The Presence of Contemporary Art in Rural America

OUTdrive Episode 58: The Presence of Contemporary Art with Doug Freed and Cliff Callis

OUTdrive Episode 58 with Doug Freed

The work ethic of rural Americans stretches beyond fields and businesses into art galleries and museums across the country. In this episode of OUTdrive, I visit with Doug Freed on his impact on the art culture in the Midwest. Doug is a professional artist, former head of the State Fair Community College art department, and founding director of the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalia, Missouri.

Doug is represented by galleries in several U.S. cities, including New York City, Boston, Miami, Houston, St. Louis and Kansas City. Doug’s artwork is currently featured in six different Missouri museum collections throughout the state. His skillset has been commissioned by many corporations, including the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, Emerson Electric and Sachs Properties. Proclamations from the Missouri Senate and House of Representatives have recognized him for his profound contributions to the cultural and artistic climate of the state.

Listen along or read the transcript below as Doug walks us from his beginnings as an elementary art student in small-town Kansas to a solo exhibitor in New York City.

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Cliff Callis
Hey, folks, welcome to OUTdrive. I’m Cliff Callis, and we’ve got another great story to share with you today about life and work in rural America. You know, one of the things that surprises me, and it really shouldn’t anymore, is how surprised folks on the east and west coast are when they hear about the life we lead here. They’re surprised that we can live in the country and drive to work in town in five minutes. They’re surprised that wildlife literally walk through our yards and watch us just like we watch them. They’re surprised at the innovation we have here in technology, industry, art and entertainment. For example, I’m sure they’d be pleasantly surprised to see and experience the contemporary art collection that is housed inside the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art found on the campus of State Fair Community College here in Sedalia, Missouri. And I’m sure they’d be surprised to find the robust arts community that we have here, and the number of accomplished artists who literally create world class art of one kind or another out here in the country. And that brings us to our guest today. Doug Freed is an internationally acclaimed fine artist with representation in Miami, Tulsa, Boston, Nantucket, Chicago, Charleston and Houston, and closer to home in Kansas City and St. Louis. He’s the retired founding Director of the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art. He’s been involved in numerous industry and community organizations, and he’s currently President of the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Music Festival. His paintings are nothing less than spectacular and he has a wonderful story to share with us today, and he is quite the storyteller. Welcome to OUTdrive Doug.

Doug Freed 01:58
Thank you, Cliff. I’m just very thrilled to be on this. Of course, I am a storyteller and I love to tell stories, so this is perfect.

Cliff Callis 02:04
Been looking forward to this. You know, I was thinking about the first time that we really came to know each other, and it’s been a few nights, but I think it was when we were working to kind of get the Liberty Center Performing Arts Theatre off the ground and what a wonderful organization that was and continues to be over the years. So many great memories. Looking back, what are some of your earliest memories of Sedalia?

Doug Freed 02:24
Well, the first memory I have of Sedalia is when I came here for an interview in 1968. And they had just completed Interstate 70. You know, that’s a long time ago, Cliff. I’m 76 years old, so I came here when I was 22 years old for an interview to go to work at this community college that was just opening up State Fair Community College and driving here on I-70. And of course, my wife and I are both, we’re from western Kansas. So you know, it’s very arid out there and it’s wide open, so coming here and we turned off on Interstate 70 onto Highway 65 to come into Sedalia. Of course, we’ve never been here or anything, never been to this part of Missouri before. And my God, we thought we were moving to paradise because coming in on 65, they just made those big deep road cuts, which there was still trees and stuff, but at that time they were just preparing the four lane highway. And so there were these big road cuts through these with cliff walls on either side. And coming into town, up on this one high bluff, there was a 12 point buck. And this was about 10 o’clock in the morning. Now, unfortunately, I haven’t seen one since in the 50 years we’ve been here, but I took that as a great omen. And I think it was the great omen. It’s been a wonderful thing for me to live in this small town all these years.

Cliff Callis 03:45
It’s been wonderful for you to be here and to share your talents with us. It’s been amazing. So you grew up in western Kansas. Tell us about your background growing up and how art became a part of all that.

