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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Artist of the Alphabet

Scott Cleland, artist of the alphabet
The traveling artist in residence blended performance and teaching to bring letters to life.

By JAMES WALSH, Star Tribune
Last update: February 12, 2011 - 9:33 PM



At Sun Feb 13, 11:53:00 AM CST, Blogger Tom Cleland said...

Scott Cleland harnessed the charisma of a performer with the knowledge and dedication of a scholar to bring the alphabet to life for thousands of Minnesota schoolchildren over the past 15 years. But really, say those who knew and loved him, he'd been lighting up the room and creating beautiful memories his entire life.

That light went out Feb. 8, as Cleland, 59, died in hospice at his Stillwater home. Far from mourning him, longtime partner Monte Norgaard said, friends and family now are celebrating the joy he poured into their lives.

"His mind was fast," Norgaard said of the man he first met in 1991. "And comedy poured out of him the way a cow gives milk."

Since 1995, Cleland worked in schools across the state as an artist in residence with his program "The Alphabet Adventure." In it, he taught the history of our modern alphabet while also showing children how to make paper, bind books and try their hands at calligraphy.

Teaching the class, said sister Connie Cleland Butler, "kind of combined all his talents."

He was born in St. Paul. His sister said he quickly earned the reputation of a class clown in school, but the kind that teachers treasured having in their classrooms.

"Teachers were glad to see him," his sister said. "He would involve everyone and keep everyone awake."

Ann Daly Goodwin was one of those teachers. Cleland was one of 11 students in her journalism class at the former Kellogg High School in Roseville in 1967. In a class that produced three members of the media, she said, Cleland stood out for his creativity and effervescence.

"Any teacher who had him was lucky, because he brightened every room he was ever in," Goodwin said.

He earned a degree in theater from the University of Minnesota and received the Award of Excellence from the American College Theatre Festival in 1972. He became a calligrapher, and was once invited to observe the queen of England's calligraphers at work -- a rare privilege, Cleland Butler said. Along the way and over the years, he created many works of art for his family and friends.

But it was in his traveling class where he brought all his interests and talents together, Norgaard said. More than 5,000 students now own a book they created and bound in those classes. "It was something to see," he said, "keeping a room full of fourth-graders spellbound."

Goodwin said that Cleland ended every class by teaching the children how to say -- in many languages -- "Thank you, teacher." She choked up as she described how Cleland would hold his hands together and then open them, as if freeing a bird, as he said the words.

"He did that because he wanted to thank all the teachers who helped him become the person he was," Goodwin said. "I saw him a few days ago, and I said: 'Thank you, Scott, for being who you were in my life.' "

Cleland is survived by his mother, two sisters, two brothers and Norgaard, his partner of nearly 20 years. A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. March 5, at the chapel in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

James Walsh • 612-673-7428

At Sun Feb 13, 12:41:00 PM CST, Blogger Tom Cleland said...

Also lost this week: Helen Butler, mother-in-law to my sister Connie. I visited Helen last year when my mom was in the same health care facility. She was alert, friendly, and said she was content there. My condolences to the Butlers.



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