They were born nearly 2,000 miles apart, and it wouldn’t be until they had both reached their forties that their paths would ever cross.
But from the start, Don Weygandt and Doug McClellan were destined to be a powerful, joint influence on the UCSC art department in its humble beginnings.
A few miles up Main Street in Soquel, tucked amidst a rose garden and situated beside a gently flowing creek and a well used, homemade bocce ball court, is the proof.
The men took different paths through life. They traveled different places. But both men served in World War II and brought an undeniable artistic presence to UCSC in the late sixties. As the men chat in McClellan’s living room, the blooming rose garden just beyond the window sill, they fondly compare stories and anecdotes of their times in war, as teachers, and as long-time friends; their paths seem unified now, somehow. They already know most of one another’s stories, but the punch line to each one receives heartfelt laughter, just the same.
Their careers at UCSC are more than 30 years gone. Their students have headed off to Yale and Stanford, made names for themselves and lived their own lives. But the essence of these eighty-somethings is still very much a part of UCSC, and their friendship and art has, with time, only grown stronger.
Weygandt was born in the southern Illinois town of Belleville 82 years ago when McClellan was a four-year old taking summer trips to the ocean from his home in Pasadena, California.
While in their elementary-school years, the younger Weygandt and McClellan looked on, with the rest of the world, as Hitler became the leader of Germany. The tides of the Second World War were slowly beginning to turn by the time they were teenagers. And after accepting high school diplomas, the men had important choices to make about their futures – whether to join in the fight willingly, or be forced into it.
“It was basically enlist or get drafted – I opted, like most of my peers, to enlist,” Weygandt said. “I had fallen in love and I thought to woo my young woman, I should join the service.”
Lust aside, there were other reasons to join the service – for McClellan, it was something he felt he could do to make his family and country proud. The decision for both men was made easier as the Allies appeared to be making headway.
The war lasted only a few years after the men enlisted, and neither man ever found himself facing deadly combat. This lets both men look back on their experience with astute and astounding thankfulness. By signing on the dotted line, they also signed up for world travel, eye-opening learning opportunities, and the chance to develop a sense that their futures were without boundaries.
“I read omnivorously [while in the service]. I was indiscriminate, like a monkey going from one banana to the next. That’s really how I got educated,” McClellan said. “I was exposed to all these different people – different ages, races, walks of life. I had been sheltered from so much, so it was tremendous. When I got out, it gave me the sense that I could do anything.”
By 1945 the overseas battle had ceased, but the battle at home to rouse pre-war spirit and economic stability was just beginning. In 1946, to counteract the lag in the economy and boost national morale, the GI Bill was enacted, which sent countless veterans like Weygandt and McClellan out into the post-war world to get educated.
“Some politician, somewhere, decided that if [the government] could get all these men coming back from war into school, get them educated, they might do something with themselves,” Weygandt said. “I remember the day I got my release papers, one of [my friends in the service] was standing there, and I looked to him, wanting approval I guess. He looked at me and winked and said, ‘Get the hell out of here! This is your chance!’ So I did.”
With the help of the GI Bill, Weygandt earned his undergraduate arts degree at Washington University in St. Louis, while McClellan, on the other side of the country, hoping to design automobiles one day, completed a two-year art program at a Los Angeles community college and graduate school at Claremont College.
Both men cite their enlisted experiences as what strengthened their understanding and value of friendship and amity.
“In the service there was a definite sense of camaraderie,” Weygandt said. “I appreciate it so much…remembering all the support we felt, it was overwhelmingly important and overwhelmingly impactful.”
After completing school, neither man fell right into teaching, though it didn’t take long.
Weygandt tried his hand at mapmaking, an area McClellan delved into while living in a trailer in Japan during the war.
Each man cites early adulthood as the time when artistic inclinations began, and college allowed them the opportunity to turn these inklings into actual artistic skills and perspectives.
In 1967, Weygandt arrived at UCSC ready to teach. Four years later, McClellan stepped on campus for the first time.
“I didn’t know that I wanted to teach. And when I eventually came to Santa Cruz, there wasn’t even an Arts Division. But I figured it was something I could do. More legitimate than just being an artist,” McClellan said. “About three days in, I realized I really liked it, though….so I stayed until 1986.”
