Late Barton Art Instructor Steve Dudek leaves legacy of artistic awakenings

January 23, 2019
Story by Brandon Steinert

The late Steve Dudek left his mark on the hearts and minds of countless students during his forty-year career as an art instructor at Barton Community College.

According to the Hays Arts Council, the public is invited to a celebration of Dudek’s life at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church at 2101 Jackson Street, Great Bend. It will be a come and go event beginning at 5:30 p.m. with a prayer vigil at 7 p.m. today, January 23. There will be tables set up so people can sit around and share stories about Steve. His wife, Rose, has asked for no flowers. There is a memorial being set up for the Shafer Art Gallery (Great Bend) in his name.

Dudek’s philosophy on teaching focused on developing the student’s ability to communicate a message through their creative talents. Technique and skill were important, but he was careful not to let students fall into the trap of obsessing over technical elements at the expense of expression.

The following is an excerpt from his profile that was posted to the Barton website during his time with the college:

“One must be careful, because if you only tell a student how to use certain techniques to complete a given project, they may create objects that look like art, but have very little soul or spirit. The danger is that if too much attention is focused on skill, they will not notice that nothing is being said … I fulfill the role of director of their artistic journey. They are ultimately responsible for their artistic development and success ... It is the deepest joy to help a student realize his/her potential and take charge of their life.”

Former student Connie Wagner, who went on to teach graphic design and has served the college as its primary graphic designer for 25 years, said Dudek was a treasure to the art community and Barton Community College.

“He nurtured so many people in the love of art – and the ones I loved to watch grow under his wing were those who didn’t think they had any talent at all,” she said. “His laughter, talent, and warm personality will be genuinely missed.”

Student Life Director Diane Engle also attended some of his classes starting in 1996. She recalled the extra mile Dudek would go to ensure his students had the time they needed with him to succeed. He donated his time out of the class period to guide her through learning oil painting, colored pencil and watercolor.

“With his continuous class instruction, he helped guide and challenge me on what I do today with watercolor and entering art competitions across Kansas,” she said. “Thank you, Steve, for sharing your talent and ability with others.”

Shafer Art Gallery Director Dave Barnes said eight years ago when he arrived at Barton, Dudek’s name consistently came up in interactions with community members.

His reputation and as a skilled artist and masterful instructor was known throughout the state,” he said. “His name was synonymous with fine art making and in particular watercolor painting.  His reputation was in contrast to the modest self-effacing man that I had met in the Barton Art Department studios. Like all committed artists, Steve’s output was prodigious. The paintings he created came one after another as necessary and important to Steve as breathing. His art was the focus of his being. Steve’s response to the question of the meaning  of life was, to paraphrase the philosopher Ernst Becker, “to create something, beautiful works of art or even a well-lived life and to cast it into the abyss as an offering of gratitude to the life-force.”

Another colleague, Psychology Instructor Rick Bealer, said Dudek’s talent and reputation as a superb artist speak for itself, and he recalls spending Friday evenings together after work joking and trading stories.

He said simply, “he was a man who laughed well.”

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