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Ken Daley, Who Gave His “Heart and Soul” to ODU During a 51-Year Career in the Art Department, Dies at 80

By Joe Garvey

When Dianne deBeixedon became chair of the art department, she went through material left by her predecessor and discovered numerous suggestions for projects from Ken Daley.

"I went through the files and found note after note from him - proposals for a gallery, for an arts center, for a scholarship," she said in an article written for ODU's website noting Daley's retirement in 2016. "We have what we have because he had one single-minded objective: building the art department. This is what he loves."

Daley, who with 51 years at ODU was the University's longest-tenured faculty member when he retired, died on Jan. 17. He was 80.

"My heart and soul are here," Daley, who served for 15 years as chair of the Art Department, said upon his retirement. "My experience as an artist and educator has been more like a calling than a job."

Daley's contributions to the department, the University and the region are extensive.

At ODU, he's perhaps best known for founding the printmaking curriculum, teaching lithography, etching, screenprint, typesetting and letterpress. His students used a Vandercook printing press that he bought for the department when he came to the University in 1965.

Peter Eudenbach, chair of the art department, called him "a master craftsman in printmaking techniques, especially letterpress printing."

But his artwork extended well beyond that. Robert Wojtowicz, vice provost, dean of the Graduate School and former chair of the art department, recalled that Daley began working in neon around 1990 as "an outgrowth of his interest in both historic signs and written language."

That was evident in his "Parataxis," a glass-and-neon piece that contained more than 100 quotations, which was installed in 1995 at the Virginia Beach Public Central Library (now named for the late Mayor Meyera. E. Oberndorf).

"I wanted to create a piece that was about libraries and books, reading and language, and I wanted to involve other people in it,'' he told The Virginian-Pilot, adding that he asked librarians and friends to provide their favorite quotes about language and books.

In another piece, he "renamed" each of the U.S. states depending on how he felt about them in his 2001 neon map of the country called "Altered States."

"It was just one of those ideas that kind of tickled my brain a little bit, and hung around," he told The Pilot, adding that it was a "fanciful thing."

"He was an incomparable wordsmith, who reveled in subtle, cerebral and often witty word play," Eudenbach wrote in a memorial post on the Department of Art's website.

The Gordon Galleries have two of his neon pieces on permanent display.

"His large-scale neon pieces are among his best," Wojtowicz added.

His neons, prints and drawings can be viewed in many prominent other collections, including the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Drawing collection at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the New Jersey State Museum, the Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and the University of California, Berkeley.

He founded the University Gallery, predecessor of the Gordon Art Galleries, in the mid to late 1970s. He helped create the Faculty Senate as well as a film society that screened then-hard-to-find foreign language movies in Chandler Hall.

He also witnessed the evolution of students over more than half a century.

"They don't know how to use hand tools - a hammer, a screwdriver. I now have to teach these things," he said in 2016, but added that he learned much about modern technology from them.

"Ken was a true artist and could give great lectures," said Domenica Webb, adjunct assistant professor in the art department. "He would take you on a journey through language, history and science, then return full circle to the subject for the day. He had so much knowledge and was always willing to share."

Daley served as a visiting artist at several institutions, including the Ohio State University, Cornish College of the Arts, Rollins College, University of Colorado Boulder, Siena Heights University and the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts.

He also served from 1996 to 2010 with the College Board Studio Art AP Program reviewing portfolios of rising college students and ultimately as a member of the Development Committee.

"Generations of students were touched by his sometimes gruff but always caring manner," Wojtowicz said.

Among his awards and honors at ODU were being named University Professor in 2000 and University Professor Emeritus of Art in 2016. The Lorraine and Dr. H. William Fink Art Scholarship is named in his honor.

Daley was born and raised in Philadelphia and graduated from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia with his BFA in 1963. He received his MFA in painting and printmaking from Yale University School of Art and Architecture in 1965.

In addition to his parents Kenneth and Edna Daley, Daley was preceded in death by his third son, Jesse Hawthorne Daley. He is survived by his wife, Patricia Ann Daley, and their son, David Kenneth Daley; his son, Essen Gabriel Daley, his wife, Cathy and their children Rachel, Sarah, Michael and Lydia; his son, Aran Christopher Daley, and his daughter, Katie; and his brother, Lee, and his wife, Micki.

A memorial service will be held at a future date.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to The Lorraine and Dr. H. William Fink Art Scholarship in honor of Ken Daley or the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

"Ken was both smart and funny - always quick with a learned quip!" said Wojtowicz, whom Daley hired in 1990. "He gave his heart and soul to Old Dominion University. He joins A.B. Jackson, Parker Lesley, Gay and Wally Dreyer and Charles Sibley in the ODU art pantheon."

You can read Daley's online obituary at this link.

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