(Meant to post this yesterday, but it’s never too late to remember Dale Eldred and his extraordinary life and art. So I’m sharing a chapter from my book LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, plus a poem.)
Although Dale Eldred’s design fulfilled Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1940 vision for the Steeple of Light of Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, Dale never got to see it come into being. Dale was an internationally acclaimed sculptor and chair of the Sculpture Department at the Kansas City Art Institute for 33 years. During his brief 59 years he accomplished herculean tasks and mammoth projects.
Described once as a proponent of “romantic gigantism,” he became best known for large‑scale sculptures that included natural and generated light. He created numerous works of art in Kansas City and around the world. He inspired and launched hundreds of artist‑students in their luminous careers. But he never was afforded the earthly pleasure of standing with family and friends to behold the Steeple of Light at the corner of 46th and Main.
In the summer of 1993, Dale and the rest of Kansas City were worried about the rising of the Missouri River due to the “500‑year” flood ravaging the heartland. On July 26, 1993, with the assistance of his artistic crew, Dale was moving equipment in his two‑story West Bottoms studio in preparation for possible flooding. On the studio’s second floor, Dale, who rarely ever forgot where his feet were, forgot that a grate had been set aside and tripped and fell through the opening to the ground floor below. His death was devastating to family and friends, to Kansas City, and to the artistic community here and around the world. Those who gathered for the memorial service celebrating his life mourned his death and blessed his legacy.
Dale’s art continues to bless people and places around the world – in the hinterlands of Turkey; in the Nashville airport; along a North Carolina causeway; in the Tulsa Convention Center; in an Illinois shopping center; at a Des Moines art center; at the Minneapolis Institute for the Arts; at a Denver education center; in a Fort Lauderdale library; on college campuses in Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, and Arizona; and in numerous personal art collections around the world.
Dale’s long, grand romance with light was an ultimate testimony to his love of beauty. For light has a twin identity: first, light illumines all things, and without it nothing is illuminated; second, the illumination of light becomes a marvelous, alluring enchantment in and of itself. As a perpetual kindergartner on his way to the perpetual first day of school, Dale delighted in light’s capacity to empower him in a grand, perpetual game of “Show‑and‑Tell.” Or as Dale might have said: light shows great beauty, and it tells great truth.
To me, beyond his prodigious talent, more crucial than his unique gifts, more telling than his insatiable curiosity, more impressive than his powerful personality, and more searing than the piercing glint of his keen vision, this is first and foremost: Dale Eldred was a friend, rare and fine and precious.
Let us be thankful that Community Christian Church is the steward of one of Dale’s most visible and accessible sculptures, the Steeple of Light, made possible by his design and by the artistic execution of Roberta Lord, his partner in all things. More importantly, let us be thankful for Dale Eldred himself, who abides in loving memory as friend, teacher, colleague, brother, uncle, father, husband, partner, child of God, brother of the light, progeny of the Eternal.
HE IS HERE
He is here,
as solid as light,
as brilliant as steel,
as sure as rain.
And he is there,
strong in the wind,
bold in the moon,
rejoicing in the sun.
— Bob Hill
© 2018, Robert Lee Hill