Marks reflects on a lifetime of art for final exhibition

Joseph Marks, University of Michigan-Dearborn curator of collections and exhibitions

Joseph Marks was 14 years old when he painted a few bottles on a blank canvas.

With each stroke of the paintbrush, Marks grew more enamored with the idea of creating art.

He titled his first oil painting “Bottles.” That was 52 years ago.

This month, “Bottles” will grace the walls inside University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Berkowitz Gallery.

Marks, the gallery’s longtime curator of collections and exhibitions, has organized a personal exhibition that highlights his past and present artwork. The exhibition, which runs April 4 through May 9, jointly serves as Marks’ swan song.

After 36 years of service at UM-Dearborn, Marks plans to retire on August 6.

“I like being able to look back at everything,” he said. “And looking back, I realize that I made the right choice. Even back then, people said, ‘You’re not going to get a job in art.’ But I was determined and my job evolved into a wonderful position.”

When Mardigian Library was built in 1980, Marks volunteered to help decorate the walls with art. Four years later, he took over the university’s art collections.

As curator, Marks has organized about 100 different art exhibitions at UM-Dearborn. And they range from Japanese prints to calligraphy exhibitions, and just about everything in between.

“There’s something for everybody,” he said. “I try to find something that’s not only beautiful, but also is sort of educational and represents the culture of different groups of people.”

The highlight of his work stems from the reactions. Students, faculty, staff and community members often stroll through the Berkowitz Gallery to gaze at the unique artwork or simply to escape from their busy lifestyles for a moment.

“A man came in one day to look at the gallery and told me that he’s traveled the world,” Marks said. “Then he said he’s never seen anything like this in his life after seeing an exhibition of studio glass. I love that. Our gallery is unique because if you go to regular galleries, you’re not going to see studio glass like we have.”

Credit Marks for a majority of the unique pieces of art scattered throughout the library. He’s established close ties with local collectors, in an effort to expand UM-Dearborn’s collection.

“We don’t purchase anything here,” he said. “All of our art is donated by generous collectors.”

Marks retires on his birthday, but he doesn’t plan to abandon his love of art.

“It’s my passion, so I plan to focus more on it after I leave,” he said.

The university will host a reception to honor Marks and celebrate his exhibition from 4 to 7 p.m. on April 4 in the Berkowitz Gallery, located on the third floor of Mardigian Library. The reception is free and open to the public.

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