FAQ for Chuck's Bio and His Art
1. Where were you born?
Kansas City, Missouri.
2. Were you born deaf and were your parents deaf?
Yes, I was born deaf with little ability to hear. No, my parents were hearing and that I know of, there were no deaf ancestors.
3. Were some of your siblings deaf?
I have three deaf sisters and one hearing brother. It was believed that the Penred syndrome caused us three to be born deaf. The hearing brother was in between three sisters and me as the last child.
4. Where was your homestead?
Overland Park, Kansas
5. Did you and your sisters attend Kansas School for the Deaf from K through 12?
Yes, the oldest gradated in 1952 and I the youngest gradated in 1967.
6. Did all of you attend colleges?
No, only three of us did. The oldest, Ruth Ann, the mid-child Liz and I attended Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. The second oldest sister Susan got married. And my brother John went into Army.
7. Were all you run in art?
Yes, Ruth Ann and Liz graduated with a BA in art from Gallaudet. Even though she did not attend college, Susan is very crafty; especially, sewing anything. John was an abstract photographer.
8. Were your parents artists?
No, Dad was a mechanist and electrician. Mother was housewife and Red Cross nurse during the war.
9. Were your parents signers?
No, but they used very little home signs and fingerspelling. It was trend back then that the hearing parents were advised not to sign but speak for to improve our audiological and speaking skills.
10. Was your school manual or oral?
We were taught orally in elementary then in the middle and high school they used American Sign Language (ASL)
11. What about your preschool?
I went to the pre oral school at Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City. Dr. June Miller was my first teacher.
12. Did you have deaf teachers and coaches at KSD (Kansas School for the Deaf)?
Yes, they were my role models: especially the scoutmasters.
13. Were you and your family raised in Christian faith?
Yes, first were Lutherans because there was signing pastor. Later we went to Bible-based Christian churches. I am still a practicing Christian.
14. Did you participate in sport activities at KSD and colleges?
In elementary, I was the slowest among my peers and was always last person to picked on team or sometimes never. Later in high school I was Deaf All-American fullback in 11- men football, center in basketball, and on the track and field team. In track my specialties were 440 yards in relays and throws like shot put, discus, and javelin. I was on football team as defense lineman at Gallaudet and RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology). At RIT, our coach was Tom Coughlin, now the head coach for New York Giants. After first 4 games, I was no longer on the team due to schedule conflict while taking art classes late in the afternoon. Coach Coughlin yelled at me for being late for the practice. So I quit. My sport days were ended there when I got as became a serious student in arts
15. Did you attend NTID (National Technical Institute for the Deaf) at RIT?
Yes, after two years at Gallaudet, I transferred to NTID/RIT and majored in Fine Arts in Studio Painting and received my Bachelor’s degree in 1974.
16. What else there did you do beside art classes at NTID/RIT?
I was involved in the NTID Drama Club where I got my first theatre bug. I got several leading roles in the play stage productions and won as the best actor award. Also I designed and painted some of the sets as well. During my junior year I was an exchanged student for one semester in the National Theatre Institute at the O’Neil Memorial Theatre Center in Connecticut, the same home base for the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD). I studied the stagecraft there, too.
17. Did you win anything for visual art?
Yes, at KSD, I won all 6 Kansas City regional Scholastic Art Awards in a row. All were finalist send to the national contests in New York City. The first contest I won was the national award for the old painting for the HS when was I was 12.
18. When did you first recognize that you have the art talent at KSD?
Around age of 8, my class went to the art room. My peers spotted gifted skill for my age. The art teacher gave me big smile and patted my shoulder. That was when I got first self-esteem.
19. Did you have an art education at KSD?
Yes, at age of 11, I was put into the art class for HS. The art teacher was Grace Bilger, wife of legend deaf football coach. She was a renowned statewide watercolorist.
20. Did you have a girl friend at HS?
Yes, we went steady like crazy and considered to get married but since we went the same college, we split. The college and career ahead of me was so important. I have been dating with some women my entire my life but never got a ring. They have asked if I was married. My answer was “No, but yes, I am married to my brushes and all the artworks are my children.”
