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Archive for July 18th, 2018

20180718_091744

Blachnik’s watercolor designs – Top left: Mt. Rushmore Visitor’s Center; Top right: USD Fine Arts building; Bottom left: ID Weeks Library; Bottom right: mid-century modernist house design. 

When you’re walking through USD’s buildings, whether you’re trying to get to class on time or deciding if getting that bagel is worth being late – and let’s face it, sometimes it is – do you ever think about how this campus used to exist only in the minds of skilled artists? Although American culture places high value on STEM fields over the arts, the world of architecture offers a unique look into a field that needs both mathematics and art in order to be successful.

One thing I learned about architecture is that the field needs more than calculated blueprint squares to convince a building investor. A good interior plan will demonstrate a strong sense of size, space, and functionality, but it falls short in one area: what is this building actually going to look like?

Enter architectural illustrator and artist Robert Blachnik. Although many today use technology to help bring their visions to life, many buildings that we still use frequently (hello ID Weeks Library!) first became actualized through hands-on art techniques that Blachnik and many other designers used: hand-drawn illustration and watercolor painting.

Blachnik’s story begins like many other American stories. Born in 1922, he was raised in a small town called Tyndall, South Dakota. Even though he was a second-generation American, Blachnik did not speak English until he was old enough to attend school because his family wanted to keep their Bohemian language and culture alive. Blachnik was smart, too. Eventually, he received a scholarship to attend Harvard’s architectural design program and studied under world-famous German architect Walter Gropius. If you don’t know who he is, he’s the trailblazer for the mid-century modernist style of architecture prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s. After studying under the architectural genius and obtaining his master’s degree, Blachnik was ready create his own space in the world by creating spaces for everyday people.

Blachnik illustrated buildings that we are familiar with on campus, including the ID Weeks Library and the Fine Arts building. Blachnik also designed other buildings around Southeastern South Dakota: apartments, other college campus buildings, public schools, hospitals, religious buildings, office buildings, and shopping centers – even the visitor’s center at Mt. Rushmore – all these first came to life through his hand-drawn illustrations and watercolors.

The Archives and Special Collections at USD is thrilled to have nearly all of Blachnik’s photographic renderings. His collection is almost 3.5 feet long and is filled with photographs of his beautiful watercolors. If you attend USD, you will likely find an artistic vision that materialized into a structure you now see every day. If you’re a local South Dakotan, you’re bound to see several buildings you will recognize. We may not always think of something like our own campus or town as art when we’re going through our daily routines, but looking at Blachnik’s photographs reminds us of the simple beauty that surrounds us every day, in the buildings that are markers of who we are.

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