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On the Centenary of his Birth
by Anna Nowak

Eugene M. Dyczkowski was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 1, 1899. His father, who at the age of 16 had emigrated to American from the Russian occupied area of Poland, studied music at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music. Later, he became a noted organist at a local church where he met his wife, Pauline, a vocalist in the choir. Eugene was the second of their 11 children.

It has been said that Eugene began his artistic career when, at the age of five, he was taken by his father to a public park in Philadelphia and there saw something that impressed his latent artistic sense. It was a boat under an arched bridge. When he got home, he reproduced the scene on his blackboard. His father’s enthusiasm over that “blackboard masterpiece” and his continual encouragement helped spark the young boy’s natural drawing ability which was nurtured and encouraged by the father’s enduring support. While still in his teens, Eugene became interested in cartoons and caricatures, taking a correspondence course from a noted caricaturists, Eugene Zimmer of Elmira, New York. The Senior Dyczkowski remained an influence on Eugene until his death in 1924.

In 1914, the father was in an almost fatal accident. His hand was mangled - he lost two fingers which rendered him unable to play the organ. It became necessary for Eugene to go to work. In three short years, he went from bottling beer, to mining, to inspecting shells being produced for the British government, to working in a shoe factory, in a printing plant, and finally in a ribbon mill where he became the foreman. Most of that time he was the sole support of his numerous family.

By 1917, his father had learned to play again, although not as well as before his accident, but well enough to secure an organist’s position in Niagara Falls, New York. So Eugene, not quite 18 years old, moved with his family to Niagara Falls. He was hired by the Union Carbide Company as an interpreter. He continued to turn over all his wages to his family till the age of 22. Though he wanted to study art, he didn't have the resources to do so.

Around this same time, he took a trip to New York City and visited the National Academy of Design. There, he saw walls that were covered with paintings and some had price tags of $1000. That was a revelation. It was far more than he could ever dream of earning in a factory. Though he had never seen any artists’ material before, nor had the slightest idea how to use them, he proceeded to buy some canvas, a few tubes of paint and a half dozen quarter-inch brushes,. With these tools in hand, he began to paint. His first attempt was a night scene, Since he worked the night shift, he thought it would be much easier to observe the moonlit clouds that herald the dawn. He wore down his brushes until they were only handles and used up all his paint, yet the blue on his canvas was still not the blue of the night sky. He would learn later - a great deal later how to render that blue of the night sky correctly on canvas.

After his trip to New York City he began to save money - a little each week. And, at the age of 24, having saved $600, he entered the Albright School of Fine Arts as a part time student. He thought he was in heaven. For the first time in his life, he touched the hand of a man who could paint.

George Wilcox, a skilled instructor as well as an accomplished portrait painter, was his first art teacher. It was he who brought out in Dyczkowski the latent talent which his father had recognized so many years earlier. After attending the Albright Art School for four months, Dyczkowski received a scholarship enabling him to take more art courses and study full time. Additionally, he was awarded a scholarship for study in France. Unfortunately, he had to decline it because of family obligations and a lack of personal finances.

On graduating from the Albright Art School, Dyczkowski secured a position as a supervisor for a commercial advertising department of a major department store in Buffalo. He gave up this position after just one year, for by then his need for expression in the fme arts became his main aspiration. It took courage for Dyczkowski to give up a successful career as a commercial artist to devote himself entirely to the fine arts.

In 1924, he began exhibiting with the Buffalo Society of Artists. This made it possible for his work to be shown with that of many older and much more accomplished artists.

Dyczkowski’s paintings reflect a spectrum of styles. He believed that a true artist should try everything. His paintings range from oils to watercolors, portraits and landscapes, realistic and abstract, from village scenes - to huge abstract expressionistic works, reminiscent of the style of Jackson Pollock. Some of his works reflect peaceful moments of nature, while others, such as his Crucifixion, which hangs in St Mary’s of the Cataract Catholic Church in Niagara Falls, are stark and bold in production.

