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AFS Review: In Memoriam

Charles Bergengren ​(1947-2012)​

Monday, July 16, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jesse A. Fivecoate

By Jonathan C. David — 

When Charlie Bergengren, a professor at Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), passed away on July 16, 2012, the world of folklore lost a citizen unlike any other. Prior to beginning graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 1979, Charlie had been a projectionist for the Anthology Film Archives, an actor with the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in New York City, and had hobnobbed with avant-garde filmmakers and artists. In counterpoint to his interests in the avant-garde, his folklore research focused on highly traditional Pennsylvania German vernacular architecture in general, and the flurkuchenhaus, the entry door to which opens into a kitchen dominated by a large hearth, in specific. In Charlie’s own heart, the avant-garde and the folk together offered a single, searing critique of contemporary society. In 1991, he joined the faculty of Cleveland Institute of Art, becoming one of the nation’s few folklorists to teach in an art history curriculum. In addition to art history, he taught courses on American vernacular architecture, folk and outsider art, and avant-garde film. He became beloved by many of his students, for the world-encompassing scope of his thought and for his transgressiveness. He published articles on Pennsylvania German vernacular architecture, folk art, lesbian and gay folklore, and performance art. In the Spring of 2012, CIA awarded him the Viktor Schreckengost Teaching Award, its highest award, rarely given to liberal arts faculty. He leaves unpublished writings on Pennsylvania German house types and an awesome but incomplete art history text, written with the voice of a gonzo queer folklorist who lives, searches, longs, and loves, artists, elite and folk, who live, search, long and love, in historical and cultural context. He also left us with the charge to "Read something irrelevant every day... Go on every journey.... Make love in every possible way.... Have a blast exploring the world. And make art that will blast us out of the water." See also "Charles Bergengren was a colorful Cleveland Institute of Art professor" The Plain Dealer  (July 24, 2012).

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