Doug Freed 03:59
Well, I was from a small town of Ulysses, Kansas, which is way out, you know, it’s about 15 miles from the Colorado border. It’s way out west and it’s very arid. And at that time, it was incredibly arid. You know, fortunately now it’s one of the most irrigated counties in all of Kansas and also one of the wealthiest counties now. I think next to Johnson County, Grant County in western Kansas is one of the wealthiest counties because they have all the oil and the gas and helium and all those big plants and stuff there. But the little town now is about, I guess about 7,000 but when I was there, you know when I was going and I was a kid it was 3,000. When I was in school, I was always interested in art. And in the fourth grade my teacher entered my work in a statewide competition Litterbug contest. Now, this would have been in the late 50s. And of course, I think it was Lyndon Johnson’s wife, you know, who started that Litterbug promotion across the country not to litter the highways. So I entered that and I was in the fourth grade. And I want first and they used my piece to promote that Litterbug contest. You know, that was it man, I knew from that moment, I was going to be an artist. And of course, everyone else in a little town knew, too. And so what became of that is they just, you know, it was like, all these small towns are starting to build these new elementary schools, and they built one in Ulysses. And that was a school that I went to in the fourth grade, and in that school, they had all of these bulletin boards, these big eight by 12 foot bulletin boards. These teachers hated these bulletin boards. They were out in the hallway and you know, of course, it was the latest and the newest. And that was, you know, it was a great thing for the community. But these teachers just hated having to deal with those boards. And so they asked me, my teacher, specifically, there was one outside of my classroom, there was like six of these bulletin boards throughout the school. And she asked me if I would be interested in doing a bulletin board and I said, “Yeah, it’s a little bit elaborate for me to do by myself. I mean, in fourth grade.” She said, “Well I can get students and you can select the students that are going to work with you as a team.” And so we did a Halloween bulletin board. It was such a big hit, so from the fourth grade through the eighth grade, I was responsible for all those bulletin boards with my team. Now the team kind of evolved. I learned a lot about administration during that time as a young kid, but it was a wonderful, wonderful experience for me. And I think that really gelled the fact that you know, I wanted to be a designer, artist, something along those lines. And by the time I got to high school, you know, I already had the reputation in the town that I was an up and coming artist. So the first thing I did in high school, they had just acquired a great big one of these big travel buses. And back in that day, no one had anything on those buses other than just the name of the school. So I proposed to my art teacher, I said “Why don’t you let me do a great big, we’re the tigers, so let me do a big leaping tiger on the side of that bus.” And so she did, and so that was my next big project and after that, of course, I was a town artist, you know, and I continued to do that for a long time until I got a job painting signs on vehicles and whatever. I was contracted by Halliburton company, they had a facility there in town to paint this brand new big truck. And so on the doors of this truck, Cliff, I wrote Holly Burton, instead of Halliburton, and I’m sure it cost him a fortune. But the guy, I’ll never forget, the guy came into this big warehouse where I was paying them, and he ran me off. But that was a lesson. That was a hard learned lesson. So from that point in time, you know, I knew that I wanted to be an artist and I went on to college and got my BFA and my MA in Art from Fort Hays State University, and then came here when I was 23 years old to start the art department at State Fair Community College.

Cliff Callis 07:56
So how did that all evolve?

Doug Freed 07:58
Well, you know, of course, it was during the Vietnam War and the Vietnam you know, the war was bearing down on me all through college and I had deferments so man I had straight A’s. I had straight A’s in college, because I certainly wasn’t too excited about going to Vietnam. At that point in time, I went straight through to graduate school. I was fortunate, I did get drafted, but I didn’t pass the test. I guess I shouldn’t tell this story, but my mother had provided a letter to give to the military, you know, there at the facility, if I ever got drafted, that was from the old family doctor in this little town and I’d had asthma off and on, you know, over my childhood. So he wrote a letter saying, this is all he said, – ”This individual has had asthma onset at infancy.” Period. That was the letter. So I remember going to the drafting facility where they drafted us up in Kansas City. They had lines, they had three different lines, all those that had letters put us in the one line. And so I went in to see the guy. He didn’t have a uniform on, he was a civilian, I guess. But anyway, he was looking over the credentials or whatever and he looks and he reads my letter. He looks at me and says, “Hell son this could mean anything.” You know, you’ve had asthma with onset at infancy. And he says, “When’s the last time that you had a bout with asthma?” And I said, “Well, this last Christmas vacation, I had to get medication for it.” And he looked over my stuff. And he said, “Well, I see you have a master’s degree in Visual Arts. And I also see that you’re teaching in a brand new community college and also see that they’ve listed you as the head of the art department there at that school.” And I said, “All those things are true.” And he says, “Well son I don’t think the army needs an educated sign painter.” And so he rejected me so that was a very, very fortunate thing for me. I mean, you know, I’m sorry, in some ways I didn’t serve in the military because everybody my age did pretty much but I was fortunate that I didn’t have to go. And so I just went to work here when I came and started painting, and teaching students and that’s pretty much what happened. And I was there for 35 years as the chairman of that department and in teaching students. Then, of course, all during that time, my wife and I moved into a duplex. And our next door neighbor was Dr. Held F. Daum. And so I became very, very closely befriending him, and he, I. And he became very interested in my painting. And there was a basement in that duplex, and one of my first studios here in Sedalia was in that basement. That’s how I met Dr. Harold F. Daum. And of course, we became very intimate friends. And you know, he was almost like a father figure to me, and that’s how the roots of the Daum Museum, which we’ll maybe talk about a little bit later, started was me being a neighbor of him. And so for 35 years, we traveled together and went to art shows and art exhibitions. He started buying work, and I was his principal advisor all that time until the time that he died. I was his principal advisor, you know, even after I became the Director of the Daum Museum,

Cliff Callis 11:07
So he was buying all these pieces of art to put up in his home?