He continued painting in Upstate New York as well as New England, Gloucester and Rockport. Summers the artist spent sketching on the coast of Maine and in the Catskills. His paintings were mainly landscapes which created widespread comments when exhibited in the Society of Artists shows at the Albright Art Gallery.

In 1929, Eugene was chosen to exhibit his paintings at the World Fair in Warsaw, Poland. In 1933, he became assistant Educational Director of the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo and among other responsibilities conducted art lectures for radio broadcast.

He began working under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, known as WPA, producing murals for schools and offices. This Roosevelt administration program offered a modicum of financial security to professional artists in the midst of the Great Depression. One of his WPA projects was the 90 foot mural, Defending Forts, located in what used to be the dining room of the Officers Club. This painting depicts the evolution of warfare from the 16th to the early 20th century.

Eugene Dyczkowski painting the Officers Club mural.
One of the mural’s panels depicts a single soldier in a mid 20th century uniform. It is said to be a self - portrait of Dyczkowski. The panel carries his signature and the date of the painting. In the next panel are portrayed two soldiers, also dressed in mid 20th century uniforms. It may be assumed that they represent soldiers of the 28th Infantry Regiment. It is made absolutely clear that they are stationed at Fort Niagara, for they are obviously standing on the parade ground., inside the walls of Old Fort Niagara and are facing north towards Lake Ontario. Behind them, in the middle distance, one can see the South Redoubt, the stone building adjacent to it, and the three flagpoles of the parade ground. Each soldier is carrying a rifle, but both are focused on the rifle carried by the soldier on the left. This constitutes an interesting historical note for while the rifle of the soldier on the right is a Model 1903 Springfield, a bolt action rifle, the one in the hands of the soldier on the left is an M-1 Garand semiautomatic rifle.

The significance of the M-1 Garand is that in 1939, when Dyczkowski painted the mural, the Garand was new and very “high tech.” Mass production of this rifle had begun in 1937, only two years earlier. Its use in World War II gave American soldiers an advantage in firepower.

Under the WPA Project Dyczkowski also painted two murals at the Burgard Vocational High School, in Buffalo. The panels represent trades and occupations, thus Science, Printing, Aeronautical Engineering, and Automotive Engineering. Dyczkowski also repaired and restored other artist’s paintings at the Old Fort.

From 1936 to 1939 Dyczkowski had the honor to serve as President of the Buffalo Society of Artists. In 1940, disturbed by what he perceived as incompetence on the part of jury selecting works for Western New York exhibits sponsored by the Albright Art Gallery, he entered a deliberately primitive and crude painting. He signed it “Noga Malowane.” The jury, in its desire to have modernism represented, had previously accepted questionable works without due regard to quality or ability. Now, it accepted Dyczkowski’s crude painting, but rejected his professional work. I)yczkowski had succeeded in proving his point and, on April 24, 1940, he wrote a gloating letter to the Buffalo Evening News signing the letter “Noga Malowane.' Little did the jury know that "Nogą Malowane" is Polish for "Foot-painted."

Dyczkowski, a professional artist, teacher and lecturer was a co-founder of the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo and served as its first President, holding the office in the years 1945 and 1946. He believed that Americans of Polish ancestry need to conserve and interpret their Polish heritage so that they can take their proper place in American society. By his actions, he contributed greatly by to raising the awareness of the fine arts in Polish American communities nationwide. As a consequence, a Polish Arts Club movement took hold and spread. In centers of Polish American population throughout America, like-minded individuals banded together to form local clubs. Promotion of Polish Culture in the United States took direction and gathered momentum.

