Columbia College professor was a talented artist, teacher

Sidney Larson

COLUMBIA — As an artist he worked with Thomas Hart Benton and Fred Shane. As a teacher he inspired more than 10,000 budding artists studying at Columbia College. Friends and family remember Sidney Larson as a man who taught them many things, not only about art, but also about life.

“He was a very creative thinker, and he wasn’t just an artist,” said Linda Phillips, one of Larson’s former students. “He just really liked sharing his knowledge.”

Mr. Larson died at his home Thursday, May 21, 2009. He was 85.

Mr. Larson was born June 16, 1923. Growing up, Mr. Larson developed a close bond with one of his cousins, Marian Olovitch. He was five years older than she, but he never made fun of her. 

"He was wonderful to me,” Olovitch said. “Whenever there was anything that was special, he would seek me out.”

She said that as a child, Mr. Larson never planned to be an artist. He wanted to go to medical school, which was why he was a pharmacist’s mate in the U.S. Navy.

Olovitch said that when Mr. Larson returned, he enrolled in some art classes on a whim.

“He didn’t know anything about how talented he was,” she said.

He went on to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art from MU, and in 1947 he married George Ann Madden.

Mr. Larson began teaching himself how to restore older art pieces. In 1960, Benton selected Larson to restore his murals in the Missouri Capitol building.

Some of Mr. Larson’s own murals can be found at Boone County Courthouse, the Columbia Public Library, the Jefferson City Municipal Building and The Rolla Daily News building, among other locations.

Mr. Larson’s ability to both restore old murals and create new ones gave him a reputation as one of Missouri’s most prominent artists, his friends said.

Mr. Larson was also known for his 50-year teaching career in Columbia College’s art department. His colleagues hold him in high regard. 

“He liked being a teacher and an artist,” Columbia College art professor Ben Cameron said. “He had a very successful career with the art department. He was there from 7 in the morning until dinnertime. He really loved that job.”

Art department chairman Mike Sleadd noted Mr. Larson's sense of humor, among other attributes.

“Sid was a great guy, a wonderful teacher and great colleague," Sleadd said. “The best thing about working at Columbia College was getting to know Sid.”

Mr. Larson served as the curator of the art gallery of the State Historical Society of Missouri for 44 years.

“He was just a joy to work with,” State Historical Society photography specialist Chris Montgomery said. “He was upbeat, positive and fun.”

Phillips said she greatly appreciates the impact Mr. Larson had on her studies at Columbia College.

“He was the right person for me to have been studying art from at the time,”  she said

Although Mr. Larson taught his classes many different lessons, Phillips holds one above the rest.

“He taught us to see, I think is the most important thing," she said. "Not just to look, but to see.”

As an adult, Phillips decided to go back to Columbia College to study more painting classes with Mr. Larson. Because she had already taken all the painting classes offered by the college, Mr. Larson created a couple of special courses for her, allowing her to grow in her own right.

“He was a very prolific producer of art, and artists themselves,” Phillips said. “He left quite a legacy.”

Mr. Larson retired from Columbia College in 2001 and married Mary Wells in 2003.

Mr. Larson is survived by his wife; two daughters, Cathy Larson of Bloomington, Ind., and Nancy Moneke of Salem, Ore.; a sister, Dorothy Clark; four grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; numerous nieces and nephews; and his cousin, Marian Olovitch of Chesterfield.

His first wife, a sister, Frances, and an infant daughter died earlier.

The family plans to hold a celebration service for Mr. Larson, but an exact date has not been determined. In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the Larson Scholarship Fund at Columbia College, 1001 Rogers St., Columbia, MO 65201; the Sid Larson Fund, State Historical Society of Missouri, 1020 Lowry St., Columbia, MO 65201; and Missouri Cancer Associates, 1705 E. Broadway, Suite 100, Columbia, MO 65201.

“That was his personality, and he would appreciate that,” Olovitch said.

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