Doug Freed 11:11
He was. He started, you know, in the early 70s. We would travel to various regional competitions. In fact, I was trying to build a resume at that time. This is the early 70s. And there really weren’t galleries in the Midwest. Kansas City had a couple of galleries, St. Louis had a couple of galleries. But there really weren’t galleries until the late 70s and into the 80s, where the gallery world started to really emerge in the Midwest. So the way an artist built a resume was by entering juried competitive exhibitions. Every museum, the Nelson gallery, the small museums, and large museums had juried competitives. In fact, I’ve got to tell you a story. So after I left my basement in this duplex, because I just outgrown it and I really wanted to do bigger pieces, I rented an old warehouse space over on Lamine, which is about a block away from where I am here on Main Street now. And it was a fairly large space and it was a brick building. And so I was working on this very large painting, I mean, it was six feet by eight feet, so it was a big painting, particularly for that time it was a big painting. And I was very much influenced. I mean, you know, I was an abstract artist for 35 years, and not until 1995 did I start doing landscape based work. So this work was very on my guard. I mean, I was you know, cutting edge, you know, and no one is today and really kind of figured out what I was about and what I was doing. But I want to tell you this story. I’d always go in my studio in this old warehouse building, and the first thing in the morning, I’d get there at eight o’clock. And then on my days that I wasn’t teaching, you know, it’s been pretty much all the day, and across the street from the studio was the city printer. And so, you being in the media business, you’ll appreciate this story. I mean, this is 1970, and this ole guy had been there for 50 years as a city printer over on Lamine street. And he noticed, you know, and sometimes we would arrive at his business and mean going into my studio at the same time and we’d always wave. He was always very friendly, and we’d always wave. So I carried this great big painting that I was working on. I had been accepted into an exhibition at the Arkansas Art Center with this painting. And so I had to photograph the painting to get a better photograph and I wanted to document it and that kind of stuff because it was going in this exhibition and I didn’t know for sure you know if I’d get it back, or what. I mean, you always hope that something like that come to fruition, and either the place will buy it or the other person will buy it. But anyway, he walks across the street curious that I was carrying this great big giant painting. And this painting is just red. It was a monochromatic big field of red. And this guy was probably about 70 at that point in time. And he walks across the street. And he said, “Well, what are you doing over here?” And I said, “Well, I’m getting ready to be in an exhibition at the Little Rock Art Center and this is a painting that I’ve just completed and I’m getting ready to ship it off to them.” And I felt like I needed a little bit better photograph so I wanted to rephotograph so I brought it down here because I didn’t have room upstairs in the studio, and I wanted the natural light. So I’m photographing this painting set up with a tripod and everything. And he walks over and he looks at this painting. And after he asked me what I was doing and doing it for and I told him and he said, “Well, what are you going to do with it?” and I said, “Well, it’s going to be in that exhibition. Hopefully someone will buy it.” And he said, “Do you sell these?” And I said, “Well, unfortunately, I’m just getting started. I haven’t sold very many, but I’m hoping to sell paintings like this.” So he said, “How much is this painting? How much you sell this painting for?” And this is 1972, so I said, “This painting is $1,000.” And of course he let out a string of profanity. And he said, “I wouldn’t give you a damn nickel for it.” And he turned around, it really pissed him off. You know, I mean, he was so offended by it that, you know, it was so outside his understanding that it made him mad. The guy never waved at me another time. But he was really irritated, because I think he probably figured, you know, I’m over here working my butt off every day. And this guy’s doing these paintings and selling them for $1,000. So that’s kind of what Sedalia was like, in the early 70s. There just wasn’t much of an understanding of contemporary art at all. Of course, I’ve spent a big part of my life trying to educate people about contemporary art. The town has come a long, long ways,

Cliff Callis 15:44
Well a lot of that’s because of you, and you’ve done such a great job of evolving your art over the years, but also educating and training so many budding artists. If you think about, I don’t even know how many students you’ve mentored in the last 35 years, but it has to be a huge number. And you know, they’ve gone everywhere and taken their talents with them. So you know, as a community, I think we owe you a debt of gratitude for leading the way in terms of helping our arts community become what it has today.

