Artist, lifelong educator Fred Daspit dies at 83

by Leslie Turk

To know the retired UL art history professor was to love him.

Photo by Robin May

Fred Daspit with one of his intricate reliquary sculptures

Lafayette's arts community lost a brilliant mind and immensely talented artist Tuesday night, and the entire Lafayette community lost a gentle, great man. Surrounded by his family, Fred Daspit died at Lafayette General Medical Center after a brief illness. He was 83.

Delhomme Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. The IND will have more details later today.

Signs of Fred's talent were evident early on. It took the St. Martinville native only four years to earn a bachelor's degree in art education from UL and a master's degree in fine art from LSU. UL immediately hired him to teach art education, and he stayed for 36 years, schooling his students on everything from history of interiors to survey of the arts.

The beloved professor, author and historian then emerged onto the local art scene in 2005 at the age of 74, when he first exhibited his exquisite paintings and intricate reliquary sculptures at the University Art Museum and at Gallery 549 in Downtown Lafayette. There would be many more successful exhibits to follow, a remarkable feat considering that Fred had long before lost most of his eyesight.

Former students will tell you it was an honor to sit through one of Fred Daspit's classes. He loved the topic so much that he easily transferred a deep appreciation to his students. But they will also tell you that they had to ask him to slow down. He knew the material so well. And he wanted to ensure he didn't leave anything out.

Daspit and his wife Jeannine, in the summer of 2008, at an art opening featuring works by the couple's granddaughter, Brittany Montgomery Powers.

In early 2013, the year Fred was chosen as the official artist for Festival International, then-IND contributor Karen Kaplan wrote a piece about him, beautifully capturing the essence of the man so respected and admired by everyone who ever met him:

Although my husband has always been the love of my life, I have a confession to make: I have been in love with my college art professor for 25 years. In fact, I picked him up recently and over margaritas at LaFonda we caught up. I found that my love for him is as strong as ever.

You see, I love a good long passionate lecture, and that's exactly what Fred Daspit delivered during my first Survey of the Arts I class at UL. And this went on, class after class - and again for Survey II. I too share a passion for the arts, and he was ready, willing and beyond able to quench that thirst. ...

He prepared a new course on Louisiana architecture in the fall of 1980 and spring of '81. He traversed the state taking photographs of buildings, then researching each building and the architect responsible, taking in excess of 3,000 slides relevant to teaching this class. He also traveled to London, Rome, Florence, Venice, Amsterdam and Paris, doing research and study. These European trips culminated in his photographing and cataloguing over 3,000 slides for his art history lectures.

This man has lived and breathed art and architecture for so many years that it makes perfect sense his current work encompasses all of that and more. He was approached to be the official artist for Festival International this year, and a compilation of three wood sculpture pieces graces this year's poster. It's a real beauty.

Fred likes to listen to music when making his sculptures, usually opera, and admits his mind wanders back to his travels as he works. He labels a lot of the process "ritual." He begins a sculpture with a rough sketch of his concept on thin plywood. Someone cuts out the sketch for him since Fred has macular degeneration and is legally blind.

He then begins to "build" the piece by attaching small wood bits of different shapes to his "support" to create texture. To further define the piece and give it its individuality, he utilizes even smaller bits of thin wood circles, squares, triangles, ovals, wood dowels, Popsicle sticks, practically any shaped piece of wood could find itself on one of his sculptures. He then "ages" the wood through a process that renders it the look of rusty iron. Sometimes he will integrate a little color, blue, red, green, or even gold leaf. I remember he taught me the art of gold leafing 25 years ago.

Read Kaplan's piece, "A Love Affair with Fred," here.