Roger L. Crossgrove: A life of art
Homer Babbidge Library
Archives & Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center
May 20 – August 4, 2017
Until his passing in December of 2016, Roger L. Crossgrove was a highly visible and active participant in Connecticut’s arts community. The works on display in the Homer Babbidge Library and Archives & Special Collections in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center are representative of his artistic life expressed in various media.
Born in Farnam, Nebraska in 1921 and raised on the family’s farm, Crossgrove’s mother, a self-taught artist, encouraged his interest in art at a young age. From 1942 to 1946, Crossgrove served in the US Army as a Staff Sergeant, 73rd Field Hospital in the Philippines. After returning home, he received his BFA from the University of Nebraska in 1949 and his MFA in 1951 from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
Crossgrove fell in love with the art of Mexico and twice had the opportunity to live and paint there, first in 1950 on the GI Bill and again in 1965, the influence of which is evident in the early oil paintings which can be seen in the Plaza Gallery in Homer Babbidge Library. Between 1950 and 1968, Crossgrove taught at the prestigious Pratt Institute in the Department of Graphic Art and Illustration. In 1968, he was recruited by the University of Connecticut to serve as Department Head in the School of Fine Arts. Crossgrove retired from the University of Connecticut in 1988. During his collective 38 years as an art professor, Crossgrove taught noted artists such as Tomie dePaola, Robert Mapplethorpe, Joseph A. Smith, Normand Chartier, Cyndy Szekeres, and Michael Maslin. Described as patient, supportive, firm, friendly, generous, and cheerful, he is remembered for emphasizing well-rounded foundational lessons, in a wide variety of idioms, as crucial preparation for a career in fine art or illustration. In 2008, Crossgrove was the recipient of the UConn School of Fine Arts Lifetime Achievement Award.
Throughout his artistic career, Crossgrove produced a wide range of works, however it was the watercolor monotype which engaged his imagination for more than fifty years. These works are in numerous private and public collections, have been exhibited around the country, have been given prestigious awards, and are referenced in anthologies of the technique. In 1976, Crossgrove turned his attention to photography, focusing largely on the male nude, experimenting with techniques and ideas such as time exposure, penlight drawing, classical sculpture, Muybridge motion studies, and abstraction. This body of work began by the chance use of a camera, a gift from his Pratt Institute colleagues, to capture a pose during a life drawing session. A selection of photographs is on display in the John P. McDonald Reading Room and the Exhibit Gallery at Archives & Special Collections in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
Crossgrove was an enthusiastic supporter of the UConn Library. In addition to donating his collection of children’s books, which included works of Little Red Riding Hood, he also donated his photographic archive in 2011. Over the years, Crossgrove introduced generations of students to children’s book illustration and helped to grow both the Connecticut Children’s Book Fair at UConn, celebrating its 25th year this November, and the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection at the UConn Library. Crossgrove’s papers are held at the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art.
Crossgrove was a strong advocate for the public exhibition program at the UConn Library, providing financial support and serving as a member and consultant to the exhibition committee. The Library honored this commitment with the establishment of The Roger L. Crossgrove Exhibit Series which brings artists work to the University of Connecticut through exhibitions held in the Homer Babbidge Library.
Roger Crossgrove has made a significant contribution to the artistic life and culture of the University of Connecticut and was a true friend of the Library. We are grateful to the Crossgrove family for the loan of works from the collection for this memorial exhibition.