Don Marr often enjoyed challenging convention and encouraging debate in his life and in his art. Over the course of his eighty-three years, he produced hundreds of paintings that enchant the eye with their naturalistic majesty and provoke the mind with pointed social themes. He was a stubborn realist in an era dominated by non-representational, modern art. In a forty-one year career as the head of the art department at Hendrix College, his passion for painting complemented his zeal for teaching. Marr challenged his students beyond provincial thinking and inspired them to find their own passions. More of a maverick than a cowboy, he could often be seen striding across campus in his blue jeans and trademark, Stetson hat.
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Don Harry Marr, the son of Harry Aloysius Marr and Birdie Czar Marr, was born on Jan. 18, 1930, in St. Louis, Mo. While in boarding school, one of his teachers noticed him drawing a horse and told him that he should pursue the life of an artist. Marr proceeded to the University of Tennessee where he received a degree in studio art in 1953. After two years of service as an Army lieutenant stationed in Germany, he returned to the U.S. to the University of Arkansas to pursue graduate studies receiving his MFA in 1958. He then joined the faculty at Hendrix College in the fall of 1959. As well as lecturing on art history, Marr taught free-hand drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and calligraphy to generations of students. In 1991, Marr was named the Louis and Charlotte Cabe Distinguished Professor of Art.
Marr married Camilla Raymond Brittenum in 1961. After they married, the extended Raymond family, which included a sizeable percentage of the Woodruff County population, took Marr in as one of their own.
As a young artist Marr dabbled with cubism, and his works during the 1950s and '60s have a distinctly modernist aesthetic. As his point of view evolved, so did his art. In 2001 he said, "Stylistically, my art is of two kinds. One kind (or genre) is a Romantic, Realism. The other kind (or style) is a Seriocomic, Surrealism." However, there were few genres he didn't try. Marr painted primarily in acrylic, though he often enhanced details with oil. He also applied gold leaf liberally and wrote his titles in his signature calligraphy. His titles were intended to intrigue as much as enlighten.
His paintings have been collected both privately and publicly around the country and are in the permanent collections of the Arkansas Arts Center, the Historic Arkansas Museum and the Biedenharn Museum in Monroe, La. He was also commissioned to do four large public murals. One of those, "Pine Bluff Pine," a tile mosaic which graces the top of the stairs at the Pine Bluff Memorial Library was commissioned by famed architect, Edward Durell Stone. Over the years he had numerous one-man shows and won countless awards. After retiring from Hendrix in 2000, Marr continued to paint prolifically, exhibiting works in his gallery – aptly named "The Marrvellous" – in downtown Conway.
Don loved dancing with his wife Camilla, bantering with students and colleagues, drinking martinis and connecting with family and friends. He also enjoyed depicting pink flamingos and other yard art in his paintings, sailing across Lake Beaverfork in his second-hand Sunfish, and punctuating many a meal with a boisterous, "Gracias a la Vida!"
Marr succumbed to prostate cancer on March 31, 2013.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Camilla Marr of Conway; five children: Ann Brittenum and husband Gary Hearne of Hyattesville, Md., Adrienne Sergeant of Irving, Texas, Allison Marr of Conway, Holly Marr of Conway and Duke Marr of New York, N.Y.; four grandchildren: Jules Hearne of Kansas City, Mo., Penny Hearne of Chicago, Ill., Ryan Sergeant of Irving, Texas, and Julia Lee McGill of Conway.
Marr's life and art will be remembered at Reeves Recital Hall on the campus of Hendrix College on Saturday, April 6th, at 2:30 p.m.
A comprehensive collection of his works are represented on his website, donhmarr.com.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Hendrix College in Conway.
One of Marr's former students, Jim DeWoody said of Marr, "He was a beacon of light in a part of the world that needed him more than he or they knew. His spirit lives not only in the magnificent work he left behind and the love he gave and shared, but in his influence on those he taught and mesmerized with his brilliance and passion."
Published in The Log Cabin Democrat from Apr. 2 to Apr. 9, 2013