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Cleminson Hall Introductory Speech

John Joseph, Jr.

Just how do the Yaeger murals happen to be in Cleminson Hall? Well, you all have probably seen the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Depression-era joblessness and Diego Rivera influenced President Franklin Roosevelt to establish the Works Progress Administration. Under this program, artists were hired by the government to decorate public buildings. Actually, the very prestigious Grosse Pointe High School of the late 1930s was considered quite a plum for the artist who attained that commission. One eager artist went so far as to offer his work for free. However, the committee selected Edgar Louis Yaeger.

Mr. Yaeger is a lifelong resident of Detroit. He studied art locally and in Europe. His works have been included in influential art shows including the “Vintage Artist of Michigan Exhibition,” “Michigan Sesquicentennial Retrospective,” “Michigan Art Through Fifty Years” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, “30th Anniversary Exhibition” at Kresge Museum in East Lansing, “Carnegie International Exhibition” in Pittsburgh, “Exhibition of American Painters and Sculptors” at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the “Golden Gate Exhibition” in San Francisco.

Edgar has exhibited at the most prestigious museums, including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Corcoran Gallery and Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., the Wolfsonian Foundation Museum in Miami, and he has twice exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This gentle man is the most frequently exhibited artist in the history of the “Annual Michigan Artist Exhibition,” a juried show held since 1926 at the Detroit Institute of Arts. His works are in museums in two countries, two states, and four cities.

On several fingers I can count the names of artists important to the Grosse Pointes. Edgar would be named among them. On my hands, I can count the names of artists of significance to the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan. Edgar’s name would be among them.

The name Edgar Yaeger has been credited with bringing modernism to the Midwest, and many think of him as the backbone and major contributor of modern color to 20th century Midwestern art. I believe that his renown is still embryonic. I believe that if we consider his technical skills, his versatility in multiple mediums, his innovative use of colors, or consider the significance of his public and private commissions, Edgar’s renown must continue to grow.

Edgar’s life, his whole life, has been hand-grinding paint like the old masters; brushing, combing, blending oils onto a canvas, sawing, planing, carving and glazing his own frames; frequent pencil sketching, hand printing and coloring Christmas cards; cutting and arranging thousands of pieces of glass and tile into mosaics. Throughout his life, he has experimented and contributed his own interpretation to the most progressive period in art history. He has created canvases of peace and tranquility with colors that are vibrant and aggressive. He has allowed the raging fire in him to create, while wearing the skin of a most peaceful and contented man.

It is fitting tonight that we honor the man who 52 years ago researched furniture and clothing styles, studied musical instruments and architecture so that when the murals in Cleminson Hall were completed, and I quote Edgar, “things would be correct.”

This 86-year-old artist has a growing list of admirers who own his works. We call ourselves the “Friends of Edgar Yaeger.” We are a hundred strong; we live in fourteen states, the District of Columbia, and seven countries.
Tonight, the Friends of Edgar Yaeger applaud you for recognizing and honoring him. We applaud you for realizing Edgar’s gift to you and the art world is a treasure for our time and the future.

I am proud to present Edgar Louis Yaeger.

—Text of a speech presented in 1990 by John Joseph, Jr. introducing Edgar Louis Yaeger to city officials, school board members and staff, parents, friends, and student representatives on the occasion of the installation of a plaque honoring Mr. Yaeger’s Grosse Pointe depression-era mural.

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