Doug Freed 16:13
Well, it was a great trip to travel doing that, you know. And I enjoy this old town. I tell you, one of the things that I think has attracted me here and made me stay here is that as an artist living in a small community in the middle of Missouri, it’s afforded me an opportunity to be a real citizen. I’ve gotta tell you one more story that’s relevant to this. In 1980, I’d been showing in New York for about six years. I had a major, major gallery early in my career that I had for 35 years. Unfortunately, the dealer died and so I don’t want to have that gallery anymore in New York City. You know, his business closed. And I’ve had other galleries but it just didn’t work out like this one. But it was a marvelous, marvelous ride for me with him for 35 years. And anyway, I had my first solo show there in 1979. So I had been showing for about three years and I was invited to speak at the Rotary Club, you know, the Sedalia Rotary Club. So I go in, and people I think had kind of heard about me, because I was at the college and I was an instructor at the college and that kind of stuff. But they really didn’t know my work and didn’t know much about me. I had bought my building down here on Main Street at that time, and just opened up, you know, I bought my building and 82. So people kind of knew, you know, they drive by and they’d see the sign on the window. But of course, it’s a studio workspace. So it wasn’t an open storefront with the store or anything like that. But anyway, Tom Davis, I think it was Tom Davis, that invited me to come to Rotary or Robert Wolf, both those guys owned Septagon Industries at that time. And Tom was a real collector of my work. He had several pieces that he’d bought for himself. And then the two of them had bought some major paintings of mine for their corporation. And so he was pretty much aware of what was going on. So anyway, I do a slide lecture on my work, you know, at rotary, and I’ll never forget looking out over the auditorium, and man, there was a lot more people there than I thought. I mean, rotary at that time. I don’t know what it is today, but it must have been 100 members. And as I’m doing my lecture and showing the slides, probably a third of the people and it was all men at that time, but as I looked out there, about a third of them had fallen asleep. And I’ll never forget, oh, Robert Wolf asked the question, “Can you tell us what your work is selling for now?” And I said, “Well, yeah, I just sold a painting in New York City for the most I’ve ever sold a painting. And that was $24,000.” My God, everybody’s eyes worked up, they all jerked their necks back and everybody was awake. But I tell you, that moment kind of put me on the map in this community. And the attitude toward me changed so much at that time. Because I think for the first time, people look upon me as being a businessman, just like other businessmen, you know. I had a studio storefront and I wasn’t making my living off of that and I wasn’t selling much in this community. And I was never opened, basically, to the community at that point in time. So it was a private space and was my workspace. But I was already showing in galleries across the country. And the attitude changed immediately and so that afforded me an opportunity as an artist to become involved in the community, in the business world community. You know, I’ve served on numerous boards and community committees for the city. You know, I was on the Central Business Cultural District for 35 years and so that’s been a wonderful thing I think that’s held me here to this community because you’re just another guy as an artist. And I don’t think that’s always the case for an artist. So it’s hard, I think sometimes they become kind of outsiders, you know. But that’s been a wonderful thing for me. And I think that’s led me to a lot of different things, not just being an artist and showing my art but I became a museum director and I’ve always really enjoyed serving on communities and boards and that kind of thing and so I’ve been on a lot of boards. I was on the Missouri Arts Council board during the 80s and then my most recent thing, of course, as you mentioned in your introduction, is I’m the President of the Scott Joplin Foundation now, but for the past 10 years, I just got off of this felt like I wanted to focus my attention on other things, but I was on the Mid America Arts Alliance Board for 10 years. And as a board member of Mid America Arts Alliance, in my last three years, I was the chairperson of the Arts and Humanities section of that, which is a pretty big deal. Mid America Arts Alliance is a six state consortium. It’s Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas, and its claim to fame is it puts together traveling exhibitions to small museums and university museums. And then also it has arts and the humanities, which I was ahead of that too during that period of time. I chaired the arts and humanities section of Mid America Arts Alliance. So you know, I’ve had a lot of experiences with that kind of thing. But of course, the best thing I’ve ever had is being the Director of the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art.

Cliff Callis 21:26
So tell us how that came to be, you know, you talked about your friendship with Dr. Daum. But to go from that, to this really state of the art world class contemporary art museum, out here in the middle of Missouri. That’s pretty significant. Tell us that story?

Doug Freed 21:43
Well, I think what happened is, of course, he and I were great friends, and my wife and I moved into this duplex beside him while he was building this great big home out in the country. You know, we just connected. I mean, we just connected and I was his mentor that, you know, in terms of his art, knowledge and that kind of thing. And I turned him on to artists and art publications. And he was incredibly intelligent and he started doing unbelievable research into all this stuff. But he really trusted my eye and trusted what I had to say about art. And we traveled together to exhibitions and stuff. To cities, every city – Chicago, New York City, looking for art. But what dovetailed with this is from 1979, I had my first solo exhibition in New York City, and about every year to two years, always not never longer than two years, I would have a solo exhibition in New York City. And the same thing in Chicago, I had a dealer in Chicago, I had a dealer in San Francisco. And so I was really involved, and then always had a dealer in St. Louis, in Kansas City. And I kind of looked upon those as my urban homes, you know, Kansas City and St. Louis, and one of the few artists in the state of Missouri that was showing in both of those places at the same time. Even today, that’s not very common, you know, for St. Louis art to show in St. Louis, or Kansas City artists to show in St. Louis. But that afforded me the opportunity to be, you know, out and about, and travel very extensively to my exhibitions and shows and that kind of thing. And so it gave me an opportunity to see what was happening in the United States in terms of the fine art world because these galleries I’m showing in were top flight galleries in urban areas. And then of course, in later years, I added other places, like today, I show in Miami and Houston. And anyway, Boston, I showed in pretty extensively. And so I was out there looking at art all the time. And anytime I would have an exhibition, I’d always schedule a couple of extra days just to go around to the major dealers, in major galleries in those communities and see what their stable of artists was doing. And I’d bring that information back to him. I’d spot artists that I thought, hey, we need to buy one of these for the museum. And it was a wonderful relationship, because he really trusted me and he trusted my eye. And, of course, there was other people, you know, at the museum that won the Acquisitions Committees and that kind of stuff. It wasn’t just me making these decisions. But pretty much you know, I was the guy out there finding the work for Daum all those years. And then he would either buy directly, just with my word sight unseen, you know, or we’d bring pieces back and make presentations to the Acquisitions Committee to look at the work and before we’d make final decisions, and that continues to even to this day, because one of the wonderful things that How did is that he set up an endowment in my name, so he put $100,000 in there and now it’s up to about $350,000. So that gives me a little bit of money to play with, you know, 5% every year so I’m able to continue to buy pieces and select pieces for the museum, which is really wonderful. And I’m still on the Acquisitions Committee, and Dr. Daum’s estate and all of his estate was set up for acquisitions. That’s all it can be spent for. And so there’s, you know, there’s an additional $3 million in that which we get 5% of each year. So that allows the museum to continue to buy art in perpetuity to build the collection of the museum, be one and me to be a shopper. So, you know, rarely did we buy anything that was over $20,000. A few times, you know, we’d buy pieces, and we bought pieces that were $150,000 from time to time, but you know, I think probably the next director will probably use those funds instead of building numerous pieces. I mean, during my time as a director, we grew the collection from about 200 pieces to 1,500 pieces and that’s where it is today. You know, it’s about 1,500 pieces. So I would assume that you know, what the future may hold is to buy even more expensive pieces, fewer pieces a year. I mean, art is outrageous how expensive it is, you know,

