Vera Berdich -
Obituary from the Chicago Sun Times

Vera Berdich, 88, artist who was major influence on Imagists

October 17, 2003
Sun Times

Vera Berdich came out of night school and a Great Depression support project for artists to found the Etching Department at the School of the Art Institute and develop new techniques in art printmaking, intermingling historic methods with modern technology.

She trained and influenced generations of artists while she created her own art, full of fantasy and form, that can be found in museums around the globe.

As her skill grew, her art was purchased by collectors and museums worldwide. Among many collections where it is found today are those of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Art Institute of Chicago, which has 144 of her works.

Miss Berdich died in her sleep Sunday at her home in the Avondale neighborhood. She was 88.

She was born in Chicago in 1915, the child of Czechoslovakian immigrants. Her father was a tool and die maker who longed to be a farmer. He bought land near Eagle River, Wis., that turned out to be a swamp. There, the family subsisted for a year on a houseboat, eating fish, game, berries, buttermilk and her mother's homemade bread.

She was 8 when her parents built a house in Riverside Lawn, an unincorporated pocket of land across the Des Plaines River from Riverside and just downstream from the Hoffman Tower in Lyons. She went to Morton High School in Cicero, baby sitting and doing housework to help pay for her books. She sang in the school's a cappella choir and was encouraged by her art teacher to attend the Art Institute school.

Miss Berdich had no money, so she worked at various jobs including photo retouching at the old Curt Teich postcard factory on the North Side, taking art classes at night. She joined a Depression-era arts project at Hull House sponsored by the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, a Franklin D. Roosevelt administration program that put artists to work in their hometowns. There she learned etching, which became her favorite medium of creation.

When World War II came, she studied drafting and worked for the American Steel Co. Miss Berdich finally amassed enough credits to graduate from the School of the Art Institute in 1946 and joined the staff a year later to set up its Etching Department.

It was a battle. She had to use her own press and cast-off furniture from other departments to start up the operation in 1947.

Miss Berdich taught there until 1979. She was a major influence on the Imagists, who came to the fore in the 1960s and 1970s. These artists preferred images to abstract expressionism.

Her work is full of objects and images, often with such motifs as eyes, plants and animals, classical sculptures and iconic heads.

"She was a visionary," said Bob Hiebert of Printworks Gallery in River North, which handles her art. "Vera's works are very layered. It's like a good piece of music. You can go back to them time and time again and always find new things in them."

She introduced the use of the photo image as an art form in etching, combining a photo image and an etching image on a single printing plate. She would apply different colors separately to the same plate for many overprintings to achieve lush or subtle colors that appear to be hand-painted.

Miss Berdich encouraged the use of print making as a creative means of expression rather than a means of reproducing many copies.

"Vera made this her second home," said Suzanne Folds McCullagh of the Art Institute's Prints & Drawings Department. "She told students at the school to look at the museum as their living room, where they can train their eye and gather experience for their work."

Folds McCullagh described Miss Berdich as a little fireball with a booming voice and great enthusiasm, who liked to compare herself to Rembrandt as a printmaker.

Miss Berdich is survived by her many students and admirers of her work.

Services will be Saturday at 2 p.m. at St. Paul's Church, 655 W. Fullerton. Burial at Graceland Cemetery will be private.

Copyright 2003 Chicago Sun Times

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