Charles Surendorf II Art Foundation

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Welcome > Charlie's Life > College


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"I worked very hard before I entered the Chicago Art Institute loading freight into railroad cars all summer.  My first day on this job was spent stacking empty caskets into boxcars.  I could have sworn each casket had a two hundred pound corpse in it before the day ended.

My mother accompanied me to Chicago to enroll in the Art Institute as I was not seventeen yet so she had to give her personal consent.  Mother stayed in Chicago to see that I got started correctly.  I also had to show samples of my work before they would admit me.  I paid the tuition out of my savings and started my first life drawing class the very next morning.

After the instructor saw that we had the proper tools and places to draw, he introduced a nude woman for the first subject to sketch.  The girl had a classic figure and fell into the usual hackneyed pose adopted by professional models.

After ten minutes the model fainted and started to fall from the stand.  I was drawing just below her and she fell gently into my arms.  She was not heavy, at least to me, as I had been hauling boxes around all summer.  I volunteered to carry her to the model’s room down the hall.

I had not learned my way around the schools corridors, and I walked in the wrong direction toward the entrance of the public museum.  The Polish guard at the door was new in this country and spoke little English.  He seemed puzzled about what to do with a student who was carrying a nude woman in his arms.  There was a group of wide-eyed tourists outside the open door and I spotted my mother in the crowd.  Mother went home that night.  I guess she felt there was nothing more she could do about her son in Chicago."

I attended the Chicago Art Institute about three years before I was expelled.  My instructors gave me excellent grades, but the records in the office showed I was not attending the classes to which I had been assigned.  The records also could not account for my attendance in the school for days on end.  I had not missed a single hour of school, but I was choosing on my own the models I wanted to draw and the classes I preferred.  This was, of course, unorthodox and contrary to the system of running an organized art school.  It was ordered that I was to be expelled to set a good example for the other students.  On hearing this, my regularly assigned instructors went to the office in a body and protested the action by putting down my grades as straight A’s for their courses.  This made me an honor student and eligible for various awards.  The revised record didn’t sway the powers in charge.  I was out!

Charlie's own words from his autobiography written in 1957.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 December 2012 13:58  

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