Homage to My Brother as Artist, John K. Fleck, Jr. (1932-2002)
Homage to My Brother as Artist
My older brother was born in Philadelphia PA in 1932 where he lived as a boy until 1938, a year after my birth, when we moved to Wernersville, PA. Our father, John Keene Fleck, was a bit of an artist in those days; he set up his easel outside of the village along the "Sheep Walk" to paint landscapes in oils. He even did occasional portraits of friends in Wernersville and Reading. I believe my brother's family still possesses dad's portrait of Kurt Hoff.
My brother, I am sure, closely observed dad's paintings in process and as finished art. Surely this must have been a significant early influence on him. After we moved to Princeton, New Jersey in 1942, my father set up Parnassus Bookshop (see my other hubs) as an antiquarian bookstore that lasted through the late 1940s. It was in this shop that my mother, Anne DeLeon Fleck, began to write poetry. My brother, however, was not so inspired as he dearly missed Wernersville with his many friends and its rural charm.
He met up with some tough kids, "townies," in Princeton but found solace in making sketches for homework in his art classes. One of his early teachers was Edith Marjoram, who later became his art teacher at Princeton High School. Miss Marjoram was a demanding teacher who insisted upon accuracy and vivid detail. She quickly recognized my brother's talent and encouraged him to consider going to an art school after his graduation from high school in 1950. This suggestion suited my brother well as he had no desire to go to Princeton University or any other such academic institution--he had too much of an "artistic temperament."
Studies at Art Institutes
He chose the Newark Academy of Fine Arts in Newark, New Jersey (directed by a Mr. Bogart) and studied art, specifically oil painting, for 4 years. One particular instructor insisted on finding beauty in extremely unusual places. His instructor took his class to nearby Bayway oil refinery to set up their easels. Amazingly, my brother and his colleagues created some fantastic "landscapes" of oil flares and gleaming oil tanks with the faint New York skyline in the distance.
He also studied portraiture at Newark and became inspired enough to do several portraits of the Fleck and DeLeon families and friends in Princeton and Philadelphia. I still possess a marvelous portrait he did of our father when he was Reference Librarian at Princeton University. Dad began posing early in the morning and by late afternoon he looked weary and had a "five o'clock shadow" on his face. All of this got into the portrait but in such a fashion as to reveal a certain distinction of character and tolerance in my father's face.
After a two-year stint in the Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky (where he produced silk screen posters for Army events between 1954 and 1956), he continued his studies at The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts during the late 50's. During this time he met and fell in love with Rosemary Dooling whom he married in June, 1959.
His Marriage to Rosemary
John and Rosemary settled in Princeton for several years where he managed a graphic arts business with a printing press. He designed and produced commercial art for a number of small businesses in the Princeton area. But after the birth of their son Keene, they soon moved to Miami, Florida where my brother continued his career in commercial art, working with companies like Henderson Meat Packing in Fort Lauderdale. In his spare time he sketched seascapes and tropical landscapes including a striking pen and ink sketch of a Mexican fan palm in which you can almost hear the rustling of the fronds.
Victor Flach, an art critic from the University of Wyoming, spent considerable time observing my brother's pen and ink work. What Professor Flach admired most was the vivid and rich intricacy of detail with the unique feature of marginal commentary describing the particular place where the sketch was made.
Living and painting in Europe
Their second child, Melissa, was born in 1963, and as the children grew older, Rosemary decided to prepare for a teaching career by studying at the Montessori Institute in Bergamo, Itlay. In the early 70's they sailed to Genoa via Caracas, Venezuala. While his wife studied, my brother taught English to factory workers in Milano and had ample opportunity to paint and sketch the marvels of Italian architecture in Milano and Bergamo. He was particularly drawn to campaniles and steeples and tile rooftops glistening in the sun.
Several years later Rosemary had the opportunity to teach in a Montessori school in Germany for three years. While she taught and the children attended German schools, my brother painted and sketched cityscapes and landscapes in Frankfurt and Oberursel where they lived and had the good fortune of meeting Father Beck, a Lutheran convert to Catholocism and pastor of Saint Mary's Church. He commissioned my brother to paint frescoes on the walls of the church. They can still be seen at Saint Mary's.
Living in Charleston
After returning to the States and settling in Charleston and Greenville and later Charleston again, my brother worked as a graphic artist for Trident Community College designing school catalogs and other publications. But he never gave up fine art and continued to sketch historic Charleston, South Carolina including the cobblestone courtyard of Catfish Alley, sailboats in a choppy harbor, and the stone walls of Fort Moultrie of Edgar Allan Poe fame.
He had time to enjoy his children and grandchildren all settled in Charleston. He died far too early at age 70 in 2002. But he still lives on---in the hearts and minds of his family and many friends.