"I can't overstate how much this hurt," said CCAD provost and interim president Kevin Conlon in a statement. "Denny was an innovative leader, a talented painter and a tireless champion for the arts. Most of all, he was a good man."
Former Columbus College of Art and Design president Denny Griffith died this morning, Jan. 18, at the age of 63, just 10 days after the opening of Another World, an exhibition of his latest series of works.
Griffith started the paintings shortly after announcing his retirement from CCAD in the fall of 2013. In February 2014, he was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer that affects the bile system.
"I can't overstate how much this hurt," said CCAD provost and interim president Kevin Conlon in a statement issued this morning. "Denny was an innovative leader, a talented painter and a tireless champion for the arts. Most of all, he was a good man."
Griffith was born in Delaware, Ohio, on Oct. 22, 1952. He completed his undergraduate degree at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1974 and his Masters of Fine Arts from Ohio State in 1994. He served at the third president of CCAD for 16 years.
Griffith sat down with writer Suzanne Goldsmith in November to talk about his life, his art and cancer for the story "Denny Griffith's Other World" that appeared in our January issue. It was the first time Griffith spoke openly about his cancer, though he was adamant he didn't want the disease to be focus of the story. He was exceptionally proud of his art, and the exhibition at CCAD.
The artwork, he told Goldsmith, "enables me to get away from the worries of the cancer."
"This sustains me," he said.
The pieces in Another World are large, colorful and sometimes erotic depictions of alien-looking creatures that come alive with contour and dimension in Griffith's chosen medium, encaustic art (the process of adhering paint to wax). "This stuff's pretty frisky," Griffith told Goldsmith in the Columbus Monthly story. "By and large, it's happy work. I really have fun making them."
Just days after the January issue hit the streets, Griffith wrote a note to Goldsmith-a note that will be published in the Letters section of our upcoming February issue.
"Suzanne: I want to thank you for the brilliant, revealing, thoughtful piece you wrote on me and my work," Griffith wrote on Dec. 20. "Over the years I've met with a lot of people in your profession. This is, I think, the best piece for a host of reasons and I admire your gentle yet firm grasp of issues both intellectual and emotional that are at the root of my joy and my struggle. Hell of a fine piece of writing. I feel indebted to you. Best, Denny."
A day later, he asked if we could send some copies of the magazine down to the Griffith's other home in Burnsville, North Carolina, where he and his wife had traveled to host Christmas with family and friends. On Dec. 23, Griffith wrote back, saying, "Well, you just made our night! The family just sat down to dinner and the door rang. Everyone has a big grin and their own copy of Columbus Monthly. What a fun Christmas!"
Throughout the day, a number of community leaders issued statements in tribute of Griffith's life, some of which are excerpted here.
Andy Ginther, mayor of Columbus: "Under Denny's watch, CCAD doubled in size and the creative community in Columbus grew with it. Denny's passion and enthusiasm for everything he did brought a wider audience to the arts as well as further development of the Discovery District in Columbus."
Nannette Maciejunes, executive director of the Columbus Museum of Art: "He will be remembered as one of the key cultural figures of our generation. As his friend, I was so happy to see him immerse himself in his painting over this last year because it gave him, and others, so much joy."
Sherri Geldin, director of the Wexner Center for the Arts: "I've delighted in the gift of Denny's friendship for over 20 years, having met him soon after my arrival in Columbus. He will ever remain in my memory as that all-too rare combination of master, mentor, 'mensch.' An irrepressible force -- umimaginably compassionate, fiercely loyal and wickedly funny."
Donna S. Collins, executive director of the Ohio Arts Council: "We have been privileged to work with Denny -- to be inspired by him and to learn from him about the value of the arts and the impact they have our our lives. His legacy will forever remain in our hearts."
Tom Katzenmeyer, president and CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council: "Denny Griffith was an incredible advocate for the arts in Columbus and his influence and accomplishments are both remarkable and lasting. He was able to leverage his strong leadership of the Columbus College of Art & Design to benefit the arts in the entire community, and he made the city a better place as a result. We all admired and looked up to Denny, and, on top of that, he was a genuinely fun and engaging guy."
Griffith is survived by his wife, Beth Fisher, and their son, Blake, his mother, Sally Griffith of North Carolina, brother Tom Griffith of Seattle, sister Anne Barrus of North Carolina.