Lamar retires: "This has never been a job for me"
Every trimester’s end brings on a time of transition as students receive their grades and, in some cases, their diplomas. This past spring’s conclusion in the April 19 commencement marked more than just the passage from one term into the next.
As the second ceremony of the night reached its conclusion, a familiar figure rose with the rest of the faculty and lifted the staff that he had meticulously carved from its perch next to the university president on stage.
An earthy cry of celebration rose from the audience. Angus Kent Lamar, long-time professor and chairman of the art department, gave a wry smile before joining the procession of faculty off of the stage.
With that, Lamar officially had retired and his 38-year tenure at the University of Science and Arts came to an end.
Born in Chickasha in 1947, Lamar began to give the idea of training as an artist after he excelled in trade, or mechanical, drawing class in high school.
After an unsatisfying semester at the University of Oklahoma, Lamar enrolled at the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts in the spring of 1966. His memories of the then newly-christened and repurposed OCLA are tempered by the work load that art students were expected to assume.
“We knew we were there to do one thing – produce,” Lamar said. “It was drilled into our head over and over that talent was important but hard work gave you the right to call yourself an artist.”
Under legendary faculty like longtime art department chairman Derald Swineford, Clark Bailey and Cora Oakes, Lamar graduated with a bachelor’s degree in professional art in 1969.
Lamar, along with fellow graduate Hollis Howard, traveled to Mexico to continue his studies at the Instituto Allende. He was able to pay for his studies by serving as a welding and sculpting instructor and, in 1970, graduated with a master’s of fine arts degree in painting.
For five years after returning, Lamar took painting and sculpture commissions while teaching night classes at the Caddo-Kiowa Vo-Tech. When a teaching position at his alma mater opened up in 1975, he knew the time was right to go in a different direction.
“As much as I loved the freedom of producing work all day, I had gotten tired of talking to my dog in the studio,” Lamar said.
Lamar was appointed as the acting chairman of the department in 1978 after Bailey’s untimely death and assumed the full title in 1980.
In that time, Lamar had overseen the renovation of the Art Annex in 1980 — which was again overhauled in 2005 — and assembled an all-star roster of instructors that included fellow alumnus and Instituto Allende grad Howard, Jaymes Dudding, followed by OCLA grad Steve Brown and, in 1998, USAO alumna Jacquelyn Knapp.
Lamar credits much of the USAO art department’s stellar reputation to the collaborative effort of this team and to the continuity that he, along with Swineford, was able to bring.
“Between Derald and I, that’s more than 70 years of USAO’s history under two chairmen,” Lamar said. “There’s nothing magical about what I’ve done but there is something important about stability and hopefully, I’ve played a part in providing that.”
One major change Lamar has been instrumental in bringing about is the introduction of a bachelor of fine arts degree to USAO’s curriculum.
“Our students were having trouble getting into graduate schools without that BFA on their diploma, even though the instruction they had received was comparable or, in some cases, superior,” Lamar said. “It took a few years of lobbying the administration to make the change but, in the end, they knew we were only trying to do what was best for our students.”
“When it’s all said and done, the students and the program always come first here.”
He said he is confident that the art department’s legacy will extend will into the future under incoming chairwoman, Knapp. Lamar plans to spend his retirement working his cattle, doing chores around his ranch and spending time with his grandchildren.
As this era of USAO’s history comes to a close, Lamar is certain about one thing.
“I don’t feel like I’m leaving a job,” Lamar said. “This has never been a job for me. This is my life.”