An Artist’s Sketchbooks
Reception to Honor Artist Sam Karres
and His Gift to Hatcher Graduate Library by Artemis Leontis
Sketchbooks are an artist’s laboratory, where the artist gathers his ingredients: his eyes’ and hands’ quick view of life as it unfolds.
This at least is true of the sketchbooks of Sam Karres, an artist of miraculous dexterity. Born in Wyandotte, Michigan in 1929, Karres completed a degree in Art at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in 1953, and worked as an illustrator for Ford Motor Co. from 1955 until his retirement in 1980. Whether a student, or fully employed, or a retiree with time to devote fully to his art, Karres was always sketching. The paint- ings he shows at Karres Gallery at the end of Sixth Street near the train tracks in Royal Oak draw their ideas from sketchbooks he began to fill from the time he was a young boy.
In a conversation with me this summer, the 83-year-old Karres talked about scenes that inspired him in Detroit over the course of a lifetime: the storefronts, music halls, cafe’s, restaurants, bars, public and private spots that lit up at night, became dreamlike in the day. A regular visitor to Greektown, always with sketchbook and pencil or pen and ink in hand, Karres made personal contact with its dramatis personae. Over the course of decades, the regulars in Greektown made cameo appearances in his notebooks, whether seated darkly in a corner with a demitasse of coffee or ecstatically dancing to the rhythms of a bouzouki band.
Sam Karres’s dialogue with Detroit was intense. Whenever he sat drawing, things began to happen, as if the city’s scenes in the second half of the twentieth century took shape for Karres’s art: “I can sit down on a bench anywhere and start sketching and nothing’s happening,” he said. “Suddenly, an airplane, a bird, a guy on a bike and before you know it you got a terrific composition.” His hand was both agile and incisive. According to Dan Georgakas, author of My Detroit, the artist’s work is “both a familial photo album offering images to refresh our memories and a personal diary that probes emotions those images sometimes belie. Motor City is privileged to have such an impassioned testament to draw on, and Greek America is fortunate to have a large place within that saga.”
This past year, Sam Karres donated thirty-seven sketchbooks to U-M Hatcher Graduate Library, with assistance from Dr. Denny Stavros, his lifelong friend and a steadfast supporter of Hatcher Library and the Modern Greek Program at U-M, who documented the gift. The sketchbooks date from 1975 to 1996, with a few drawings made during the first decade of the 21st century. They are mostly in pen and ink. They offer a witty, luminous point of entrance into Sam Karres’s art. The sketchbooks will henceforth be part of Hatcher Library’s collection of materials, supporting the study of both Greek America and Detroit.
A sample of Sam Karres’s sketchbooks will be on display this fall in the Audubon Room in the Library Gallery, Room 100, Hatcher Graduate Library 913 S. University Avenue. To bring attention to this wonderful acquisition, the Modern Greek Program invites colleagues, students, and friends to a public reception in the Audubon Room on October 24 from 4 to 6pm. The artist will be present. Come meet Sam Karres and thank him for his tremendous gift!