Cliff Callis 26:00
It’s incredible the collection that you’ve put together over the years.

Doug Freed 26:05
It’s a wonderful collection. I mean, it’s an international quality collection. It has a lot of international artists, and particularly in clay. The clay collection is one of the premier ones in the country. And the painting collection is very strong. But what happened with Dr. Daum, because he loved painting, he liked very abstract painting. He loved color field painting, you know, the 1960s and 70s, and abstract expressionism. And those paintings by 1990 were just even out of his reach. I mean, he could no longer afford to buy those kinds of paintings, they were just too much money. I mean, you know, a Frankenthaler that he bought in 1972. He and I bought, you know, we’re together in New York City and saw this painting and it’s one of the primary pieces in our collection today. You know, it was appraised recently, and it’s worth, I think, $3 million. But he paid in 1972, I think paid $16,000 for that painting.

Cliff Callis 27:03
And it’s worth 3 million today?

Doug Freed 27:05
$3 million. And there’s a number of pieces in the collection that are like that. He bought several of those pieces, that quality of work that really and we were fortunate in the pieces that we selected because we have kind of the primary, mainly abstraction, you know, abstract artists of the mid 20th century to even today. I mean, you know, but what happened is it got to where he just couldn’t afford those anymore. So I approached him in 1990 that he could do with contemporary clay, what he did with painting, and painting was too expensive, you know? A Frankenthaler in 1990 was even at that time, it was $100,000 for something like the one that he bought for $16,000. Now it’s $3 million. Anyway, you know, I told him, “Hey, we could really focus on contemporary clay,” and I love clay, I really love clay. My wife and I have collected clay pretty much our whole married life and we have a really wonderful collection of clay now. But he started looking at contemporary clay artists and not pots, but sculptural clay. Sculptors that use the medium of clay to make their work in large scale. And that’s kind of one of the primary focuses of the museum that has really put the museum, you know, it’s given it a wonderful reputation across the country because of the art clay collection. But it’s nice to have the other collection, we have a great photography collection, we have a great painting collection and prints. And basically what our idea at the museum was, is it’s an educational facility. So we have students looking at this work, which is an unbelievable thing, you know, for a small community college to have a state of the art world class art museum on its campus.

Cliff Callis 28:50

Doug Freed 28:55
And I mean it is but we’re really focused on buying clay. You know, we still bought right up to the time he passed away, he still was interested in painting. We bought paintings when we could, but it was just you’re looking at a whole lot more money with internationally famous painters than you are internationally famous clay people. And that’s even holds true today. It’s catching up, but clay has kind of been discriminated against in the fine art world, you know, big time fine art world. But it’s been wonderful for us, because that’s been our niche. And people come here from all over to see our clay collection.

Cliff Callis 29:28
I think it’s impressive. I mean, it’s amazing, really, when you think about it and how it’s come to be and for all of our listeners, if they haven’t been there, they certainly need to make their first trip. But this should also serve as a reminder for people to go out there more often and take advantage of that crown jewel that we have. But I have to wonder – so you spent all those years traveling around to different showings and different museums in different cities. Yet you maintained your home out here in rural America. Why?

