Ralph Putzker Tributes


Ralph Putzker recollections Ruth Canaway

Ralph spoke of the "Fata Morgana", Morgan le Fay's castle in the sky, and referred us to a book called The Nature of Light and Color in the Open Air by the Dutch physicist Marcel Minnaert

Ralph Putzker was my Drawing instructor my first semester at San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University) in 1968.

I remember that class and Professor Putzker as though it were yesterday.

I have many vivid memories of Ralph as a teacher. In addition to being a competent and inspiring Drawing teacher, he had a magnetic personality that drew students to him like magic. In fact, when not in class, many members of the Art department would follow him around in a group, just to listen to his ramblings on a variety of subjects ranging from Buckminster Fuller to Marshal McCluhan to Frank Lloyd Wright.

His favorite and oft-repeated mantra was "You are always here and it is always now."

During the student strike of 1969, he supported the students by loaning out cameras so that the students could document the events going on: the mounted police tactical squad or "Blue Meanies" bashing students over the head with their nightsticks.

Once he organized a student day-trip to Marin County, where about 30 of us visited the Rouge-et-Noire Cheese Factory, where we sat in the warm California sun and picnicked on Camembert and Brie and enjoyed home-made wine one of the students had brought with us, and the Marin City Civic Center (the "Pumpkin Center", so-named, Ralph explained, because its design originally called for a copper roof, which would turn green as and drip green corrosion down the sides of the building so it would resemble a pumpkin. The client had rejected the use of copper, however, as being too expensive.)

Once, Ralph led a visiting group of elementary school students on a tour of the Art Department. When guiding them through the sculpture/ceramics yard past an outdoor Raku kiln, I remember him saying to the children, "Don't touch it, it's hot at Hell"). That statement imade an impression on me, because it was the first (and maybe the only) time I had heard a teacher use profanity to school age kids in an educational setting, and the first time I had known a teacher not to talk down to them in the phony, formal manner that seemed to be required of teachers in the public schools.

The way he organized the Art Department was interesting, as well. You could be registered for a certain class, but you were free to wander over to another class held by a different teacher at the same time, if there was something going on there more interesting.

This liberal state of affairs didn't last forever, because after the student strike of 1969 and the American Federation of Teachers strike (in which Ralph also participated), San Francisco State College was closed down temporarily, and re-emerged as San Francisco State University around 1971.

This was about the time I dropped out of school for awhile, and didn't see Professor Putzker again.

I have one more recollection to share: He refused to show students examples of his own work, as he claimed it would lead us to think "Oh, this is what he likes." Instead, he wanted us to learn how to draw by accurately observing what we saw and going out and the to "Go out and make "10,000 drawings" as a point of departure for developing our own style.

I had wondered if he were still alive. I just discovered that he had passed away in 2006. Sorry to hear he is gone, but he seemed to have been at least in his 50s when I was a student in 1968. In a sea of conformity, he is one of those life-changing few teachers you never forget.

I hope these recollections of "Uncle Ralph" as I privately called him help. He was the kind of a guy you really wished was your uncle, so you could pick his brain some more. But, those happy days of school are long gone.

Ruth Canaway, MFA

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April 23, 2015