David Hayes, a Hartford-born artist whose outdoor abstract sculptures constructed from welded steel grace the courtyards of numerous Connecticut buildings and have been collected by some of the nation's most prestigious museums, died of leukemia on Tuesday, April 9, at 4 p.m. at the age of 82 at his home in Coventry.
He leaves his wife of 55 years, Julia; four children, David, Brian, Mary and John; and one granddaughter, Alexandra, a brother, Richard, and a sister, Cathy Toomey. Julia, Mary and John were by his side at the time of his death.
He was diagnosed with the disease in October 2012. In early January, while a patient at St. Francis getting chemotherapy, Hayes also had bouts with double pneumonia and heart ailments. He was sent home, then was returned to the hospital, then was sent home again. When he was sent home, Julia and David M. Hayes, who been his father's assistant and publicist for 15 years, were told to "make him comfortable."
And they did, with family visiting frequently. "He had his 82nd birthday at home on March 15 surrounded by his entire family and granddaughter," David M. Hayes said.
Hayes had lived in Coventry since 1968. He was active until the end. Last Friday, April 5, he attended an opening reception at the Lutz Children's Museum in Manchester, where many of his screen sculptures will be hung for the next year. The museum is named after Hazel Lutz, who taught Hayes art as a child at Hollister Street School in Manchester.
"That was an especially nice opening at the Lutz," David M. Hayes said on Wednesday morning. "It was an opportunity for family and friends to see him and to talk to him. It was an absolutely splendid day. The sculptures were twirling in the trees in the breeze. It was a delightful, low-key, pleasant event."
At the time of his death, Hayes' work also was on exhibit at St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., at Contemporary Art Center in Peoria, Ill., and at the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Hayes' work also will be shown this summer at the University of Notre Dame's Snite Museum.
While Hayes rested for his chemotherapy, the shows were prepared by David M. Hayes and John Hayes.
In an artistic career that spanned more than five decades, he created gracefully curving, rounded formations abstracted from organic forms he encountered in his daily life.
Hayes was born in Hartford on March 15, 1931, and grew up in Manchester. He graduated from Manchester High School and went to University of Notre Dame, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in 1953. From there, he went to Indiana University, where he studied under David Smith, a pioneer in working with welded metal, and received an MFA in 1955. He then did a stint in the Navy, serving during the 1956 Suez Crisis.
In 1957, he married Julia Moriarty, whom he met while working at her family's Manchester Lincoln-Mercury dealership. Julia is a cookbook author ("French Cooking for People Who Can't: A Slightly Irreverent Primer," 1979) and a poet.
Hayes' post-collegiate years began with a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fulbright award, which took the couple to France, where they started their family. In France, Hayes frequently commiserated with sculptor Alexander Calder, who lived nearby. He later returned to the United States, settling in Coventry, where he began making his flat-steel-plate works.
His wife's alma mater, Albertus Magnus in New Haven, gave him an honorary doctorate in 2007. Hayes also was awarded the Logan Medal of the Arts.
Hayes' work has been seen in about 300 exhibitions in the United States, France and the Netherlands. His work is in the collections of more than 100 museums and institutions, including the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York, Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, the Carnegie Institute in Philadelphia and the Detroit Art Institute.
In Connecticut, in addition to the Lutz exhibit, his work can be seen at Hartford Public Library, Goodwin College in East Hartford, University of Connecticut in Storrs, Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport, Albertus Magnus, Manchester Community College, University of Hartford in West Hartford, UConn Health Center in Farmington, Westminster School in Simsbury and University of New Haven in West Haven.
A new sculpture garden on the grounds of the Governor's Mansion in Hartford, which focuses entirely on Connecticut artists, has a Hayes sculpture.
In a January interview, Hayes said "I always have a procession of ideas in my head.
"They don't all come to fruition. ... I have to do what physicians call triage when deciding what [ideas] get my attention," Hayes said. "The ones that do are my favorites, for the moment."
The single greatest collection of Hayes' sculpture is Hayes' home, an early-18th-century house in Coventry on a 57-acre lot, where hundreds of Hayes creations sit.
When he was sent home from the hospital in January, he was happy to be reunited with his collection. "This is my favorite time of the year to see the sculptures, just after a fresh snowfall," the artist said. "You can really see the objects because the foliage and all the rest of that is gone and they really pop out of the landscape."
David Hayes Jr. said people who want to visit that sculpture garden should arrange it with him because it is private property. Contact information can be found at http://www.davidhayes.com.
Calling hours are at Potter Funeral Home, 456 Jackson St. in Willimantic, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday, April 15.
Funeral Mass is at St. Thomas Aquinas Church on the campus of the University of Connecticut at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 16.
Memorial donations can be made to Windham Area Interfaith Ministry in Willimantic, where Hayes was a long-time volunteer.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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