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The phone call came as a shock. “Gary Reed just died.” Gary Reed, friend of the arts and longtime supporter of the Superior community, would be seriously missed.
In his book The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell writes about connectors, people who know large numbers of people across an array of social, cultural and economic circles. Connectors take an interest in others and are in the habit of introducing people to other people, linking us to the wider world. Jeredt Runions is one of these. It was he who connected me to Gary Reed, who is another.
I first noticed Gary’s artwork at a group show in Duluth’s West End. It was a ten-person show, but his piece was so singular that it remains memorably fixed in my mind to this day. A few months later, I spied the piece in a window display at the Superior Library along with some other impressive works. So when I was interviewing the young Runions and he shared how Gary Reed had been a mentor and like a father to him, I felt compelled to meet this man.
At one time Runions lived across the street from Gary and Kelly Reed who had purchased the Masonic Temple in East Superior a few blocks passed the Choo Choo Bar. They were transforming the space into a home that was simultaneously a work of art. It also served as home for Reed Graphics, Gary’s screen printing business.
Very early on I learned of Reed’s involvement in the Historical Society. He also enjoyed theater, having played one of the Andrews Sisters in a musical. He took delight in dressing up as The Phantom of the Galleries for the Phantom Galleries, Superior art shows these past several years, also contributing the window graphics for these happenings. In addition to being a businessman and artist, he was also an entertainer.
The first time we met he had dark hair after sporting an Eddie Munster haircut for a Halloween party. “I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be able to get the dye out,” he said.
The house that he and Kelly shared showed the artist touch in every room and could have been described as an art museum in progress. In that first visit he led me inside and up a few stairs to the spacious living room, pointing out various changes they’d made since acquiring the place, including moving a fireplace, installing a large set of windows for bringing in the light, and more. He pointed out that all the marble around the room was actually pressed wood that he’d painted to appear marble. Artists are masters of illusion, and Gary no different.
We next went down to his office and workspace, the walls serving to display many of his works. As we talked I learned that we shared some common influences and interests. As kids we’d both built Big Daddy Roth rat rod car models, read Mad magazine and shared a fascination with Frankenstein and other monsters.
Gary attended art classes for two years at UWS, but dropped out when he saw that the other art students that were graduating were not getting jobs in the arts. One doesn’t need a degree in art to be creative, only a passion. The screen printing business he eventually built, Reed Graphics, ultimately provided the economic contribution that financed his passion.
In addition to the screen printing shop out back they have a large format printer in the basement, all the necessary tools for creative mass production. It brought to mind Andy Warhol’s remark when he learned that Picasso claimed to have produced about 4,000 masterpieces in his life. “I can produce 4,000 masterpieces in a day,” said Warhol.
During the tour I heard Gary’s side of the story about when the younger Jeredt Runions had lived across the street and how their paths intersected. Runions occasionally wrestled large canvases out into the yard so he could photograph them. Gary went over and befriended the young painter, offering suggestions and practical insights from his own years of experience, including this tip: Don’t make paintings larger than you can transport.
Gary said he began drawing things on paper at a very early age, “ever since I can remember.” Among his early influences he listed Saturday morning cartoons, monster models, Peter Max, Salvidor Dali, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Filmore posters, Zap Comics, Frank Frazetta, Rick Griffen, Robert Crumb, Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Mad Magazine, comic books, Maxfield Parrish and many others.
He honed his skills emulating band posters he’d seen and was especially drawn to bizarre letter styles, working for hours with color crayons, pencils and colored markers. He identified acrylics as his favorite media, commenting that oils tended to get muddy and that he never had much luck with them. He was also skilled with an airbrush which he used for shading large areas.
My impressions from that first meeting were of a talented man who is modest about his skills, who enjoyed taking the ordinary and giving it his own twist. Never aggressive, he was welcomed wherever he went. His contributions to our community will be sorely missed.