In many ways, the life of Harold Hogan is the classic story of a lone artist passionately creating his art in a studio hidden away from the rest of the world. It is only after his death that his works are discovered, his passion vindicated, his talent affirmed. Hogan's work has been virtually unseen by the public in the 35 years since he graduated from Wichita State University with a master's degree in fine arts.
One of his professors, art historian Mira Merriman, is about to change that. Because of Merriman and her long-held appreciation for Hogan, his work will be featured in an exhibition at the Ulrich Museum of Art. The opening reception today will include a lecture by Merriman.
Hogan attended Wichita State in the 1970s, impressing students and faculty alike with his painting and printmaking skills. Merriman was among his art professors.
"When he was 7 or 8 years old he had a terrible case of measles, which caused his deafness, but with hearing aids he was able to listen and did very well in my classes," she said. "Very often, though, he did not want to deal with people. He was very shy and retiring and completely obsessed by his work."
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After completing his master's degree in 1976, Hogan had an exhibition at the university; Merriman and her husband purchased three of his drawings. Wichita gallery owner Reuben Saunders also began to show Hogan's work, agreeing with Merriman that his art had a special quality.
"His work is very Kansan, but it is very abstract," she said. "With his beautiful sense of values and his experimentation of materials, he made things shine."
Over the next couple of years, Merriman purchased a few more pieces and then, suddenly, Hogan seemed to disappear.
"No one ever heard from him," she said. "I often wondered, 'Where is that boy?' "
In 2002, several years after Merriman retired, she came across a list of alumni from the School of Art and Design and saw that Hogan had died.
"I then became very obsessed with the notion of where his work was and what he had been doing all of those years when no one had heard from him," she said.
She investigated, first asking art collectors and gallery owners, with no results. After looking through newspaper obituaries, she discovered that Hogan had a sister, Beth Hogan, who told her that Hogan had lived a reclusive life in Lawrence but had continued to paint prolifically. Her brother, at age 50, had taken his own life, she said.
"I just loved him, and it broke my heart that people had not had a chance to see his art," Merriman said. "His sister told me that she hadn't known what to do with all of the art and it was stored in a garage in Leavenworth. I told her to bring it to me and I would go through it."
To Merriman's surprise, Hogan's sister brought a truck to Wichita with more than 500 works of art in it.
"I was astounded," she said. "By the end of 565 works of art that I catalogued on paper, there is still more."
Merriman showed some of the work to Patricia McDonnell, Ulrich director, who declared that the Ulrich would exhibit it.
"Seeing is believing, and I immediately understood Mira's fascination when she showed me his artwork," McDonnell said.
The show represents only a fraction of Hogan's work. There are 10 paintings in it, along with about 50 drawings and monoprints, and some of his sketchbooks.
But Merriman is hopeful Hogan's work eventually will get the exposure and recognition it deserves. Several galleries have expressed interest in showing his art, she said; proceeds from sales would go to his sister.
Merriman is gratified that she was moved enough by Hogan's death to investigate his life.
"This is so unlike me to go pursue something like a detective, but I believe that Harold nudged me and wanted me to do this," she said. "This show will expose so many people to Hogan's incredible art and maybe this is Harold's way of repaying his sister, who had helped support him for so long."
If you go
Harold Hogan: Maestro of the Kansas Prairie
What: Exhibition of works by the Kansas artist
Where: Grafly Gallery, Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University
When: On view through Aug. 1.
Note: An opening reception will be at 2 p.m. today, beginning with a lecture by art historian Mira Merriman, in 210 McKnight Art Center West, School of Art and Design. A reception will follow.
How much: Free.