Four months ago, as he faced terminal cancer, abstract artist Timothy Ray made a request for his career retrospective.
“He said, ‘You better book it soon because I’ve got to make it to that opening,’” recalled Laurel Reuter, director of the North Dakota Museum of Art and long-time friend of the former Moorhead State University professor.
“Sadly,” Reuter said, “it was not meant to be.”
Ray died peacefully in his home Feb. 9, a week before “Grids, Blobs, Smears and Stripes: A Timothy Ray Retrospective” debuted at the Grand Forks museum.
Now two Moorhead State University alumni, Tim Larsen and Jeff Johnson, have decided to launch a scholarship in Ray’s honor.
Ray’s former colleagues and friends see this act as a testament to how much of an impact the artist had both as a producer and teacher of art throughout the past four decades.
Born in Saskatchewan in 1940, Ray taught at MSU from 1970 until 1997.
“He was pretty instrumental in how we do our (art and design) curriculum,” said Tim Borchers, College of Arts and Humanities dean.
MSUM art professor Carl Oltvedt, Ray’s friend for 30 years, said the artist “believed in what he was doing.” Oltvedt remembered when Ray spent one Friday night in the mid- 80s coloring and talking about colors with Oltvedt’s two young children. “That’s the artist and teacher in his heart.”
Ray’s “sense of color and composition were just phenomenal,” Oltvedt said.
MSUM mass communications professor Wayne Gudmundson and his wife were also friends with Ray for decades.
“He was able to have a whip in one hand and a carrot in the other,” said former MSUM art gallery director Jane Gudmundson, who worked closely with Ray in the last months of his life to put together the retrospective. “He really challenged (students) to go further and further with their work.”
In a joint eulogy at Ray’s memorial service, the Gudmundsons took turns relaying messages from MSU alumni and colleagues.
One alumnus remembered Ray as a “generous spirit – warm, kind and open.”
“I liked his wit. I liked his down-to-earthness and his enthusiasm for common threads,” Charlie Thysell said. “I loved his disregard for status or rank. He was a good man. I will miss him.”
Johnson, one of the alumni who made a seed donation for the scholarship fund, used humor for the dark day.
“This is just me – but I was hoping that there was some epic paint battle between competing post-modernists and abstract purists, and Tim was killed throwing his body onto some kind of paint grenade in the name of Canadian Painters Independence,” he said. “Tim had a very big, very positive effect on me as a creative human being.”
Even in retirement, Ray remained active in the regional art scene, curating shows, producing art and supporting other local artists.
Days before he died, a frail Ray made it to the opening of Oltvedt’s show at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead.
“When he showed up I was incredibly moved and deeply saddened by how sick he looked,” Oltvedt said. “He said he would have it no other way.”
Ray never left his house again.
To donate to the Timothy Ray scholarship fund, contact the MSUM Alumni Foundation. When the total hits $10,000, interest on the endowment will allow for annual scholarships, permanently sealing Ray’s legacy for MSUM art students.
Scholarships like this one help “us attract high-quality students or in some cases need-based students that wouldn’t be able to afford college otherwise,” Borchers said. “They also help us retain students who have made important contributions to their departments.”
After Ray’s retrospective at the North Dakota Museum of Art, which features his work from the 1970s through the 2010s, closes April 7, it will move to Fargo’s ecce art + yoga.
“It’s a really bright, colorful show,” Reuter said. “I’m certain his artwork will become a part of the canon of the art of our region.”
As family and friends gathered to remember former MSUM art professor Timothy Ray February 18, a somber day became horribly tragic.
Sean Ray, the artist’s son, and Sean’s partner Judith Reid died in a four-car accident near Barnesville on the way to the memorial service at Peace Lutheran Church in Fargo. Timothy Ray’s 16-year-old grandson, Evan Ray, suffered critical injuries in the accident, which happened during blizzard conditions.
Sean Ray was in the process of taking over his father’s business, Barnesville Easels, and had just returned from a conference in New York City where he was representing the company.
Jane Gudmundson, a long-time friend of Timothy Ray’s, said Friday that Evan Ray had feeling in one leg – a good sign that there is no spinal cord damage – but didn’t have any more details on his condition.
BY BRYCE HAUGEN