could return and move them to Chadron over spring break.

The dean of Liberal Arts at the time, Dr. Michael Cartwright, supported the work Bird was willing to do to build the current glass blowing structure.  He always seemed to find the needed funds in the art budget to move the project forward, according to Bird.

In the early days of the CSC glass program, the school only had one furnace and it was in the middle of the ceramics room. Later a primitive outside structure was built, but it was in need of upgrades to be safe and house a competitive, growing program.

Two work-study students assisted Bird over the summers of 1988 and 1989. They raised the roof on the glass blowing building by four feet, put sheetrock in place and built all of the equipment now in the building.

Three of the approximately 50 glass blowing degree programs in the country reside in Nebraska with CSC, Hastings and the University of Nebraska-Kearney.

Bird plans to retire at the end of the spring 2015 semester, pursue his hobbies, possibly teach as an adjunct and stay in Chadron until Patty retires from her art teaching position with grades 6-12 in the Chadron Public Schools.

The Birds’ oldest daughter Kelly lives in Loveland, Colo. and is the marketing director for Hensel Phelps, one of the nations’ top government construction contractors. Their younger daughter, Ryan, recently completed a nanny contract on the west coast and plans to move to Chicago this spring and pursue a position in a history museum.

—Tena L. Cook, Interim Marketing Coordinator