Sunday, March 25, 2012

Grace Leslie Dickerson (1911-2001)

Grace Leslie Dickerson was born on August 27, 1911, at Brookside, her parents' home, located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Sometimes referred to as Bass Castle, Brookside was a grand home built by her grandparents and is now the site of the St. Francis College library. Grace Dickerson graduated from the Fort Wayne Art Institute in 1932 and received degrees from St. Francis College (1950) and the Instituto Allende at San Miguel de Allende in Mexico (1958). Grace also studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, Cranbook Academy of Fine Arts in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and under Guy Pène DuBois. She worked in oil, acrylic, sculpture, and ceramics. Her art was exhibited throughout the Midwest and in New York, Chicago, Paris, and Mexico. For many years she taught at Harmar School (1950-1951), the Arcola School (1955), and St. Francis College. From 1962 onward, she also gave lessons in her home studio. In addition to being a fine artist, craftswoman, and art instructor, Grace was an illustrator. She provided the illustrations for her own book, Sketchbook of San Miguel de Allende (1964), and a children's biography, Little Turtle by Jean Carper (1959). Grace Leslie Dickerson died on July 11, 2001, in Fort Wayne. She is entombed in the city of her birth.

The cover of Little Turtle (1959), written by Jean Carper and illustrated by Grace Leslie Dickerson. Little Turtle (ca. 1747-1812) was a leader of the Miami Indians and born in what is now Whitley County, Indiana, west of the present-day Allen County and Fort Wayne. One of the men sent against him was a near contemporary, Josiah Harmar (1753-1813), for whom the Harmar School in Fort Wayne is named.

Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ralph McQuarrie (1929-2012)

Ralph McQuarrie, the conceptual designer behind Star Wars and other science fiction, fantasy, and adventure films, has died. McQuarrie passed away on Saturday, March 3, 2012, at his home in Berkeley, California. He was eighty-two. Despite years of declining health (he suffered from Parkinson's disease), McQuarrie had a very long and productive life and career, especially given his injury while serving in the Korean War. During that almost forgotten conflict, McQuarrie received a gunshot wound to the head, an injury that--if it had proved fatal--would have changed the look of science fiction forever, depriving the world of some of the most memorable and recognizable characters ever to appear on the silver screen.

Ralph McQuarrie was born in Gary, Indiana, on June 13, 1929, and spent his formative years in Billings, Montana, where his family owned a farm. He moved to California in the early 1960s and honed his skills as an illustrator at the Art Center School in downtown Los Angeles. Early in his career, McQuarrie created technical drawings and blueprints, first for a dentist, then for the Boeing Company, and most notably and fortuitously for CBS News, for which he created posters and animation on the Apollo spaceflight program. While at CBS, McQuarrie was approached by writer, director, and producer Hal Barwood, who asked him to complete some conceptual paintings for the planned film Star DancingThough Star Dancing never reached the big screen, McQuarrie’s work on the project led him to George Lucas, who in 1975 commissioned conceptual designs for Star Wars (1977). McQuarrie illustrated storyboards from Lucas' script and created the initial depictions of Darth Vadar, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca.

McQuarrie went on to work on The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). His other film credits include some of the highest-grossing films of the 1970s and '80s, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). He worked on the television series Battlestar Galactica in 1978 and earned an Academy Award for Visual Effects for his work on the 1985 film, Cocoon.

McQuarrie was offered a role as a conceptual designer for the Star Wars prequel series but turned down the offer, stating he had “run out of steam.” His last credit as a conceptual artist or designer was on the 1991 movie short Back to the Future . . . The Ride. Incidentally, McQuarrie played a character named McQuarrie--General McQuarrie--in an uncredited role in The Empire Strikes Back.

An array of images created by Ralph McQuarrie showing his great skill, taste, and imagination. As you can see, he was equally at ease with the human figure, aliens, robots, monsters, spacecraft, architecture, and planetscapes. What would Star Wars--and by extension, the world--have been without him?

Written by Bridget Hanley, Proficient Pen, and Terence E. Hanley
Copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley