John B. Mitchell, 78, artist, college department chairman

August 14, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John Blair Mitchell, a noted painter, printmaker, photographer and former art department chairman at what is now Towson University, died Sunday of cancer at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 78 and lived in Cub Hill.

Mr. Mitchell joined the college's faculty in 1949 and was chairman of the art department from 1951 to 1957 and from 1963 to 1965. He coordinated the department's graduate art program from 1963 until 1991, when he retired.

He worked in various media -- painting, graphics, ceramics and photography -- in his studio at home.

In recent years, he was influenced by the ancient designs of the Mayans, which he used for collages that became the basis of paintings.

"His work was always very imaginative and showed a strong, fresh intellect. It always came through, no matter what the medium, in a most interesting way," said Mary Ann Mears, a Baltimore sculptor and friend.

"He was an artist who was always looking for fresh, new ideas. He was always looking at things in a slightly different way, turning them around and presenting them in a graceful new way," Ms. Mears said.

"His way of looking at things was certainly unique," said Jay Fisher, curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where Mr. Mitchell was an instructor in graphics from 1963 until 1973.

"As a teacher, he had a lively way of getting people interested so they didn't get lost in artistic techniques. And he always had a clear sense of the importance of the artistic ideal," Mr. Fisher said.

One commission that Mr. Mitchell completed in 1972-1973 was a 24-foot mural for the old Baltimore City Hospitals, now Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, titled "The March of the Healthy Cells."

Through the years, his work won numerous awards and is represented in the permanent collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Library of Congress, Georgetown University Library, Western Maryland College, Morgan State University, College of Notre Dame of Maryland, Towson University, University of Maryland, College Park and University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

At his Cub Hill residence, he shared a studio with his wife of more than 30 years, the former Marge Christopher, also an artist. There, he had an etching press where he designed his frames.

He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was reared in Garden City, N.Y. He studied at the Pratt Institute and Pratt Graphics and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Columbia University. He earned his doctorate from New York University in 1963.

He served in the Army during World War II.

He was a founding member of the BMA's Print and Drawing Society and was on the BMA board at his death.

He was a founding member of Maryland Printmakers and a member of Maryland Art Place, and served on both organizations' boards.

He was president of Maryland Artists Equity Association from 1964 to 1966 and was national president of the group from 1975 to 1977.

No services are planned.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Peter E. Mitchell of Fredericksburg, Va., and Christopher S. C. Mitchell of New York City; two daughters, Jennifer M. Mitchell of Manchester, N.H., and Stephanie B. Mitchell of Cambridge, Mass.; a sister, Dorothy M. Dougan of Issaquah, Wash.; and three grandchildren.

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