21. After NTID/RIT, where did you go?
I have thought about going somewhere and set an easel and paint but I decided to try if there is any vacancy as an art teacher in a deaf school around the country. I sent out the letters for the job. Only one responded, the New York State School for the Deaf at Rome, NY. They hired me after an interview. I stayed there only for one year. I realized that I was not ready to be a teacher. I was struggled with the “senior shock” that time.
22. Then where?
I went back to Rochester, NY and sought a job as a commercial artist but with no luck. Lack of a good portfolio and inexperience made it difficult. I was hopping different eastern cities for two years as a starving artist until I arrived at Delaware where they opened a position for an artist in residence at the deaf school. It was my dark era.
23. Did you moved to Texas?
Yes, there was a newly founded deaf art organization in Austin named as Spectrum. I drove my VW The Thing from the second smallest state to the second largest state with my art gears packed and my cat Chuckie because she had the white streak on her cheek like mine in my beard. My The best part of the trip was the Blue Ridge parkway on the Appalachian Mountains.
24. What was Spectrum?
It was a clearinghouse served and promoted the deaf artists, entitled Focus on Deaf Artists (F.O.D.A.) it that was run by and for the deaf artists. All the deaf folks around the country were thrilled with the exciting news that g never happened before. It was lead by Dr. Betty Miller, Janette Norman, and late Charlie McKinley.
It expanded as an umbrella organization over different programs for the Visual Art, Theatre Art, Dance Company, Literacy Art, Archiecture, School of Art, and the Spectrum Newsletter. We had summer conferences drew many deaf artists from all over country for the workshops. Some ended up settled in the colony. It was short lived from ‘76 thru ‘80 due to the major funds cut by Republican President Reagan that hurt many other art organizations.
25. What did you do there?
I was staff photographer for the Spectrum Newsletter and remodeled the horse stall into the studio/production room for the newsletter. Later I was appointed as Visual Art Program as coordinator. I was curator for the Texas Deaf Show and had them exhibited center on the rotunda floor of the Texas capitol for one week.
26. I learned that you did scenic painting for the NTD (National Theater for the Deaf)?
Yes, for the next 5 summers after RIT. They summoned me to paint the scenic and stage props for few weeks each year before they set off with the new production on the tour in the fall. The best remember was while they rehearsed, I paint the large flats or panel on the floor in the style of Henri Rosuseau, the French self-taught painter for the “Opera of Three Saints.” Watching me painting them mesmerized many actors like Bernard Bragg. They felt connected with the painting with and the production.
27. After the Spectrum, what happened?
After the funding was cut, 15 members had left Spectrum and went back to their homes and new places. I was the second last person to depart when I got the contract in the mail from the NTD to become a new member of the ensemble as an actor. Prior that time, I was offered to join them twice but I declined because I felt I should stay as a visual artist. My job at the Spectrum was by President Reagan who hurt many artists. Instead of continuing as a starving artist, I signed the contract. I could paint the sets there and travel on the tour as an actor with the company. I thought it was a worthy experience.
28. How long were you with the company?
10 years. The average of a member stayed there was 2 or 3 years if he/she saw no growth in the profession as actor. I enjoyed being a seasoned actor every year. The best part was when we stayed there at the home base in the summer for acting training between the tours. I saw that the job of an actor required with many creative tools for developing to fit a character/role as an art. It taught me something about being an artist as professional. You have to be true to your work otherwise you’d be a laughing stock. I thank them for allowing me to grow honestly as an artist.
29. What was your favorite part in the NTD?
I enjoyed almost every production. There were two favorite parts. One was role of Spiro Antonopoulos in “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” The other was the role of painter in the stage adoption of the French cult movie, “King of Hearts”
I was upstage painting the scenery entire every show. I had no dialogue but kept painting fast with the tempera from the cans in my caddy, moved around back and forth from the scene to the next. The rest of the cast was performing the downstage but the audiences often merserzied with how quick and clever I used the brushes in both hands. They were ecstatic like crazy. They gave us standing ovation when I came upon the last actor for the curtain call. It was one of the best shows in the 35 years of existence for NTD.
30. What was the sufficient about the NTD and its impact on the deaf community?
I was not only actor but also as ambassador for the Deaf Americans. The company was found back in 1966 with the support of US Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). It intended to remove the negative public stigma toward the deaf citizens by showing the art of the power and beauty of ASL. Not only touring in US but also around the world for the same purpose to improve the quality of life for the deaf people globally. It was a privilege and rich experience as they brought us aboard to see the wide scope of humanity around the country and the world.
