Department of Visual and Media Arts mourns the passing of Emeritus Professor of Art Don Kerr
January 08, 2018
Visual and Media Arts Emeritus Professor Don Kerr passed away in December 21, 2017. Kerr died peacefully at his home in Heritage Hill, Grand Rapids, surrounded by his wife, Sharon, his daughters and granddaughter.
Kerr was born in February 21, 1930 in Saginaw, MI. An accomplished painter and passionate educator Don dedicated over 30 years of his life to art education. He received a Master of Fine Arts Degree from The University of Iowa and a BA from Michigan State University. First, Kerr taught at Ohio State University and University of Nevada-Reno for several years until he came to GVSU in September of 1970.
During his tenure at GVSU, Kerr played a major role in the humble beginnings of our now robust art program. He served as Department chair and director of Summer School for England and France. Moreover, Kerr also taught some of our faculty. Brett Colley is a Professor of Drawing, Printmaking, and Foundations and a former student of Kerr's. Colley shared with us some memories of his about Don Kerr:
"As a transfer to Grand Valley in 1988, I had the good fortune of studying with Don Kerr for my first college-level Painting class. I was a hopelessly adrift art school poser who aspired to instant painter-poet-rock star status. Of course, I hadn’t applied myself to any one of those pursuits, but I had the appropriate clothes to pull off an impersonation. Don’s affect was entirely different, a throwback to a romantic era when Art and The Academy first met. He was all calm, cool business in a corduroy blazer. Among the myriad things I learned from him is that being an artist is not about putting on some costume…it is about putting in the work. Don spent thousands of hours at an easel over more than half a century, and the vibrant outcomes of that work are visible all over our campus, and throughout the state.
During classes, I remember how Don would circulate between our easels so calmly and unobtrusively, offering encouragement and technical insight with a warm smile. He was quick with an art historical reference or a joke, and kind even with his criticisms. When he prepared a demonstration, Don would leave the jacket in his office, roll up the sleeves of his button-down shirt, ensure that the tails were still tucked in, and with squinted eyes and a few graceful flicks of the brush, perform some magic with oils for us. He seemed to know everything about painting, and just as impressively, he knew how to gracefully handle every sort of student. He was just a class act, an amalgam of professionalism and warm humanism most of us can only aspire to. I feel truly grateful for the model he provided me as an artist and teacher."
Professor Kerr taught at GVSU until 1999. Post-retirement, he continued teaching Drawing, Art Appreciation, and Japanese Art History at Aquinas College. He was also appointed Scholar-in-Residence at The Japan Center for Michigan Universities, Hikone, Japan.
There will be a celebration of life for Don sometime in the spring.