by Len Lear
It is not unusual for teachers to reward good students with good grades, but Dean Hartung, 63, a resident of Mt. Airy for 32 years, provides an even better reward – a beautiful portrait that he paints for them.
“When we get to the ‘drawing heads’ section of the semester,” said Hartung, who has taught art at Community College of Philadelphia for more than 20 years, “I ask for volunteers, and usually girls get up on the stand, and we all draw them. They usually watch me for a while and then dive in and draw. Usually they say, ‘You made it look easy,’ but it’s really a matter of doing thousands of them, like anything you get good at.
“This is always very popular, and I’ve managed to keep a few portraits over the years. After realizing I have over 50 of them sitting in portfolios, I felt it was time to display them.” As a result, Hartung is exhibiting dozens of his portraits at the Madeline Cohen Gallery on the Community College of Philadelphia campus at 1700 Spring Garden St. The exhibit began Nov. 1 and will stay up until Dec. 6. Hartung is also a spectacular muralist who has painted nine murals for Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, among others.
(For the exhibit, Hartung borrowed some portraits since he is friends with a lot of ex-students on Facebook. And for the last few years he has been keeping the better portraits, hoping to have an exhibition like this one.)
According to an earlier article, Hartung and his wife, Ellen Hutchinson, 70, who is also an artist, “have furnished and restored their East Mount Airy twin in the spirit of Indiana Jones.
“Like that fictional archaeologist, the couple have often found treasure – buried in trash cans, tossed near railroad tracks and of course, up for sale on that modern- day auction block, eBay.
“But what might make the unadventurous among us really spit nails: the fact that Hutchinson and Hartung can turn someone else’s castoffs into remarkable home decor.”
Hartung told us last week, “I still find castoffs, but as the house is full, I tend to use them now for still objects for school.”
Hutchinson told a reporter that as a child, she saw her mother decorate their summer home with finds from the Salvation Army and flea markets. And when she and Hartung were in Maine, they spent countless hours poking around at flea markets. “You get into the habit,” she said.
Hartung, a native of Ravenna, Ohio, and Hutchinson met at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Madison, Maine, in the late 1970s. They went back two years later as the Deans of Students but later moved to Brooklyn, Hutchinson’s hometown. They found Brooklyn too expensive, however, so 32 years ago they moved to Philly.
“A friend had a painting show downtown,” Hartung said, “and drove us to various neighborhoods in Philly where artists tended to live. We loved Mt. Airy because of the old houses, old trees and nice people. We were slowly being priced out of Brooklyn, so we started looking for a place in East Mt. Airy.”
Hartung and Hutchinson also both show at the prestigious Gross McCleaf Gallery in Center City.
“My favorite artist is Titian, a Venetian artist,” Hartung said, “who painted religious and secular murals, portraits, nudes and mythological paintings with equal aplomb. I’ve tried to be like Titian in that I’ve done a lot of different painting for specific situations. Murals for homes, hospitals, courthouses and the subway as well as portraits, landscapes and still lifes.”
Hartung’s first major commission was 144 running feet of murals for a courthouse, “and even though I was prepared to do it with good training, it was still daunting. I had a design teacher tell me once that to be an artist, you had to have patience and work through problems analytically. That is very true, and I give that advice to students all the time.”
Which talent that Hartung does not have would he most like to have?
“I would like to be able to dance and sing and speak more languages.”
If Hartung could live anywhere on earth, where would it be and why?
“We spent a summer once in southern France in a chateau – pretty hard to beat – and we have been going to San Miguel Allende (eastern Mexico) the last couple years, and that’s pretty nice.”
If Hartung could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, who would it be? “I’ve been lucky in that I’ve met a lot of my art heroes, so maybe I’d like to meet a fabulous, benevolent patron who could commission huge beautiful murals and portraits.”
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Hartung’s Facebook page. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com