In 1947-9, Polish Arts Clubs from all over the United States participated in a conference in Chicago. An outcome of the meeting was a memorandum which established the objectives and procedures for the formation of a National Council. At a second conference, which took place the following year in Detroit, the American Council of Polish Cultural Clubs (ACPCC) was formally inaugurated and Dyczkowski was elected to be its first President. As Co-founder of the Council, he was instrumental in establishing the tenets of the humanitarian philosophies which served as operable and viable guidelines for the Polish Arts Club Movement. He reiterated the importance of the utilization of the highest caliber programs to promote Polish culture.

Dyczkowski was a visionary as well as the leader in this movement. He believed that no matter what project might be undertaken, the value of good taste must be paramount. Culture, he said, "implies good taste and culture is the art of information by education and refining of the moral and intellectual nature." His ideas continue to be embodied in the activities of Polish Arts Clubs nationwide.

In 1949, the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo hosted a National Convention of the ACPCC at Hotel Statler. Eugene Dyczkowski, the chairman of the Convention, was also the driving force behind its success. Through his efforts, a National Exhibition of paintings by Polish American Artists was held at the Albright Art Gallery. He canvassed the entire roster of Polish American painters in the country to gather 74 excellent works. As a gesture of hospitality, local artists from the Polish Arts Club withdrew voluntarily from the competition for prize awards.

In the l950s, Dyczkowski went from being an opponent of modern art to a being a strong proponent of it. He changed his style. He broke with representational painting and began creating works of abstract design. Many a heated discussion took place between him and Gordon B. Washburn, a Director at the Albright Gallery. He now believed that his earlier academic art training had been wasted and that a break with his realistic painting had become necessary in order to apply his new thinking regarding abstract design. A local newspaper headline read, "Artist Wipes Out 30 Years of Work, and Starts Over Again."

Dyczkowski once said: "Elimination of realistic subject matter allows complete freedom of expression in pure design." He looked back at all of his past work and openly declared it to be of “little merit.” It has been said that it took courage for Dyczkowski, years earlier, to give up a successful career as a commercial artist to devote himself entirely to the fine arts. This later resolve to change his style of painting was no less courageous. It was personal honesty at its best. Yet, people who know and treasure Dyczkowski’s realistic works of art would not agree with him that these lack merit. It would seem that his own self-judgment was too severe.

It was at this time that Dyczkowski began to explore all basic facts about composition, line, color and design, which is the essence of a good abstract painting. He not only adapted well to this form of art but also excelled in the non-objective style. For the next 30 years he continued to be actively involved, both nationally and at the local community level, as a painter, lecturer and teacher.

In 1982, Mr. Dyczkowski was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Polish Arts Club in Buffalo. It was there, at the presentation of the award, that I met Mr. Dyczkowski for the first time and then only briefly. In his 80’s, tall of stature, wan, gentle, with a very charming personality, he left a great impression on me. He was not in the best of health and was very apologetic that he had to leave rather quickly.

In 1987, an exhibition of his paintings was held at the Fine Art Gallery in Niagara Falls, New York. On that occasion, the Polish Arts Club, with the endorsement of the full membership, purchased an oil painting by him entitled Bartolomeo It was then presented to the Burchfield-Penny Art Center in Eugene Dyczkowski’s honor. It remains in the Artist’s Polish Heritage Collection at the Center.

Mr. Dyczkowski died in 1987 at the age of 88. His legacy is the enhanced awareness of Polish culture in America and the pride Polish Americans take in its advancement.

The above is the edited text of a presentation made on May 29th, 1999, at the Officers Club in Fort Niagara State Park. The occasion the presentation was the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Eugene M Dyczkowski on the centenary of his birth. The event coincided with the formal opening of the Officers Club as a Museum, the culmination of a two year determined effort by the Club and other public-spirited citizens and groups. The effort to save the building was occasioned by the State having previously agreed to lease it to a private group for redevelopment as a restaurant, the kitchen of which was to have been installed in a room containing Dyczkowski's 90 foot mural Defending Forts. Anna Nowak, the presenter, is herself an artist and one time President of the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo.


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