It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of Emerson Woelffer who died on Sunday morning, February 2, 2003. In recent months, Mr. Woelffer had been convalescing at his home after a recent hip replacement surgery. While he continued to paint and listen to jazz daily, pneumonia eventually took his life.
An only child, Mr. Woelffer was born in Chicago on July 27, 1914. He grew up on the notorious South Side and often told a tale of running booze for the infamous Al Capone. He also acquired a taste for African art and jazz music during these days, passions that continued throughout Woelffers life.
Woelffer studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago before joining the US Army Air Force in 1939. Upon his discharge, he returned to Chicago and became a faculty member of Chicagos Institute of Design. During this time he formed a close relationship with Moholy-Nagy who would pass him the baton of Modernism, which he would later bring to California in the late 1950s.
In 1945, Woelffer married photographer Dina Anderson and four years later he accepted the invitation of Buckminster Fuller to teach at the legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina. It was here that Woelffer met and established life long friendships with Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell. Woelffer then traveled and worked in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. The early 1950s, he spent as an instructor at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and then in 1957 Woelffer traveled throughout Europe where he lived for two years on the island of Forio dIschia in the Bay of Naples.
Upon his return to the United States, an offer to become a painting instructor at the new Chouinard Art Institute (later to become California Institute of the Arts, CAL Arts) brought him to Los Angeles, California, where he would remain until his death. He taught at Chouinard until from 1959 to 1973 at which time he then became the chair of painting at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. Throughout his career Woelffer played an important role in developing Los Angeles as an international art community both with his presence as an accomplished artist and his seminal role as an educator. Among those artists that were influenced by Woelffer's tutelage are Larry Bell, Roy Dowell, Joe Goode, Dennis Hopper, and Ed Ruscha.
During his career, Woelffers work was the subject of national and international exhibitions He showed with the Poindexter Gallery and then Gruenebaum Gallery in New York City, and Kantor Gallery, David Stuart Gallery, and in most recent years, the Manny Silverman Gallery in Los Angeles. His work was the subject of retrospective exhibitions at the La Jolla Art Center in 1961, the Pasadena Art Museum in 1961, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 1964, the Newport Harbor Art Museum in 1974, and the Philips Collection in Washington, DC also in 1974 and the Otis Gallery in 1992. Over the course of his lifetime, Woelffer was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1967), a National Endowment for the Arts Grant (1974), a Pollock-Krasner Grant (1984) and a Greenberger Award (1988) and an honorary doctorate degree from Otis Parsons Art Institute (1991). His works can be found in The Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Seattle Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, among others. At the time of his death, Emerson Woelffers works were included in Black Mountain: An Experiment in Art at the Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain and solo exhibitions of Woelffer are being planned for the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center and The CalArts Gallery at Redcat in the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Funeral services were held on Wednesday, February 5, 2003 at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California. Emerson leaves behind a wife, Marilu Lopez Woelffer, hundreds of friends, colleagues, and former students who were touched by his passion, and a body of work that will be a lasting legacy. For more information, please contact Manny Silverman or Linda Hooper.
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