Doug Freed 30:00
Well, I’m pretty conservative. I think, you know, in a lot of ways, the one thing I have to say is that it was really nice in the 80s and 90s. Of course, I always had an income from my teaching, but it was always nice to be spending New York dollars. But you know, we bought an old historic home back in 1972. And we raised our family there, and it’s our family home and we’ve just stayed there. So I have a great studio. I mean, you know, I have two floors of 2000 square feet. And the second story is all storage paintings and stuff with painting bays and that kind of thing. So it’s just been really nice. And it’s freed me up to be able to travel and, you know, do a lot of things. And you know, that the thing that has been I think instrumental in my career is that first Ron Winneger and I started a travel program where we did international travel. And then when Ron retired, Paul Allen took over and so Paul, and I did it for many years. So for 35 years, I did international travel with the college. And we would always take one for college students, that was for community people, so lots and lots of people in this community have traveled the world with Doug Freed because of that program. The only limitation we had is the only thing we could sell in terms of a trip, it had to be over our spring break and we had 10 days off over spring break, and we could get an extension of a couple of days if we needed it. But people didn’t want to go any place that wasn’t warmer than it is here in Sedalia in March. You know, the first week of March. So basically, most of our trips, I mean, we’ve done a lot in Europe, but always Southern Europe. And then we started doing middle, you know, Turkey and Morocco and that kind of thing. And then we did China because the climate was warmer. And so those were the things that our trips, but I was directly responsible for 35 of those trips to various places in the world. So I’ve been fortunate that I’ve traveled to most continents. South America a lot, some pretty exotic trips, went to Peru, and went to the Amazon and those kinds of things. So they always had an art focus or art archaeology. And of course, we went to art museums with a lot of cathedrals and that kind of thing, too, as everybody does. But we focused on art museums. So that was a great thing. It really tied in to me being an artist, not only was I able to see what was being done in the United States, but also what was being done in Europe. And as a result of that, you know, discovered a lot of particularly clay artists that we eventually acquired for our collection that I wouldn’t have been aware of.

Cliff Callis 32:33
Let’s talk a little bit about your art. Of course, this is a podcast, we’re not videoing it. But I’m looking at a couple of paintings that you’re working on behind you. Talk about your style so that people understand where you get your inspiration from and how you execute what you do.

Doug Freed 32:51
Well, for 30 years, I was a pretty hardcore abstract painter. You know, when I came along my heroes were the guys that emerged in the 50s in the 60s. And that was people like Mark Rothko, very, very severe abstract artists. Minimalists. And so my work for 35 years was in that vein, I did structured paintings that were kind of color field. Then in 95, I started seeing, in those paintings, references to landscape. Started seeing some of the marks and stuff, tree tops, and it was very vague at first. But over the last 25 years, I’ve kind of indulged myself with doing landscape based paintings. Now, when I was a young man, if you’d told me when I was an old man, I was gonna be a landscape painter, I would have just rolled over and died. I mean, that was, it was just unconscionable that that would happen. But you know, you do what you do as an artist and one painting leads to the next and the next leads to the next and the work just evolves and your influences change, what you like changes. A big thing for me was losing my major, major source in New York City, that gallery that I’d had for years and years, you know, for 35 years went out of business. And so I found myself and that was not during the recession of 2008 but the previous recession in ‘99. I think there was a major recession. That’s when I lost my dealer in New York City and of course, I’d kept all these other galleries. You know, I always had representation out there across the world, but I think that was a real shock because I lost my east coast and west coast audiences. And to be truthful, that’s who was buying most of my work. I wasn’t selling that much in the Midwest. I mean, I always showed in St. Louis, and we showed in Kansas City, but the heart of my sales went into those other markets, or they went into international markets. I mean, you know, they went to Europe, but in whatever I mean, you know, I have a Miami dealer that is from Colombia, and she has a really major, major market that has for many many years with South America. I mean Miami is like the capital of South America if push comes to shove and a lot of those very wealthy people that collect, you know, want to go to Miami and have one of those high rise condos and that’s been great for me for my Miami dealer because you know, she has a really wonderful market for my work. But anyway, my work switched from non-objective work to figurative work and referential work. Work where it’s still somewhat soft, almost blurry, looks like it’s seen from more from a vision backed off rather than really down and focused on stuff. This painting here that you’re looking at here in my studio, people on the podcast can’t see this, but you know, on my studio wall, I have three paintings I’ve just completed that I’m getting ready to send to Miami and they’re all four foot by six foot horizontal paintings. And one of them is an Everglades painting. Two of them are ocean scapes and you can see down here, Cliff, in the bottom of those palmettos. You know, in the Everglades, you have those palmettos every place. And you can see how vague those are. I didn’t want to be like a portrait of a palmetto, I just wanted to give a sense that hey, this is the Everglades. So everything is synthesized, everything is reduced. I was a minimalist for years and years and my work is still minimal. Even these, you can see how those seascapes are very minimal.

Cliff Callis 36:23
And do you work off of photos?

Doug Freed 36:25
I do work off of photos, I work off a memory from traveling. One of the nice things for me is that I have galleries in different kinds of environments, like my Miami gallery, I’m able to do seascapes. You know, the Boston gallery I can do seascapes. But you know, here in the Midwest, seascapes aren’t something that a lot of people are looking for. I do pieces of forests and lakes and rivers and that kind of thing. It’s been nice that I can do in my work, work that has some kind of meaning in those geographical areas that I’m showing the work in.

