John Maakestad, artist and teacher, 1928-2012
In an essay on the Museum of Modern Art, John Updike reflected on why, as a young journalist, he often stopped by on his way home from work: “I was looking for a religion, as a way of hanging on to my old one… a religion reassembled from the fragments of our daily life, in an atmosphere of gaiety and diligence; this is what I found in the Museum of Modern Art…my youthful visits, pious, joyful, and ignorant, inspired a love and nurtured a strange confidence…“
As a St Olaf College sophomore, in 1979, I registered for an art history survey course taught by John Maakestad. I recall sitting in the cool dark, in theatre seats, listening to Professor Maakestad click through slides, illumined before us, as he told the story of European and American art. The images, with Professor Maakestad’s commentary, fascinated me. I have never lost the judgment that this survey was my favorite college course.
Before the final exam, which called on us to accurately identify all the images that had passed before our eyes that term, Maakestad apologized for such a crass but necessary evaluative exercise, and wished us all lives open to art.
In a local newspaper interview several years ago, Maakestad said, “I don’t play golf or bridge or whatever most people do. I look hard at my world and just admire it, adore it, celebrate it, or celebrate the feelings I have about it.”