Friday, December 12, 2008

Terry and Prudence

Just yesterday while I was at KBOO with MK Guth, I announced that Terry Toedtemeier would be my guest next week, all cheery. Once I got home I found this was not to be. His widow Prudence Roberts, whom I snapped with him (above) at the first party of Chambers in 2005, will help me create a tribute show instead. Everyone has their story about this incredible man.


Duane Snider said...

Eva, I put another post of a similar nature on DK Row's blog. I hope you find this suitable for posting on you site.

The untimely passing of Terry Teodtemeier feels a lot like the things I’ve read about the phantom limb phenomenon among amputees. I have great difficulty believing he is no longer with us. As Eva Lake alluded to in the eulogy she recently posted on her blog, many of us who have spent any time around the Portland art scene have stories about this great man.

I knew him from the seven years as a member of the PAM Photography Council and countless receptions for photo shows at the Blue Sky, Josefsberg, and Photographic Image Galleries. Some of my fondest memories are of Terry leading private tours for the council through exhibits he had curated. The Elliot Erwitt show comes to mind as well as the Edward Weston show, and of course the opening of the photography gallery in the museum’s contemporary art wing.

Terry had a subtle, almost seductive manor when talking about his chosen medium. All of Terry's talks included his signature dry, slightly self deprecating humor combined with an ocean of knowledge on the subject. What anyone lucky enough to hear him speak came away with was a deep sense of the passion and commitment Terry had for photography as a medium for documenting history and as fine art.

The range of Terry’s accomplishments are so wide and deep that it may be years before a we understand the full extent of his influence on the regional photography community and art scene. What most people don’t know is that the amazing contribution of his life’s work came,at least in part as a result of the two part time jobs he held for well over two decades.

There were his twenty-three years as Curator of Photography for the Portland Art Museum and his position as an adjunct professor at what in the beginning was the Museum Art School and is now PNCA. Terry supplemented those two incomes with the sales of his amazing photographic work. Even with the income of his wife Prudence who also worked as a museum curator and, more recently, working for the art department at PCC.s Rock Creek Campus the two rarely ever had more than just enough to get by.

The sad part of this story is the little known fact that Terry’s undiagnosed heart condition was viewed by insurance companies as a “pre-existing condition”. This made the cost of individual health care insurance way out of reach. Of course he never talked about this in public and I never heard about him complaining about his situation, but he knew health risk he faced every morning he got out of bed. Terry subverted any fear of that risk dedicating himself to putting in full time, even overtime hours maintaining two part time jobs. Then he put in even more hours as a volunteer for The Blue Sky Gallery, and finding the time to produce some of the most his own beautiful work.

What saddens me the most about this entire situation is that with all he gave to the institutions he worked for and the community at large, no one could find the justification for giving Terry a full time job and access to employer paid health care. Tragically, this is no exception but the norm for our society’s treatment of artists.

What does it say about the culture we live in when we are so tight with the dollar that we squander the lives of so many creative individuals?

How many tens of millions of dollars went into capital building projects during the Buchanan’s tenure at the museum? Maybe we should include Terry’s early untimely departure as part of the cost of those projects. What did we gain and what price did we pay for the museum’s capital expansion? Then again, some of these gains will be seen in the future as monuments to Terry’s many accomplishments including the Photography Council and the photography gallery in the new wing of the museum.

There is also his monumental show about the history of the Columbia Gorge appropriately titled “Wild Beauty”. The title of the show makes a fitting description of this man’s life. I saw Chris Rauschenberg at the Prints for PICA event last night. As we shared our sadness for the loss of our mutual friend, I wondered aloud “how will we ever find someone to take his place?”

Chris responded, “We will never replace Terry. We’re just fortunate that what he built is so great and substantial that it will carry on far into the future”.

In the years to come when I’m ambling through the museum’s photography gallery, I will feel the life and see the substance of Terry’s work so clearly that maybe for a few moments I will forget he ever left us. That phantom limb will hold my attention and command my respect.

Duane Snider said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Prudence said...


Thank you so much for some of the fine things you said about Terry. But for the record: he had full health insurance through his job and was in the hands of doctors we both trusted and admired. We were still trying to get to the root of his maladies.


Eva said...

Duane, I deleted one of your comments since it was a repeat. Thanks for your comments and thanks to Prudence for setting that record straight.