Cliff Callis 37:00
Yeah, it is very cool. So if somebody wanted to take a look at your various work, and they weren’t in a big city, where would they go is their website,

Doug Freed 37:10
My website is And you can see far more paintings than you ever want to look at there on that site. I mean, there’s probably, you know, several 100 images in there divided in different kind of ways. So you don’t have to look through the whole site. But I have paintings, works on paper, you know, different descriptions, triptychs, diptychs, because I do a lot of paintings that are two panels, three panels. They’re one singular painting, but I put these together. And those are all on my website. And you can see that the only thing about the website is that there’s no prices listed. But if a person really is interested in my work, they can go to any of my galleries and on the website, they can get the list of my galleries, and the ones that are really the most active right now on their personal websites that carry images of my work would be my St. Louis gallery, that’s Reno David Contemporary Art, my Kansas City artists gallery, which is Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, and then in Tulsa, I have Exhibits A. It’s Aberson’s Exhibits is the name of that gallery. And each one of these galleries would have 20 to 30 examples of my work, and they’d all be different because I show different pieces. When you consign work to a gallery, they have to have their own paintings that they have available for me as the artist. Each one of my galleries my Charleston gallery has just had a big exhibition in Charleston so they have a whole body of work. Miami gallery has as a whole body of work, so you’d go to ETRA, E-T-R-A Fine Art Miami, and you know, you go to the website and then they list their artists, they’ll have a list of the artists and you’d just go to Doug Freed or Douglass Freed. Sometimes it’s listed Douglass Freed, sometimes Doug Freed, and you can find more images than you’d ever want to see because each one of those galleries probably have 20 to 30. And then Artsy, you know, you can go to Artsy and several of these galleries show on Artsy. If you don’t like dealing with a website, you can go to Artsy. Sometimes Artsy posts prices, too. And sometimes the dealers will post prices on the website, but I don’t post prices on my website, because it’s not a sales tool for me. It’s more of an archive, you know, my website is more of an archive for me personally, so I don’t use it in that way. That’s basically I mean, you know, you can probably see on the web, 500 paintings of mine.

Cliff Callis 39:43
Amazing. Awesome. You’ve had such an accomplished career. What would you tell a budding artist that was just getting started? What kind of advice would you give them?

Doug Freed 39:54
I think they have to have a passion for art, first of all, and not only interested in what they’re doing but they have to have an interest in art out there. So many artists love and know what they do themselves personally, but after that they don’t go much further than that. You know what I mean? They’re not looking at art all the time, they don’t have a passion to look at art, they don’t go to museums as much as they should. I mean, that’s my thing, I think, look at as much art as you can, because you have to see art, in order to art. You know, I think then the next thing is you have to figure out what your interest is, and focus on that interest in subject matter. And then before you ever think of galleries, you have to have a body of about 20 consistent pieces done within a two year period. If it gets more than two years, the gallery’s gonna get a little suspect. Here’s the deal – galleries are trying to make money, so you have to be able to supply that market and if you can’t supply that market. You know, and what I mean by that, I will get a new body of work to my galleries about every three to four years. Every time I have a solo show, the gallery will keep that body of work, what they didn’t sell, and then others that they kept back. They don’t always keep the same pieces, but they have a body of work, which I’ve consigned to them, that they can try to find a collector for you know, and that’s the way it works. Sometimes I deal with competitions directly, like I mentioned to you before when the podcast started, I’ve just recently applied, you know, sent in a proposal for the Kansas City International Airport. It’s doing 19 20 foot walls, so that’s a great commission.

Cliff Callis 41:36
I hope to see one there.

Doug Freed 41:39
Yeah I hope so. And I’ve been very fortunate. I mean, you know, usually you don’t talk about money, but you know, and I would like to say this because people get the wrong idea. They think my work, is you can’t buy a piece for less than 1000s of dollars.

Doug Freed 41:52
Well, I mean, it is expensive. It starts at $2,000 and then goes up to $20,000 pretty quick. But a $20,000 painting is a big, big painting. And I’ve sold paintings. Well, I did a commission for my biggest major, the most major commission was for Emerson Electric’s international headquarters in St. Louis. And that was a, the painting was 110 by 320 inches. I mean, that’s a big painting. But I received $170,000 for that painting. So that made me feel good for a long period of time, you know. But that’s out of the ballpark. I mean, that just doesn’t happen. It was an international competition, sponsored by Emerson Electric, you know, it’s an international company. And I won that competition. And the painting is a Missouri River painting. So it was perfect for their headquarters, because they’re right there in St. Louis. But anyway, I was very fortunate. And you can see that on my website. Yeah, you can go to the web, my website, I show the installation shot of that piece at Emerson. And then another really major commission, I received the Federal Reserve Bank, the new Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. It’s been going on now what, five, six years at open. But they bought a great big painting, a 10 foot painting, and I received, I think that commission was $40,000. But those are unusual kinds of things. Those come along every once in a while.

Cliff Callis 43:15
Nice to have a surprise like that every now and then.

Doug Freed 43:18
Oh it is, it is. But you know, if a person wants a really major painting, they’re looking at eight to $12,000.

Cliff Callis 43:24
I’m anxious to get on your website again and check out that. You know, the focus of our podcast is rural America. When I say that phrase, what kind of images and thoughts come to your mind?