In the US, it brought the social change for the deaf community gave ASL as a language of its own right, expanding the service of interpreters, development of telecommunication for the deaf and so forth.
31. You didn’t only act but also paint or design sets for the NTD?
Yes, I painted the set every year and also designed the set few years later. My favorite scenic designs were, “Sweet Chastity at Sashimi Junction” and “Dybbuk.”
It was no easy task as an actor in the rehearsals and then designed/painted the set at the same time, juggling with two hats.
32. You still painted on the side while you toured with the NTD?
Yes, believe or not, I painted some watercolors on the bus and finished them in the motel rooms. On the tour, I have shoot lot of color slides at the scenes here and other countries.
They were sold at the local gallery in Chester, Connecticut, the home base of the NTD.
33. At the summer of 1989, the “King of Hearts” was last performed at Gallaudet University for the Deaf Way; you did the commissioned mural there in the cafeteria?
Correct. I painted the 30 by 10 feet mural, which now still hangs in the student cafeteria for the 3 months, from the Memorial Day to the Labor Day. The title is “The Five Panels: Deaf Experiences.” It was unveiled at the Deaf Way in the middle of July even thought it was not completed. The Deaf Way was the name for the international deaf festival and conference that was hosted by Gallaudet University.
34. While you were there, were you one of the signers of De’VIA Manifesto? What is De’VIA?
Yes, I was involved in the pool of 8 deaf artists that was called by Dr. Betty Miller and Dr. Paul Johnston. Betty was a former art professor and Paul was also art instructor at Gallaudet at the time. We decided to have a workshop for 4 days long and gave our genre a new name, De’VIA. (Deaf View Image Art). The disenfranchised genre was based on our deaf experiences that reflected in our artworks that come our being deaf.
35. Back to the days of Spectrum in Austin, was there a beginning that led to the manifesto?
Yes, some considered it as Pre De’VIA. Even though many of us were not ready to express our experiences in our artworks. Betty Miller was there as frontrunner, trying to establish the school of art there using the De’VIA concept. Unfortunately it did not succeed as the well turned dry, the finances were not there. Many of us as the young artists put the concept back in our minds until later we eventually develop it in our works.
36. Tell me more about Betty Miller.
She was ahead of her time. While she was the professor, she was the first deaf artist expressed the deaf experiences in her work, especially her memories as a child being abused in an oral school that forbade them using ASL in the class. Their hands were beaten with a ruler by the teachers. Her first one-woman show at the Gallaudet art building in 1971 shook the campus; even the deaf professors criticized her for portraying the raw experience from the oppression.
She quit Gallaudet and joined the Spectrum to start the De’VIA art school with 3 students for art master degrees afflicted with Antioch University. Like I said, she left there, relocated in San Francisco with the three students.
Today, many De’VIA have followed her in many different ways, some severe and some mild. The De’VIA is widespread and popular using in Deaf school or programs to build the deaf pride in them. I gave Betty her title as “Mother of Deaf Art or De’VIA”
37. Where did you go after the 10 years with the NTD?
At the time, I felt that I should go for a new artistic opportunity on the west coast _ perhaps go back to painting easel. The first stop was Milwaukee Repertory Theatre where I was cast in “Our Town” as Mr. Webb, which was brought to perform in their sister city in Omch, Russia a year later.
Then I moved to the Bay Area where I directed two school plays at California School for the Deaf at Fremont.
Following the summer, I moved to San Diego where I was hired as artist-in-house at Dawn Sign Press (DSP) the deaf owned publishing company that sell books related to deaf materials like ASL instruction, deaf culture, etc.
38. What did you do for Dawn Sign Press?
The founder/owner of the DSP, Joe Dannis, wanted me to paint deaf related theme, freely expressed as many as I can for the first 6 months in the back room where they shipped out books before I transfer into another department as an illustrator for the ASL books.
It was the first time for me to paint De’VIA except the 2 paintings that I experimented at RIT for painting classes. The “Mechanic Ear” and “Why Me?” The total pieces I did there was 22 canvases and 1 sculpture. The first painting was “Double Nine Lives” showing the master hands pulling the cat’s whiskers like we sign for the animal. Click to view.
