If there were an art-community equivalent of a city father, Joe Almyda, who died of lung cancer on September 6 at the age of 85, would have been one.
The Florida native joined the Navy at 17 and would remain an inveterate sojourner. He came to Atlanta in 1955, after earning his master’s degree at Florida State University, to join Georgia State University’s art department. Though a popular, engaged teacher, his impact was not limited to the classroom.
“He, along with Ed Ross, George Beattie, Gladene Tucker, Genevieve Arnold, Joel Reeves, Ferdinand Warren and Joe Perrin, were the catalysts for having art in this community,” says Medford Johnston, a former student who became a lifelong friend.
Almyda and his cohort worked hard to support the few local institutions that promoted contemporary art: among them, the Arts Festival of Atlanta, an outdoor event in Piedmont Park; the late Judith Alexander’s art gallery, which mounted exhibitions by the likes of Franz Kline; and the Signature Shop, which still serves the cause of contemporary crafts. The Golden Horn, a coffee shop in the unoccupied Victorian house across from the Woodruff Arts Center on 15th Street, was their Cedar Tavern.
Almyda left GSU in 1965 to work as a full-time studio artist. He moved to Florida, then Texas, and traveled around absorbing influences as he went. After residencies at the Wurlitzer Foundation and Tamarind Institute, both in New Mexico, in the mid-’80s, he fell in love with the desert landscape. From then on, says Johnston, his work took inspiration from the natural world. Like many in his generation, Almyda started out as a figurative artist and evolved toward abstraction, often fusing the two, as exemplified by “Lotus” (at left), a 1996 mixed-media drawing that the High Museum of Art acquired last year.
High curator Michael Rook praised “the tremendous positive impact he had on young artists in Atlanta through his own example as an artist and teacher,” adding, “He strikes me as someone we should take a moment to remember and honor.”