It wasn’t until the men had been teaching for a few years that the arts at Santa Cruz earned its own department, though it was less organized and centralized than other, better-established departments. But according to Santa-Cruz based painter Tim Craighead, who worked with McClellan and now lectures at UCSC, McClellan and Weygandt were critical influences on campus.
“That the UC was able to get both of these men in the system was really extraordinary, and it was huge for the arts department,” Craighead said. “[Don and Doug] had these fantastic minds and they were coming to this little town on the coast, and their being here really transformed Santa Cruz.”
According to McClellan, the professors in the fledgling department were essentially gypsies, roaming around campus without any real facility. The thought of such a group of artsy teachers, roaming from classroom to classroom, basement to basement, amidst the famous Santa Cruz redwoods, rouses an eclectic image.
While eclectic to an extent, with artists of various ages and backgrounds lassoed in from all over, the department was a political nightmare to some.
“There were a lot of petty politics at that time,” Craighead said. “They didn’t seem to get involved in them. There is nothing more vicious than university politics, and nothing less important than them. But there was a lot of that flowing around in the [early days of the department]. Part of what made Don and Doug great professors was that they refused to operate in that zone. They were genuinely more interested in talking with students, getting work done, and moving on.”
Opting out of the in-department dealings and drama together, McClellan and Weygandt began a friendship based on bocce ball games and a shared love for painting and poetry.
Despite the impossibility of making unanimous decisions within the art department, despite clashing personalities, and despite being without a central facility or proper financial resources, the university still turned out a successful and talented group of students.
“Somehow, through that diversity, students got something they could cherish and use. We taught the hell out of them,” McClellan said, a sense of both pride and wonderment in his voice.
For McClellan and Weygand, teaching the hell of their students was far from the dictatorial and elitist manner of leadership that such a statement might conjure.
According to UCSC art department graduate and current lecturer, Miriam Hitchcock, Weygandt was influential with his input, but also very unobtrusive.
“Don was trained as a mime, and I saw a lot of that essence in his teaching.,” Hitchcok said. “His body language was very informed and sensitive, he noticed everything, and in his quiet, light manner of giving attention to the art you had done, you began to pay more attention yourself. He had a truly unique and special way of teaching and an unbelievable amount of respect for his students.”
According to Craighead, McClellan treated his students as equals and had profound respect for their artistry.
“I had such admiration for him as an artist, but also as a teacher. He would treat us as valuable artists even though we were a bunch of students fumbling about,” Craighead said. “He took us seriously and in doing so, made us want to take ourselves more seriously.”
“Both Don and Doug are really, really good artists. There’s never a guarantee that a good artist will make a good teacher, or that a bad artist will make a bad teacher,” he said. “I’ve come into contact with every type. Some of them just show up to feed from the teat of academia, looking for a way to pay rent. But both Don and Doug were great artists and great teachers, always generous, always giving of themselves to their students.”
Weygandt is now 82 years old, and McClellan is 86. According to Hitcock and Craighead, they are both tremendously achieved artists and effervescent influences on how the art department at Santa Cruz was shaped, and how the students coming into it, year after year, have developed.
Don has spent most of his artistic life attempting to perfectly present his subject, unwaveringly faithful to a single vision. One of his first pieces was a still-life of a vase. He now has nearly 1,000 of his own monoprints, all variations of the same vase, in his personal collection.
McClellan admits to dabbling. He has created numerous assemblages since his Claremont days, many of which sit on tables in his living room and white work benches in his home studio. Of late, he has taken to Photoshop, creating intricate collages using digital photos of his older works.
In their lives, McClellan and Weygandt have seen war come and go, survived school and thrived at teaching, and made names for themselves in the world of art abroad, and especially in the art community here in Santa Cruz. But unchanging over the course of these long lives is their pursuit of that special something.
Sitting in the morning sun at the house where their friendship began almost 40 years ago, McClellan looked up at his longtime friend and colleague with a smile.
“There is something I learned about the world of art,” he said, “but it also really applies to the world in general: some things sing and some things don’t. Some things have that aura, and others just lost it somewhere along the way. Ultimately, you just have to keep searching for the secret, and eventually, if you’re lucky like us, you find it.”