Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Artist Alley had rich newspaper heritage

This is my father's obituary that ran in The Commercial Appeal on April 14, 2012. Some people without access to the CA's website have asked that I post it here.

Thanks to Mike Lollar, a reporter and writer I've always admired, for writing this up so well and so quickly. He'd known my dad for almost 40 years. Thanks, too, to local artists Calvin Foster and Colin Ruthven, and cousin Dan Conaway, for their input.

I would also like to add that sometimes things come together at a frenetic pace and information is gathered hurriedly and, unfortunately, a name might be inadvertently left out of a story. I know this from first-hand experience. My dad's wife of four years, Antoinette Marie (Rossi) Russell, was a huge part of his life and of great comfort to him throughout his illness. Our thoughts are certainly with her at this time.

At Christian Brothers High School, Rick Alley was the student who sat in the back of the class drawing while the teacher tried to impart the real lessons.

That's the way former classmate Calvin Foster remembered him Friday after Mr. Alley died in Melbourne, Fla., a few months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Mr. Alley, 61, was the third generation of his family to work as an artist for The Commercial Appeal. His grandfather, J. P. Alley, won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1923, and Mr. Alley's father, Cal Alley, followed in his father's footsteps as an editorial cartoonist.

Foster, a graphic design professor at the University of Memphis, said Mr. Alley had "amazing wit, charm and talent, and I've never met anyone before or since who had such an innate ability to draw caricatures."

His favorite medium was watercolors, but with a few strokes in a pen and ink drawing, Mr. Alley could turn out a caricature revealing parts of a person's personality or character that others often missed, according to fellow artists.

Colin Ruthven, artist and former director of the art department for the newspaper, described him as "one of the best artists I've ever ever run across just from a standpoint of raw talent. He had very little training, but he had amazing skill with caricatures and whatever you put in front of him."

Mr. Alley joined the newspaper as a copy clerk in 1970 and soon became a staff artist. In a career that lasted more than 30 years, he did hundreds of caricatures, including one of legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant that led to a highly sought-after print.

But his art was more inclusive.

"He did a lot of paintings from portraits to landscapes," said his daughter, Elizabeth Alley, an artist and technical writer. "He sold his work sometimes, but a lot of times he did it just to give to people."

Son Richard said that as a child, it "was amazing to watch. I would go to bed at night when he was sitting down to work on something. I would wake up in the morning, and there was this wonderful watercolor there. It was like Christmas every morning."

Alley said his father continued to paint after his diagnosis, doing beach scenes and sunsets.

Mr. Alley's first cousin, Dan Conaway, a marketing and advertising consultant and freelance writer, said that Mr. Alley improved on an inherited talent. "Rick comes from a long line of very talented artists and cartoonists, and I think Rick was the most talented. His dad and granddad were more about political cartooning than art. It was all about the visual side to Rick."

Mr. Alley also leaves another daughter, Katherine Borden of Fort Lauderdale, and a sister, Jehl Palvado of Gulf Shores, Ala.