Lamar Dodd’s Rockefeller grant allowed him to spend $10,000 without any oversight and he used the opportunity to reevaluate their efforts from the ground up. His first choice for an outside opinion was George Nelson. Nelson assumed that the southern painter wanted one his artist lectures, and he was reluctant to travel south for that purpose. Lamar Dodd proved impossible to dissuade; multiple phone calls and the promise of an exorbitant fee for simply visiting campus convinced Nelson to come for a visit. Dodd explained that his school was looking into adding design studies to their academic arsenal, and grow the graduate program.
Nelson’s investigation resulted in basic questions about the way classes were being taught. Careful observation of classes revealed that there was redundancy and confusion in their curricula. The consultation turned into a heated debate and proved that more investigation needed to be done. Lamar Dodd shrewdly suggested that an advisory committee be formed with two more experts. Nelson considered Charles Eames to be the best man for the job and so Dodd successfully summoned another famous designer to his school with Nelson’s help. Eames agreed with Nelson that there were unclear goals and poorly organized lessons in school’s curriculum. The two designers then explained their ideal vision of an art school, one that took the expertise of artist and proceeded to demonstrate a lesson in the quickest way possible using the best methods, to teach the principles that the instructor deemed important. The suggestion seemed abstract at best, and the faculty was more confused by the suggestion than enlightened.
The advisory committee agreed that the only thing left to do would be to demonstrate their vision. The advisory board would gain one more member a talented architect and designer who would be willing to help tackle this unprecedented task. Nelson and Eames agreed that Alexander Girard, would be the perfect complement to the group. This subcommittee of the University of Georgia’s art department was resolute in their purpose, but their first problem was geography. Their studios were located in three separate regions of the country. Charles and Ray Eames’ 901 studio was located in Los Angeles, California, Alexander Girard’s workshop was in Dearborn, Michigan, and George Nelson was located at Herman Miller’s New York City offices. None of these places were remotely close to city of Athens, Georgia.
Lamar Dodd grew up during the gasps of the old South. A Georgian born in 1909, He studied as a precocious child for 5 years at LaGrange College, and then studied architecture at Georgia Tech, before enrolling in the Art Student League in 1928. In 1931, he took a break to get married and have a show at the High Museum of Art, he returned to New York to study under Jean Charlot and John Stuart Curry. He took private lessons from Charles Martin and George Luks, a leading member of a group labeled the “Ashcan School” which documented the transformation of rural settings by industrialization.
His early painting, “The Railroad” is indicative of the influence while his painting “Bargain Basement” illustrates how he adapted it to his own personal setting. All told he spent 5 years studying in New York but he refused to live there at the apparent risk of his art career.
In 1933 he returned to the South becoming a manager of an art supply store in Birmingham, Alabama. He raised profits and taught himself how to run a successful business in the process. He had a one person exhibit at Ferargil Galleries and his work was in various jury exhibitions including the Art Institute of Chicago’s 47th Annual Exhibition of American Painting and Sculpture in 1936.
When he became a visiting artist for UGA he didn’t think of himself as a teacher, but he brought prestige and his leadership to the school. In his own estimation he was riding a tiger, attempting to please a conservative community yet build a modern art program in Athens, Georgia.
In 1937, Lamar Dodd began teaching in the University of Georgia. According to Dr. Tom Mack in a newspaper eulogy for the Aiken Standard, Lamar Dodd gave 40 out of town lectures a year, with 60 one-man shows and painted about 50 canvases a year. On his last vacation he made 225 drawings, watercolors, and gouache paintings in 21 days. When he took over the chair of department head, there were 3 faculty members, 50 slides, and an annual budget of $50 and when he retired 35 years later, there were 50 professors in the department and budget of $2 million.
Dodd posed for a Life Magazine article in September of 1949. The caption near his image claimed that this former Rotary Club President is “more responsible than any other man for the renaissance of art that has swept the Southeast in the last 10 years.”
In 1952, he took an important step for their design program, by contacting George Nelson. George Nelson held a two day consultation over the proposed industrial design department, which led to even grander ideas. Lamar resolved to pursue Nelson’s “concrete plan,” and the art department started a new chapter in their program. This, of course, is what evolved into the Art X show.
In 1954, he left the school temporarily and took over the Presidency of CAA his introduction in a news report explains that Dodd’s program,” has developed from one which functioned primarily as a service department to other schools and colleges within the university to a vibrant organization with a permanent staff of fifteen and a continuing program of visiting scholars and artists. As a result of the unique position Georgia’s art department occupies within the university from the standpoint of teaching, research, and scholarship, one of the large Foundations made a substantial grant solely for the purpose of further expansion of the this department," according to that year’s CAA News Report.
Dodd considered it important to stay in touch with the “divergent trends” in American art. He often served as a jury member for art exhibitions around the country which ensured that he could observe the rapidly changing pulse of the contemporary art world. He felt it was worth formally explaining this philosophy in his article “A JURYMAN SPEAKS”, published by the College Art Association in 1951.
Dodd continued his own research in painting throughout his life: working with doctors to explore heart surgery, with scientists at NASA to explore space. In 1963 he was designated an official NASA artist for the Mercury Astronaut-9 project. As an administrator and leader he was equally successful improving both his local and national art ecology. Serving as President of the College Art Association from 1954 to 1956, leading the Carnegie Slide Survey, and acting as an artist ambassador the Eisenhower administration are all some of his most lasting contributions to art in America.
When Lamar Dodd passed he was living in 5 Points area of Athens. Always working, he was 86 years old at the time and painting the famous black glove from the O.J. Simpson trial. He retired in 1976, but it was two decades later that the school would be renamed in his honor, the ceremony lagged behind the name which was already placed on the building.