Yesterday I was reminded that January 4 would have been my Uncle Reese’s 90th birthday. He was my mother’s older brother and she loved him very much. As a child, I was in awe of him because he was an artist. As an adult, I was in awe of him because of his adventurous spirit, his open questioning mind, and his talent.
When I was 5-years old we were visiting Uncle Reese and his family in Dallas. For reasons I can’t recall, I was obsessed with Texas Longhorns. Shortly after we arrived I approached Uncle Reese as the adults were visiting and asked if he would draw me a picture of a Texas Longhorn. He said he’d do this later and continued to visit with my parents.
I approached my uncle several more times over the next day or two and each time he was polite but probably assumed his five-year-old nephew would become obsessed with something else if he delayed.
My mother tells me that I finally approached my uncle and asked clearly, “Uncle Reese, CAN you draw a Texas Longhorn?” He quietly got up and led me to his art studio where I watched in amazement as he made a Texas Longhorn appear before my eyes with ink and chalk. He then signed it “TEXAS LONGHORN drawn for Jim Warnock, Thanksgiving 1960, Reese Kennedy.”
This hangs on the wall of my living room today and I treasure the memory of that one-on-one time with my uncle as I watched him produce this drawing.
I’m not sure that this early success at getting my Uncle Reese to do what I wanted him to do predicted my future work in education or administration but he and his family definitely shaped my thoughts about the place of Fine Arts in education. I view the arts as central to learning. They are not optional but an essential part of any effective curriculum.
I’m thankful for my Uncle Reese and only regret that we were not able to spend more time with him and his family.
Additional historical note: Four years after this event, Reese Kennedy founded, and was the first president of, the Southwest Watercolor Society. This association of artists continues to this day.
April, 2016: Thank you to one of Reese’s former students for sharing the following newspaper clippings. He also shared the following comments about his memory of Reese.
Reese was one of my heroes. I only have three heroes so this is a sincere complement. The other two heroes are my dad and my high school football coach, the two heroes that sent me to SFA on a football scholarship in 1965. On arrival to SFA, I visited the art department and had a short conversation with Reese. I was sold immediately on signing up in his classes, not sure of which ones, but that is not important as I sooner or later took all of them. I was hooked on his personality and charm, not to mention his love for the arts and water coloring quest for excellence. – Mike Mikulenka