News Column

Arnold Prince: The art of a life well-lived

June 7, 2014

By Heather Lake, The Chronicle, Willimantic, Conn.

June 07--WILLIMANTIC -- Of the many things the late Arnold Prince is remembered for, he was perhaps most endearing to people for his ability to inspire.

Eastern Connecticut State University, Friday afternoon, hosted a memorial celebration of Prince's life as a painter and sculptor, a teacher, an author, a mentor, a family man and a friend.

His wife of 30 years, Claudia Widdiss, a fine arts professor at Eastern, graced the theater in the university's student center with a captivating tender spirit as she shared his story, her story and their story.

Prince passed away in his Chaplin home on April 5 at the age of 89, leaving behind a legacy certain to never be forgotten by those who knew, or knew of, him.

Prince is said to have "lived and breathed art" and his work can be found as part of 200 private collections around the world, and locally on the outside wall of Willard's Hardware Store in Willimantic.

He also made it part of his life's mission to encourage others to go after their own dreams.

"Arnold had a firm belief that education was what would transform one's life," said Widdiss, who first met Prince at the age of 16 as his student in Harlem.

"It was because of him that I was so inspired," Widdiss said. "I truly believe he saved my life twice (once as her teacher, and later as her husband, demanding she become through education the woman she is today).

To that end, the Arnold Prince Scholarship Fund is being set up to give other aspiring artists the opportunity and courage to pursue their own dreams toward becoming sculptors or painters, realms in the art world that impassioned Prince every day.

Prince moved from the United States from Antigua in 1957 at the age of 31. He immediately began studying art at the Art Students League of New York.

Throughout his career he taught as the director of three-dimensional study at Harlem Youth Act in New York; adjunct professor of fine arts at North Adams State College in Massachusetts; and assistant professor of fine arts at Rhode Island School of Design. He also served as the artist in residence on the Rhode Island Council on the Arts.

While his accomplishments were many, his impact on the many lives he touched was perhaps even greater.

Everyone who spoke had a story, and while each was different, all who told them came away from their experiences with an unsurpassable fondness and awe.

Robert Greene, a visual arts instructor at Eastern, said Prince was a huge inspiration to him in the art of rock carving.

"I saw some of his work and I was enthralled with it," Greene said. "He was a wonderful person."

Judging by the crowd that turned out for the memorial ceremony, many agreed.

Among them was his niece, Carol Duncan, who lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and also felt inspired by her uncle's passion for education, remembering vividly this message from him: "Do your work every day, do your art ... and teach others how to do it too."

A former drama teacher at Putnam High School considered his first meeting with Prince as a sort of "spiritual intervention" and recalled him as a humble man of many talents.

" I learned so much from Arnold," said John Basnight, fighting back the tears he feared would fall. "I loved him very much."

Even those who didn't know him well, were drawn to Prince for his talent and his very being.

Eastern President Elsa Nunez said the encounter with Prince that stood out most in her mind was one in which she first experienced his sculpture "The Cats" that can now be found in the university's science building.

"I was mesmerized. I did what you are never supposed to do in an art gallery ... I touched them. I know Arnold was a good guy because he saw me do it and he didn't scold me. While they were ferocious and fierce, they were made by the hands of a gentle man. I looked into his soul through his eyes ...he connected with you through his work. His gifts to us were many and through them we will remember him always."

Contributions can be mailed to the ECSU Foun dation, Inc., 83 Windham St., Willimantic, CT 06226.


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Source: Chronicle, The (Willimantic, CT)

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