Tom Otterness had no teacher quite like Don Weddle.
Weddle, who taught art at Wichita Southeast High School, would essentially give Otterness free rein during class time. Otterness set up a makeshift studio in a back closet, where he would smoke and work on paintings during class.
Otterness, then a high schooler, was years away from what would become an international career in art.
“Don was an incredible person in my life,” Otterness said earlier this week. “He always pushed for me to go to New York or for me to ... not follow a traditional schooling. ... That was always his influence.”
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Weddle, who taught art at Wichita Southeast High School for about 30 years, died April 30.
This Sunday, a cadre of his former students are organizing an informal memorial service for Weddle.
Otterness and former Wichita Beacon staffer/Wichita Art Museum board president Dan Rouser spearheaded the event.
“He was so influential – there are so many generations that he touched,” Otterness said. “I would welcome people to come, whether they knew Don or not. Maybe they’d get a chance to get to know him by coming.”
Weddle was an instructor at a time when some of the brightest future stars of the contemporary art world walked the halls at Southeast – most notably the sculptor Otterness and painter David Salle, who were friends throughout their time at Southeast.
Like Otterness, Salle was a fledgling artist who would later go on to international fame as a painter in New York and elsewhere.
Before his best-known gig at Southeast, Weddle taught at Wichita South High School, where Novelene Ross was his student.
Ross, who would later become curator of the Wichita Art Museum, said Weddle was beloved because he treated his students as peers.
“He really encouraged talent in a serious way,” Ross said. “Many people who were contemplating a career in art were totally inspired. ... He sent out many talents from Wichita to enter distinguished art careers.”
Weddle also taught at the Wichita Art Association (now known as Mark Arts) and then-Wichita University, where he was reportedly the first professor to incorporate live nude models to the university’s life drawing classes – a standard practice at art schools.
Weddle taught his students to experiment and to think critically about art, they say.
“The role of teachers in the lives of young people are incredibly important,” Ross said. “Finding someone that teaches you to love learning is just amazing and, of course, our society depends on that work.”
The memorial for Weddle is planned for 2:30-3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Ulrich Museum of Art, 1845 Fairmount.
The director of the Ulrich, Bob Workman, also is a Weddle product.
“Don really touched a lot of people’s lives,” Workman said. “We’re certainly hoping people will come out and share their memories of him.”
Don Weddle memorial ceremony
What: Informal gathering to honor Don Weddle, art instructor at Wichita Southeast High School for about 30 years, organized by Tom Otterness and Dan Rouser. Remarks will be delivered.
When: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Sun.
Where: Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, 1845 Fairmount