Every now and then, there are people who are such a part of our community that there’s an unspoken belief that they’re just part of the landscape of things, like the courthouse or the public library. Ed Dickson was like that.
I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t around! And, much like the courthouse, there was a sense that he would always be around! Sadly, while it may be true for courthouses, it’s not true for people. Ed passed away September 18 at the age of 79. He was a member of the Rushville High School Class of 1960.
During all the years I knew him, he worked as a self-employed artist – and he was a good one! The majority of his work was done around holidays and to commemorate special events going on in the community. For example, he was always swamped with work around Christmas because he was, for lack of a better term, a store window artist. There’s hardly a store window in town that hasn’t been adorned with his work at one time or another. He would paint winter scenes in the corners of a window with season’s greetings painted somewhere else, whether it would be “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” or both. Just a few years ago, when Rushville was named a Stellar Community, nearly every window had some recognition of that achievement painted on them; that was Ed’s work. In 2016, when the State of Indiana celebrated its bicentennial, the official bicentennial logo was meticulously painted on shop windows all over town; that was more of Ed’s work.
The only sad part about the bulk of Ed’s paintings was that after an appropriate length of time the windows were washed and Ed’s work was gone forever. Whenever he painted a store window, he used a water-based paint so it could be easily removed. Who, after all, would want “Merry Christmas” still on a store window in the middle of July?
He also painted on banners, posters, and on other types of surfaces that still exist. He painted scenes on more traditional surfaces, like canvas, which were intended to last. Thankfully, those works of art still exist, some in private collections.
Ed was a quiet, unassuming guy who was a very good artist. It was not in his nature, I believe, to ever toot his own horn about his talent or the versatility of his skill. One of his most unusual subjects was occasionally painting entire backdrops for Children’s Theater back in the day when my wife, Connie, directed those young actors and actresses. If you stop to think about it, a backdrop is a very large surface to cover! It encompasses the whole back wall of a stage, but Ed could manage it! His versatility was actually pretty amazing to contemplate as I think about all the variety of settings, in which his talent and skill were required.
Like every artist good enough to call himself one, Ed always signed his work when it was finished – not that he needed to, anybody could spot his style. And, sure enough, a quick glance at the lower right hand corner you would find, in very small letters, “Ed Dixon” with an artist’s brush below his name.
Perhaps one of the most unusual commissions he was ever given was when I asked him to paint a new football for each of my boys, listing their accomplishments on the balls peculiar shaped surfaces. He didn’t flinch or ask me why, he just did it, and did it beautifully! Obviously, my boys still have their own personalized football done by Ed Dickson.
The problem, of course, is now who can possibly take his place when the holidays roll around? To the extent that sign painting is becoming a lost art form, Ed’s expertise will surely be missed. The demand for his style of almost mass produced, yet original, works of art, like we enjoyed and, perhaps, took for granted, may have been unique to Rushville and Rush County. Clearly, studying art and being able to call oneself an artist are two entirely different things. Ed was one of those unique people with the versatility to adapt his talent and skill to meet the customer’s wishes. He could do everything, he could do it all, from painting holidays greetings on your store windows to theatrical backdrops to footballs! (I suspect he did a lot more store windows over the years than he did footballs). But one thing is clear, his artistic talent will be missed around Rushville, Indiana.
The next time you see a beautiful sunset or a glorious sunrise, take a moment to remember Ed Dickson, and look, if you dare, for his signature in the lower right-hand corner. You may see his name, but look quickly, because it won’t be there long.
That’s —30— for this week.