Later after the 6 month period, they published my works painted there and some from before I was hired, which became a coffee table art book. The title of the soft covers 50 pages was called “Chuck Baird: 35 Plates” sold something 10,000 copies. Now it is out of print, no longer making the next edition. However they still sell the stationary cards with some of my works. You can order them at http://www.dawnsignpress.com/shopping/index.cfm
39. Did you stay there with DSP that long?
No, I stayed there for only a year and half. The cost of living in San Diego was very expensive. And I realized being an illustrator for the sign language book for a client was miserable. I am a free spirit, not willing to put up with that kind of job.
I moved back to Kansas City where I always have the place in my heart where I grew up. It was the summer of 1994. I was lucky to find the nice loft in the old burp potato sacks factory on the riverbank converted to the art space for the artists like me in the downtown with great environment with the art folks for the next 5 years.
I didn’t stick in studio the full time painting as I had wished. I had to find some jobs to pay the rent. I often flew to places where I worked as artist-in-residence at KSD like my old school. Missouri School for the Deaf, The Learning Center (TLC) near Boston.
40. What did you do out of town during that time you lived in the loft in KC?
At first, I visited my old school 25 miles away. I worked there as a part time story reader from the English children books, translated into ASL for the elementary and middle school students in classes. Unlike the old days of school when the teacher taught us how to read, the new approach is to teach them how to like to read. We brought brightness by using our native ASL while translating from English books. We signed and hooked them to finish reading the English themselves for the development of their literacy skills.
Other time was when I visited Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton for a month. I was involved working with almost every student’s all-different levels both in visual and performing arts. I found it strange when my old school football team came to play there. Missouri and Kansas are both the oldest arch rivales in the country. So the kids wanted me to help them making their pep rally posters with their eagles as mascot attacking or eating my school mascot, the jackrabbits! I switched them to focus on the long history between both states among the deaf people that they are always been in bond before and after the games. Many of the deaf folks are married from across states. They have strong values our preservation of deaf culture no matter where. For example, we were in cold war with USSR back then, we deaf people actually were easy connected and finding in common grounds regardless when they meet in the deaf olympics. It is a good way to introduce the deaf history thru the art projects instead of the old cliché with the sport madness.
In Sedona, AZ, I was hired to teach arts to the deaf children and their hearing siblings in the age from 7 thru 14 for the two weeks every summer for 12 years in a row. It was the best experience of my entire life, going to art camp in the majestic Red Rock. The kids and I were fully energetic with non-stop creativity. I think it has something to do with the vortex there. The camp director, Dr. Marjorie Timms was our truly guru who reshaped my philosophy on the art education.
41. In what way she changed your approach to the art education?
Dr Timms got her PhD from University of Pittsburgh in Communication Disorders. She taught at NTID and Phoenix Day School for the Deaf. Her specialty was to heal the children to communicate with the compassion. The best medicine is arts, breaking the wall and sharing the feelings with each other positively.
Another thing from her I learned was the invaluable insight on the art education; she doesn’t believe in the art contests for the children. There has been old school of teachers pulling them into contests with their art pieces. Their arts are to be shared with one another to celebrate the life instead of being judged as winners and created the rest as losers. Everybody is winner! From that time on, I have turned down every offer to be a judge for a school or camp art contest. It is too fragile for every kid creates a piece from his/her soul. They’d abandoned their art aspirations if theirs were not good enough after the winners.
42. You went to camp in Rhodes Island instructing art?
Yes, it was in summer time for the deaf of the high school age. We created a huge tree out of cardboard paper as collaborative art project. We cut and molded the branches like the human arms and hands like we sign for tree. Then we decorated the tree with ornaments. Click to view.
There was a coordinator of the camp who arranged my trip and assigned the art workshop. I regretfully forgot her name but she was a very interesting person, worked as art therapist at the male prisons. She showed me a book that I should read that became my “bible” and guided me as a better artist. The title of the book is Life, Paint & Passion Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous Expression by Michele Cassou. Her book encourages us to discover the capacity to take feelings directly from our guts and heart and put them on paper, without intermediary. Then something opens in them, often to our surprise, and we become deeply interested in painting. Freedom of the fear is an option for creativity. The paper like your body and brush like your key, once you start, your body will open up for new personal discoveries.
