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Five books

Frank Rose and fellow friends of the late Clinton artist Ken Hassrick have organized “Five Books,” an art show of Hassrick’s work that has never gone public. - Cynthia Woolbright
Frank Rose and fellow friends of the late Clinton artist Ken Hassrick have organized “Five Books,” an art show of Hassrick’s work that has never gone public.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

More than a year ago five books were found. More than 30 years ago, five books defined a man.

“These books helped shape his career,” Frank Rose said. “When you look at the work he did throughout his life, you can see in these early books that it was in his head for some time.”

Last week, Rose sat with five cloth-covered sketch books once owned by Clinton artist Ken Hassrick. Rose thumbed through the dog-eared pages of the books owned by his good friend. His fingers traced the outlines of the sketches mapped out in colored felt-tip pens, ink and charcoal.

Rose held the books delicately as he talked of his lost friend.

“We always talked about art,” Rose said. “He was a great philosopher of life and art.”

The duo were simply very compatible friends — even though their philosophical conversations didn’t always jibe on things such as politics.

“He impacted just about everyone he met because he always had something to say about life that someone found interesting,” Rose said.

The books are the basis for an art show called “Five Books” that will be held Friday through Sunday at the Deer Lagoon Grange.

The exhibition comes one year after Hassrick’s death.

“Five Books” consists of select drawings from five sketch books of 200 sketches created in 1960 over a three-month period. The art has been reproduced in limited edition archival prints with some originals available.

It’s a group of work of which Hassrick’s son, Clinton resident Matt Hassrick, is a big fan.

“It’s one of my favorite periods of his work,” Hassrick said. “I always enjoyed how they were more abstract, only touching on figurative.”

It is that stretch out of the norm — out of the figurative art form that grew to be Ken Hassrick’s fame — that Rose hopes to use to create new Hassrick fans and entice those familiar with his art out of the woodwork.

Sale of the work benefits Island Arts Council Visual Arts Scholarships and the Phase II construction of an art gallery and greenroom facilities at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. Both are projects that were near and dear to Ken and his wife Doll during their lives on South Whidbey.

Matt Hassrick said his father would want the show to benefit the Island Arts Council. He remembers his father as a dedicated artist who was in constant pursuit of his craft and who always walked with a different outlook on life.

“They were always willing to help people out in the community,” Matt Hassrick said. “Whether it was listening to someone’s problems or helping out on big issues, they were there.”

If there’s a chance that life after death exists — this week is finding Ken Hassrick mighty happy.

“He’d be very into this going on, if he was in a place where he was aware of it,” Matt Hassrick said.

History of an art figure

Kenneth Hassrick was born June 18, 1921, in Ocean City, N.J. Since his childhood he kept visual art as his focus. As a young man he worked for a printer in Doylestown, Penn., making offset plates.

He married Peggy Cooper in 1941 and served as a master sergeant in the Army’s Signal Corps in Europe during World War II. During that time he lived in Paris and enrolled in L’Ecole de Beaux Arts to study under Fernand Leger.

After the war, he married Barbara “Doll” Estabrook Fox in March 1953. Together they owned a print shop in Philadelphia, but they sold the business to take the first of many sailing voyages.

In 1963 they moved to the Hollywood Hills and Hassrick opened a metal work studio in Glendale with partner J.B. Thompson.

While in California, Hassrick became well-known for his body of abstract work that he sculpted from metal scraps or cast through lost wax.

In 1968 the couple sold their house, bought a 60-foot schooner called the “Four Winds” and spent the next couple of years sailing the Caribbean.

After raising Morgan horses in Oregon, they moved to Whidbey in 1977 and bought a 10-acre farm in Clinton. Hassrick converted a barn into a large studio, and his work then began to focus on the female form — in sculpture and painting, abstract and realistic.

Immediately, the Hassricks bonded with the Whidbey Island arts community. Doll served on the Island Arts Council, and once was president of the nonprofit organization. Ken helped judge scholarship contestants. Both would invite young artists into their studio to see how the veterans worked.

“As artists they were always interested in spreading the wealth,” Rose said.

Hassrick was a familiar face around Langley and could often be found with pool stick in hand, tossing out wisecracks at the Dog House Tavern. Sometimes, Rose was on the receiving end..

A TALE OF FIVE BOOKS

Rose and Hassrick have been friends since 1984, when the two artists met in Alexandria, Va. When Rose moved to the island in 1986, he began working with Hassrick in his barn studio.

To be in Hassrick’s company while he was working was a learning experience, Rose said.

“His figurative work always had composition and treatment of paint that was impressive,” Rose said.

Hassrick was known for his later work that used a painting technique of using an acrylic water wash over charcoal.

Rose’s dedication to the show is as much about art as it is about friendship, Matt Hassrick said.

“His willingness to take this on shows how much he cared for Ken as a friend,” Hassrick said.

During the last two years of Hassrick’s life, his limbs were paralyzed by transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disease. At the same time, Doll was suffering from Alzheimers.

Both lived in separate care facilities, with Ken at Careage in Coupeville and Doll at a facility in Oak Harbor.

It marked a crucial point in the friendship between Rose and Hassrick.

Rose would take Hassrick on field trips. They’d drive from Careage to the Tyee in Coupeville, where they’d shoot pool.

But it was Rose making all the shots. He’d take his, then wait for Hassrick to tell him where to take his shot.

Hassrick’s wit remained sharp and almost as speedy as his electric wheelchair until the end of his life, Rose said.

The Hassricks died at separate care facilities within days of each other — Ken on July 1 and Doll on July 8.

Before his death, Hassrick gave all of his art books to Rose. While combing through the piles of text books and giant format art books displaying the works of artists that inspired Hassrick — Shegal, Picasso and others — Rose stumbled upon the five gems.

The books contained 200 images that astounded Rose. After finding them, Rose and Hassrick talked about the concept for a show.

Initially the idea was that the two friends could put the show on together.

“It was all about morale building,” Rose said. “He needed anything that could motivate him, like work.”

Together, the friends chose 55 images that Rose scanned, enlarged and printed on photographic satin papers. They are framed in 11 X 14-inch to 27 X 40-inch formats. Isle of Art in Langley assisted with the technical and printing process.

Each image bears the Hassrick’s inital’s “KH” in an embossing he designed.

They are produced in a limited edition set of nine each — with the exception of a few artist’s proofs.

Why nine?

“He liked the number,” Rose said.

Hassrick wasn’t too fond of the idea of including the pieces that had multiple colors, but Rose urged him to show the unique works.

Local artist Ed Severinghaus said the work is impressive, despite many of them being quick sketches.

“They’re quite nice and very delightful,” he said.

Family, friends, artists and the art curious are invited to come together to remember and honor Hassrick during the opening reception Friday night.

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