Remembering My Teacher, Paul

Paul Arthur Dufour died in Baton Rouge on September 6, 2008. His passing was marked by the awesome destruction visited on southern Louisiana by Hurricane Gus. Thanks to Gus, Paul’s funeral couldn’t be scheduled until the 16th. I’ll leave this – Nature’s surreal, bombastic exclamation point to a life well lived – for you to ponder with your own measure of poetic license…

As I sat in the pew at St. Aloysius Church during Paul’s funeral, his glorious Journey Window streaming sunshine from above the altar, I couldn’t help but notice the diverse group of family, friends, fellow artists, teachers, and students who had gathered to celebrate Paul’s life. This reminded me that I “knew” only a small facet of the dazzling, intense, multidimensional gem that was Paul. There are many who can better recount his life from the unique perspectives of wife, son, daughter, grandchild, business partner, neighbor, friend, etc. The following comments are from the very limited perspective of one of Paul’s former (and forever) students.

When I transferred to LSU in the Fall of 1973, I was required to take a color theory class. Several professors taught the course but, as luck would have it, I ended up in the one taught by a professor named Paul Dufour. To us students it was just “Paul” – right off the bat he warned us not to call him Professor Dufour. Among the many gifted teachers I had the good fortune to study with during my days in academia, Paul was the one who, in my mind, soars far above all the others. And it wasn’t simply a matter of the thorough, creative way he covered the course material or the technical virtuosity he imparted. Paul was one of the only people I have ever known who actually personify the overused term “renaissance man”. This was inescapable each day in his classes. Every classroom lecture or studio critique was such a multidisciplinary tour de force that we students commonly were suffering mental whiplash as we stumbled out of Paul’s classroom, heads awhirl. In the midst of one of Paul’s carefully planned, highly personalized Color Theory lectures, we never knew when we might be whisked off beyond fine arts into an aside on enlightenment philosophy, or greek mythology, or tautology and logic, or the latest developments in molecular biology, or existential conundra, or Eastern metaphysics, or cutting edge sports car design, or comparative religion, or the hydrology of the Mississippi River, or the fine-points of Aristotle’s’ Poetics, or perception vs. illusion vs. reality, or… whew! WOW!

The survivors of Dufour’s Color Theory class were either relieved to have escaped with their lives, never to look back, or, like me, were relieved to have escaped with their lives, but exhilarated and inspired and wondering about taking another class with Paul. During that semester we all had heard about the storied, groundbreaking, and degree-conferring stained glass program Paul had founded within LSU’s Fine Arts Department. “Well”, I had been thinking, “if that’ll allow further studies with Paul, I’m going to apply” and, “besides, stained glass would probably be a cool thing to learn anyway.”

I remained in Paul’s stained glass program for the remainder of my four years at LSU. Often we would skip other classes in order to sit in on more of Paul’s spellbinding critiques of his students’ work. Paul’s intensity and often over-the-top-seeming demands of students derived from at least two main sources. Paul understood the importance of informed creativity and disciplined work habits – his own efforts in numerous media served as sparkling examples of the rewards of such focus and dedication. Paul never demanded more of his students than he demanded of himself (and, in retrospect, he never really held us students to his own intimidating standards). After the dust settled, it was obvious that he was steadfastly on our side from his heart outward. Furthermore, Paul understood that soon we’d find very few handouts or freebies out in the “real” world we were about to enter. His demanding, rigorous and no-nonsense teaching methods were more than justified (and successful). Paul loved his students like a father. And, it is important to note that this entire classroom experience was leavened with humor ranging from sublime wit to sophomoric inanity.

When I graduated in 1977 and moved Dallas, the relationship with my all-time favorite and most influential teacher changed dramatically. The Paul-of-my-mind’s-eye now constantly hovered over my shoulder. Before launching into a new design, I would (and still do) inevitably wonder to myself, “How would Paul approach this?” or “What questions would Paul ask himself?”. On a much more sporadic time frame, I’d call, email, and send birthday and Christmas cards. Every once in a blue moon I’d actually show up in Baton Rouge – visit Paul and Rita at home and maybe a find a pile of crawfish somewhere for supper – or maybe meet Paul and Sam Corso at their studio, marvel at their current projects and have lunch at some favorite Greek restaurant.

During those visits I never lost a somewhat awed, student-esque feeling of intimidation around Paul, the ever-present benchmark and standard against which I’ll always gauge my own career. Maybe that’s why Paul continues to exhort me – to demand just a little more – to push me further than I might otherwise go. As he would remind me: (1) I’ll never create a perfect stained glass window and, (2) I will never have a chance of even coming close if I don’t always remember (1).

Even if one only considers Paul’s teaching efforts, the full breath and scope of his influence on so many lives is hard to fully grasp. And the ripples continue expanding outward! How lucky I was that day when the stars aligned and I was assigned to Paul’s color theory class.

Thank you Paul! Bravissimo! Well done!,
Jeff Smith, October 2008

 

Paul wrote this for his son, Paulo, who, at the time, was struggling through a class on existentialism:

“I am complete space.

In order to identify myself I have to find my limit through form.

The mark I make only serves to outline and never outlive a time void.

A sense of needing a focus of form

Allows me to be

– this being you now understand –

but never the space.”

– Paul Dufour