Doug Freed 43:37
Well, it’s a beautiful place. You know, as I said earlier, when my wife and I moved here, we thought, ny God we’re moving to paradise. Sedalia is in a beautiful location. You know what I love about Sedalia is you know, if you’re looking west, you’re seeing kind of tall grass prairies. If you’re looking south, you’re seeing the Ozarks and forested areas. And all surrounding Sedalia, you know, is a combination of those two things, pretty much. Spring we have wildflowers that are growing in our prairies that are just spectacular. And our streams and rivers, you know. I mean, growing up in western Kansas, we didn’t have the word creek, you could go to a river that was absolutely empty, but it was still a river. But you know, here here we have wonderful creeks and small tributaries that are covered with woods and forests that are just spectacular and beautiful. I just love the, you know, the scenery here. That’s what’s kept me and the town is neat and the town’s growing and it’s provided me a great opportunity to raise four kids. I have to say that I’ve had a very charmed life. I worked for a wonderful institution that allowed me to set my own hours and so I would come to my studio at eight in the morning and leave by 11:30 to 12 every day, and there’s hardly any artists that have that kind of opportunity, that kind of freedom that I know. I don’t know another artists that has that kind of thing. Maybe a few professors in various places, but even professors have to teach their classes when they have to teach their classes. And that’s set by the administration, not them. So I was very fortunate that I got to select my time and create my own schedule. Those days are over, though. I don’t think in academia you have that anymore.

Cliff Callis 45:32
Well, we’re sure glad you’ve shared your talents with us over the years, Doug, and I could sit here and talk with you all day. And I’d like to have you on the program again in the future to talk about some other memories and ideas and things you’re working on. But as we kind of wrap up today, what else would you like to share with our OUTdrive audience today that you think they might find interesting or beneficial in their careers or life?

Doug Freed 45:56
Well, I’ll just tell one more story. My dealer in New York was famous for showing kind of artists from third world countries. You know, he was the very first one to start showing the Mexicans and a lot of those Mexicans, you know, became very, very famous that he showed, and he showed a lot of artists from Eastern European countries. And I asked him one time, I said, you know, “Moldeau, why do you show these third world country artists?” And he says, “Well, hell Freed, you’re a third world country artists. How much more third world can you be than living in the middle of Missouri in a small town?” You know, that’s kind of how he looked at it I think. And he always thought of me as kind of the country gentleman when I’d come back there. This guy from from the Midwest, and there’s a little tiny town, you know.

Cliff Callis 46:44
That’s a great story, because that is how we kind of opened today. People on the coasts are surprised at the way of life we have here and everything we have, I think it blows their mind.

Doug Freed 46:54
I have one more quick story though. One of the salespeople in my gallery in New York was a Puerto Rican guy. And he was a wonderful sales guy. He was just an incredible hot shot. I showed up in New York one time, this was in the middle 80s. And he said to me, “Freed, I was just in the Midwest, because I was just where you’re from.” And I said, “Where’d you go?” And he said, “Well, I went to I went to Iowa,” and I said, “Well, what do you think of Iowa?” And of course, this guy’s very dark skinned Puerto Rican says, “Freed it’s the scariest damn place I’ve ever been in my life. There’s all these old men were setting around every restaurant I went in, and they all just stared at me. And they’re all wearing green hats. You know, what is the green hat?” You know, tractors.

Cliff Callis 47:33
John Deere

Doug Freed 47:36
He says ‘“They’re all wearing green hats.” So that’s, that’s a story about the Midwest. But you know, that that is we do have that. But you know, not everybody is, you know, uneducated and unexposed.

Cliff Callis 47:49
You know, we’ve got it all. And, you know, certainly there is some of that. And certainly people create stereotypes based on things they see on TV, or they hear or maybe that they know. But we do have a diversity of life and the quality of life that I think is unmatched.

Doug Freed 48:03
I would just like to say in finishing that I would invite everybody to come to the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s a wonderful facility, has nine galleries. It’s about 30,000 square feet of space, the exhibits are changing, you know, all the time. They do, I think, four rotations a year of the whole facility. Usually, the galleries are filled with solo artists, two or three solo artist exhibitions of artists from all over the country. Then sometimes the other galleries, you know, there’s nine galleries, the other galleries are filled with permanent collection. But we don’t have a space in the museum that’s designated as permanent collection. It all rotates, it all changes. Every installation is different. But you know, now I said I think 1,500, but I think there’s closer to 2,000 objects in the collection. And Tommy Shea is the director, and he’s done a wonderful, wonderful job of selecting pieces from the permanent collection and putting them on exhibit specially during these COVID times. He’s used it to show our permanent collection.

Cliff Callis 49:08
I’m so happy that you took the opportunity to pitch the Daum and I was gonna do that too, so thank you for doing that. And folks, be sure to check out and see some of the amazing work that Doug Freed has done over the years. Doug, thank you for being on our podcast.

Doug Freed 49:20
Well thank you Cliff for this opportunity. I really appreciate it greatly and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Cliff Callis 49:29
So did I. Folks, thanks for listening to OUTdrive. I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit today with internationally known artists Doug Freed free. Come back again next week and I’ll take you down the roads of rural America where it’s heaven on earth.

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