|The Troll King's Daughter. Artist: William Girard. || || |
So what would you call a really, sweet,
personable guy who devoted most of his life and all of his adult life, to
playing with mud? A guy would tell you to your face - with great conviction - that the
design and color of mud really, really mattered?
I called William Girard, aka
Bill – former professor of art at the Center for Creative Studies in
downtown Detroit (now the College of Creative Studies) and fine artist –
my dearest friend, aside from
my wife. I called him my mentor. I referred to him as my “other” father.
the single man in my life I most wished to emulate. He was my exemplar
artistic integrity, decency and humility.
|Salome. Artist: William Girard. Photo courtesy of Ken Weikal|
Initially, of course, I just
called him “professor.” Then “Bill.” Then, as I came to know his work better, I
told others he was “amazing.” For a long time I referred to Bill as a minor master.
(That was when I was young and stupid.)
|Bronze: Bed Time Stories. Artist: William Girard|
Now that it’s too late, I know
better. Bill Girard wasn’t a minor master at all. He was one of Detroit’s
Living National Treasures. As far as I’m concerned, he was one of America’s
Living National Treasures.
|Triptych Central Panel. Detail. Artist: William Girard|
Allen Abramson, Bill’s
friend, patron, dealer, obsessive collector and life-long irritant, once arranged a
show for Bill in the Big Apple through the auspices, I believe, of a wealthy,
At the opening, Bill apparently
found the company of the wealthy, high-fallutin’ collectors in attendance
difficult to cope with. So, he repaired to the refreshment table. There he ran
into an older couple helping themselves to copious servings of whatever.
Anyway, the nice couple told
him that they really didn’t come to galleries to look at art. They said that
they really came for the free food and drinks. Shades of Great Gatsby! Bill
decided that the New York art scene just wasn’t for him.
There were always people who wanted
what he made. The aforementioned Allen left of collection of hundreds of
pieces. Many quite marvelous. He lied, cajoled and argued to get his hands on
pieces Bill promised to others. It seems sort of funny now. It wasn’t so funny
|Semprevivo Murals (Detail). Artist: William Girard|
So, with no real need to show in
galleries, and a local critical aristocracy more attuned to the fashion of art
than the great throbbing power it could deliver, Girard sort of vanished. Actually, he just never showed up to begin with.
Today, sculptor and painter Bill
Girard remains completely unrecognized. His work is unknown by critics with any
clout. How could it be otherwise?
Bill rarely took photos
of his work or kept track of who bought it. He didn’t need them. His visual
memory was darn near perfect. (He had perfect pitch, too.)
The up-side of all this is that young
art addicts like yours truly had direct access to one of the most wonderful
artistic resources, and one of the nicest, in the entire city of Detroit.
|Detail: Advocates. Artist: William Girard|
Because Bill generally side-stepped
upwardly mobile and already rich collectors, aspiring artists and little people
like me had a chance to drink from the richest spring of genuine artistic
insight and accomplishment imaginable. Because others with much valued Bill so
little, those of us with very little could afford a few Bill Girards of our
No question, Bill was a “flawed
vessel.” All of us are. Chipped here. Cracked there. Off kilter, maybe. A
little lopsided. But what made the vessel called Bill Girard, born in the home
of mass-production, so extraordinarily special was the intoxicating spirit that
filled it to the brim.
Robert Henri called it “the
In Bill’s case that spirit was so very refined, so remarkably pure
that it proved virtually invisible to all but a few. In fact, a spirit of such
high quality is so incredibly rare that many – most Detroiters – who claimed
some expertise as connoisseurs never noticed it, even when it stood right
before their eyes.
Since Bill hated to travel and spent his entire working life
in metro Detroit, it stood before their eyes over more than 50 years of
|Lord of the Rings White Queen Chess Piece. Bronze Artist: William Girard|
|Lord of the Rings White King Chess Piece. Artist: William Girard|
I’m an unrepentant art addict. So I've stood in awe in many art museums. The
little Titian in St. Louis is stupendous. The really small Giorgione in San
Diego is stunning. I can’t tell you how much I love Pontormo’s murals in Santa Felicta.
And Freud. And Kollwitz.
But I’m from a gritty, stinky, dirty, ugly and screwed up metropolis with a funky beauty all
its own. Detroit.
As I see it, that metropolis gave birth and sheltered
one of the finest artists I’ve had the good fortune to know. The problem is that Detroit doesn’t know it.
God’s honor, Girard’s work is the
most extraordinarily addictive stuff I have ever encountered.
As is obvious, I
And I promise you, I’m not alone in this.
Until you’ve viewed a
comprehensive collection of the work of William Girard first-hand, paintings, sculpture
and drawing, large and small, you simply can’t imagine how dazzlingly
imaginative, how very, very special, Girard really was. And the truth is, very, very people have had that opportunity.
|Jesus. Disposition Unknown. Artist: William Girard|
The best I can offer is this unprofessional website with a collection Girard artwork:
The vessel called Bill Girard is
gone. But I'm still tipsy. Bill's powerful and infectious spirit gives me joy
every day. Based on the emails I receive from folks who have discovered Bill
Girard for themselves, I suspect it will retain its singular power for as long
as beauty, craftsmanship, wit and artistic courage are cherished.
|Photo of Bill Girard, Circa 1981 by Glenn Michaels|
|Sketch Book Image: Artist: William Girard|
Glenn Scott Michaels
* Most images courtesy of Ken Weikal, Farmington Hills, Michigan