Student art champion: Gallery named after longtime Edwardsville teacher

News-DemocratDecember 9, 2013 

Eric Froemling was an Edwardsville High School student in the late '90s when he made a two-minute animated film about an alien and his flying saucer.

Art teacher Dennis DeToye was so impressed by the teen's talent, he arranged for the film to be shown throughout school on closed-circuit TV.

"When people get excited about your work like that, it really encourages you to keep trying," said Froemling, 32, of San Francisco, who went on to work for Pixar, animating hit movies such as "Ratatouille."

Froemling was one of several former EHS students who showed up for last weekend's dedication of the DeToye Student Art Gallery at Edwardsville Arts Center.

The Greater Edwardsville Area Community Foundation also announced a $1,000 scholarship in DeToye's name.

Organizers pointed to DeToye's profound effect on the local art community as a teacher for 35 years, a portrait artist, an editorial cartoonist and a center volunteer.

"His gift for teaching young people in our community will go on forever," said Wilma Jene Bond, who paid for the gallery's new sign with her husband, Jack Butler.

"Many of them are still young. They have their whole lives ahead of them. Dennis will be manifested in their work."

The center occupies a 2,500-square-foot space at EHS, making it one of the few professional art institutions housed in a public school.

DeToye helped get it moved from downtown Edwardsville two years ago, mainly to keep it afloat financially, but he had an ulterior motive.

"It just seemed to me that we could provide kids at the school with (easy access to) professional art," DeToye said. "It's a field trip down the hall."

DeToye later served as the center's exhibitions chair and pushed for creation of the student gallery, which had long been on his "bucket list."

He also worked to establish an annual student art competition among schools in the Southwest Conference.

"He's relentless when it comes to helping students," said Pat Quinn, the center's executive director. "If a student wants to pursue a career in art, Dennis goes 110 percent to make sure (he or she has) the resources."

Beyond art, DeToye briefly tried his hand at politics. He served as Edwardsville mayor from 1989 to 1993, choosing not to run for re-election.

The past few months have been challenging for DeToye, 65, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in July.

"I'm not very spunky," he said on a recent afternoon, showing the humor and candor that have become his trademark.

In August, DeToye and his wife, Lela, donated more than 50 paintings and other artwork from their personal collection to EHS.

Before DeToye retired in 2003, the couple regularly bought pieces from students.

"We never accepted gifts," said Lela, a retired associate dean of education at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. "We always bought their work so it was valued like professional art."

Today, the artwork lines walls of the school's media center, giving students an artsy alternative when they tire of staring at computer screens.

The display fits perfectly with the philosophy of Principal Dennis Cramsey, who already had removed stock art from his office and replaced it with student work.

"(The DeToye collection) is a great tie between the past and the present," Cramsey said. "And it gives students the belief that the work they're currently doing will have value at some point."

DeToye originals also hang in the building. His giant image of a tiger, the school's mascot, dominates a staircase landing.

Conversations with former students have led Cramsey to conclude DeToye is one of the school's most well-liked staff members ever.

"He definitely was the 'fun' teacher," Froemling said. "He wasn't too strict or harsh, and he'd let you do your own thing. It made people want to experiment and work hard."

Outside of school, DeToye found success as an artist, specializing in large paintings of people's faces, often with exaggerated features. He liked the description of one fan, who lovingly called them "big-ass heads."

DeToye has displayed his work in dozens of juried exhibitions. He was keeping busy with commissions and other projects until five weeks before his diagnosis.

"I just couldn't get my hand to go where it needed to go," DeToye said, noting he stopped spending his usual two or three hours a day in the studio.

DeToye and his wife had just headed north for a two-month Canadian vacation last summer, when symptoms of his illness began to appear. He ended up in the emergency room on Fourth of July.

Doctors discovered a baseball-sized tumor, which was removed four days later in Seattle, and diagnosed an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Since that time, DeToye has undergone chemotherapy and radiation in St. Louis.

"I can't tell you the number of cards and emails and phone calls and letters we have received," Lela said. "Everyone wants to know what they can do, how they can help. It's just been unbelievable."

People are invited to become members or sponsors of Edwardsville Arts Center in honor of Dennis DeToye by calling 618-655-0337 or emailing to office@edwardsvilleartscenter.com.

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