Chuck Baird, Noted Artist and RIT/NTID Alumnus, Dies

Chuck Baird: Mix together. Live together. Love together.  Photo courtesy of the Deaf Cultural Center, Olathe, Kan.
Story Highlights: 
  • Chuck Baird was born deaf in Kansas City, Mo. in 1947. He died less than two weeks from his 65th birthday.
  • He graduated from RIT/NTID with a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts in 1974.
  • He is credited with being one of the founding artists of the De'VIA genre of painting.
  • He acted and designed sets for years with the National Theatre of the Deaf.

Chuck Baird, a famed artist who helped establish De’VIA, a type of painting depicting the life of a deaf individual in a hearing world, died this morning in Austin, Texas, after a four-year battle with cancer. He was 64.

“The RIT/NTID community mourns the passing of one of our most gifted alumni,” said NTID President Gerry Buckley, who first met Mr. Baird as an admired upper class student in the early 1970s. “During our careers, we frequently ended up at many of the same conferences and gatherings where he was a well-respected and admired professional in his field.”

Born deaf in Kansas City, Mo., Mr. Baird graduated from the Kansas School for the Deaf in 1967 and attended Gallaudet University for two years. He then attended Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and received his bachelor’s degree in Studio Painting in 1974.

While at RIT, he played four games as a defensive lineman on the football team under coach Tom Coughlin, who now coaches the two-time Super Bowl champion New York Giants. He left the team because he said he preferred to take art classes rather than go to football practice.

He also was involved with the NTID Drama Club, where he said, “I got my first theatre bug.” He acted in several productions, designed and painted sets and won the NTID Best Actor Award in 1974.

According to his biography, he spent five years working at the National Theatre of the Deaf painting their sets. He continued developing his art with jobs in New York and Delaware before joining Spectrum, a colony of deaf artists in Texas.

He joined the National Theatre of the Deaf in 1980 as an actor and set designer for 10 years before living nomadically in California and Arizona, and operated painting studios in Kansas City and Tucson. He often traveled to paint murals, lead art workshops for deaf children, summer camps and art festivals.

Many of his paintings are in NTID’s permanent collection of artwork. His work has been featured as a solo artist in galleries and art shows throughout the country.

“He was a giant of an artist and a wonderful man,” said Robert Baker, director of NTID’s Dyer Arts Center, where many of Mr. Baird’s works have been exhibited. “He will be sorely missed.”

Mr. Baird’s works were known for the genre called Deaf View Image Arts (De’VIA), created by a group of eight artists under Betty Miller and Paul Johnston. “The disenfranchised genre was based on our deaf experiences that reflected in our artworks that came from our being deaf,” he said in an interview.

“His work is so powerful,” said Samuel Holcomb, a friend who knew Mr. Baird for decades.

While Mr. Baird never married, he said he was married to his paint brushes, and all of his artworks were his children.

“His talented hands, keen eyes, playful mind and generous heart will be remembered and missed by all who knew him,” said Patti Durr, an artist and faculty member at NTID.

"Chuck spent his life sharing his talent and love for the Deaf-world via his art. He constantly sought to create spaces where new De’VIA artists could be fostered, shared, valued and discussed.”

In a blog to his friends last month updating his condition, Mr. Baird said his cancer had spread from his kidney to his lungs and vertebrates. “Although the news seems bad, I am calm,” he said. “I am in God’s hands.”

“It is utterly painful to think that no more visual works will be coming from his fingertips, but I think the thing I will miss most is that mischievous twinkle that often graced his Deaf eyes and the unique way in which he saw the world,” Durr said.

Buckley, who corresponded with Mr. Baird during his illness, said he was “continually impressed with his positive spirit during his battle. Most recently, all of us were touched by comments that Chuck made as he prepared for the end of his journey thanking us for our prayers and support. Even as he prepared for the end of his earthly life, Chuck was reaching out via video to assure us all that he was at peace and prepared.”

Sandra Kelly, executive director of the Deaf Cultural Center in Olathe, Kan., has known Mr. Baird for many years. Mr. Baird established a foundation for emerging deaf artists under the umbrella of the center. In a hallway of the center is a photograph of Mr. Baird; beneath it is a quote from him: “Mix together. Learn together. Love together.”

“That embodies what his work was all about, to love each other no matter what,” Kelly said. “Chuck just brought so much to life for both the deaf and the hearing communities. And he continues to touch the lives of so many people through his art.”

A memorial service is planned Sunday in Austin.

 

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