43. You also went to The Learning Center in Framingham, MA. What did you do there?
It was one of my most important works and they allowed me to live, eat, and create the mural there for the whole school year. The school is relatively new and about the first half private and half state run school for the deaf in the country using the bilingual/bicultural approach. I learned so much from it and they helped me to find my own identity as a deaf person. Late Marie Phillips was there as an ASL coordinator and was one of leading figures for the Bi/Bi Movement. She was born deaf and came from a deaf family in Massachusetts. Marie caught me speaking and signing with a hearing instructor there who can communicate fluently in ASL alone. She asked me a simple question, “Are you deaf? That hit me hard into deep search for who I am and my language a more natural and articulate rather than speaking and signing stimulate (simultaneous communication or SimCom). The research has proven that the best effective education of the deaf is to teach in ASL first before having them to learn English as second language. I looked back and realized that we were victims of Total Communication, how ironical!
Before I began the mural, I asked the school director, Warren Schwartz, who happens to be hearing; what theme he wanted for the mural. He said, “ASL.” I said, “What … what about the ASL? That allowed me to research the subject. I went home and read many books to read like “Deaf Heritage” by Jack Gannon, “ A Place of Their Own” by John Vickrey Van Cleave, and others. My jaw dropped: I realized that I took the deaf community for granted and allowed pathological workers to confuse my identity for years!
So I determined to create the history of ASL on the mural. I went to Gallaudet Archives to collect some etching prints and photos from the early days thru the present, had them take negatives for me. TLC has a darkroom so I took advantage of using it to blow up the images and framed them on the mural around the 4 walls for total of 150 feet long. It looked so “momentum” but Warren asked where my painting skill was? Actually, all the images were in black and white photos. I added the wood cut out of the staff of children hands at TLC painted the natural color in oil, to the frames as if they are holding the pictures to show. You can click to view the video.
44. You seem have been influenced by those and grown as an artist in the span when you lived in Kansas City. How so?
Even though my years with the NTD gave me a giant leap into world of professionals as an artist, acting was the craft that gave me a challenge to break down deeply into the character and its relationship with other characters that gave a better insight of human experiences. But my ASL was not natural and authentic as we in the company had to blend with the spoken English for the large average of the audiences, the hearings.
And the brief stay with DSP was a breakthrough for me because I painted deaf related works. California was the place where there is a strong deaf community using rich manual ASL compared those in East. They surely have watered me began to bloom a little.
In a span of 5 years, I was like a changed man. At KSD, I was forced to translate English books into ASL for the deaf students, unlike how I did it with NTD. Plus that time at TLC, I was much more bloomed and confident with my own identity and native language. With the beautiful setting of New England in the Northeast and great folks with cultural sensitivity made me a more matured the artist I should be.
45. I learned that you have evolved thru different periods and changed your roles as an artist from one to another. Please explain.
By all means, I have changed my labels so many times. Back when I was in KSD. I delivered that I have a talent and envisioned myself as artist when I grow up. At RIT, the folks told anew that I was labeled as a deaf artist. The word of deaf as an adjective added to artist. It was fine with me then.
At Spectrum Ranch, I remained with title just the same.
Later on when I became involved with the NTD, I felt that I am artist first before “deaf” so I labeled myself as an artist who happens to be deaf. Maybe I was unaware of myself, denying my role as a deaf person.
Then at Gallaudet for the Deaf Way, they called me to meet the artists to create the manifesto of De’VIA. I admitted that I was not so sure about it even though they made me to sign the manifesto. I was wondering if organizers left out the deaf oralists as artists?? I have 3 deaf sisters like I was educated at residential deaf school and have hearing parents and friends at RIT; I felt I was on the borderline.
And finally at KSD as story reader and TLC for the mural, I came to terms with myself as a De’VIA artist.
However, recently I don’t need an adjective anymore. I consider myself as an artist, no matter what! As far as I am concerned, I am a human as anyone else. I was fascinated to what made me as an artist. It is something in spirit that lead you to be an artist. It comes from the joy of art like craft that you want to create about yourself and life around you. I don’t always paint subjects related to De’VIA principles, but I sometimes do relate to something else that inspires as an artist per se!