Hugh Alvin Ricks, 1939-2005
Hugh Alvin Ricks was one of those people everyone knew even if they didn't really know him. His designs for everything from early Jazzfest posters to Zatarain's spice labels, from the White Pages cover dedicated to the Aquarium of the Americas to the logos of the Hilton Hotel, were part of the New Orleans artistic landscape for decades.
"If you mention my daddy to anyone," said his son Patrick Ricks, "they can tell you at one time he was Mr. Art Deco of New Orleans."
And his artistry didn't end with his art.
"He was the consummate Renaissance man," said his son-in-law, U.S. Army Lt. Col. William C. Radcliff. "He was accomplished on many different levels, very well read, very erudite, soft-spoken and thoughtful."
Ricks grew up in the Iberville housing project and lied about his age to enter the U.S. Marine Corps early. When his deception was discovered near the end of boot camp, he was forced to wait a few months before he endured the arduous training regime a second time. After his discharge from the service, he studied design at Delgado Community College while working as a security guard at NASA.
He applied his customary sense of dedication to his commercial art career, working tirelessly on a steady stream of high-profile commissions from the 1960s onward: The Crescent City Classic poster, the Albuquerque Balloon Festival poster, the Boston Marathon poster. He won so many design and art awards over the years that he eventually stopped entering such competitions.
"I woke up every single morning to Beethoven, Mozart, The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd or Simon and Garfunkel, playing softly," said son Patrick, "and the sound of an air compressor running an airbrush. I woke up to the smell of turpentine."
Ricks married twice, having six children (Hugh Brion, Cynthia, Lorena, Sean, Benjamin and Patrick) with wife Janice Schmit Ricks and another child (Emma) with wife Laura Rizzo Ricks.
"He would sit with his pipe, wearing a straw hat, with his legs crossed like a gentleman, sketching," said Patrick Ricks. "He touched this town in a quiet way."
Ricks had recently completed an 8-foot portrait commission for Christian Brothers Academy when digestive problems caused him to check into Lindy Boggs Medical Center for gall bladder surgery. That was just days before Katrina struck, plunging New Orleans, including the hospital where Ricks was recovering, into chaos. Days later, after a harrowing, debilitating evacuation, the artist died Sept. 16 in Fort Worth, Texas. He was 66.
"There's no doubt in my mind that if my dad hadn't gone through all he'd been through," said son Patrick, "he'd be alive today."
Published in The Times-Picayune