Former South Dakota Art Museum curator roots his passion in art

Most college students don’t decide to buy a piece of wood as a graduation present to themselves, but John Rychtarik, a South Dakota artist and former Curator of Exhibits for the South Dakota Art Museum, bought a piece of wood after taking a class in college around 1969. He recently carved the piece the wood for his “As I see it” exhibit.

“I took a sculpture class in college and we had to do a wood relief and I really enjoyed doing it and right away I bought another piece of wood right away thinking … I’d be carving it fairly soon,” Rychtarik said. “It took a few years to take the courage … to carve it.”

Rychtarik’s exhibit showcases a variety of artwork featuring different mediums, including: colored pencils, oil and acrylic paints, wood, sculptures and soils. The exhibit runs from Jan. 15 until Feb. 6 in the Ritz Gallery located in Grove Hall.

According to Tim Steele the head of the visual arts department, Grove Hall is a teaching gallery where students are able to see displays that are intended to teach them the process of creating a piece and going about exhibiting it.

 “John Rychtarik was so … important for us because he was a former curator of the South Dakota Art Museum so students should be able to go in there and be able to see how to hang an exhibit, how to do labels, how to do signage, how to lay out the space, use the portable walls and pedestals so in that regard it’s a teaching gallery,” Steele said.

The gallery is also used to have juried exhibitions where jurors from other universities outside of SDSU come and they juror student artwork.

“It’s a teaching gallery in that our seniors do their senior exhibitions and if you graduate in the visual arts department you have to do a senior exhibition,” Steele said. “They’ve got to deal with the space, they’ve got to deal with the hanging, they’ve got to deal with the publicity, they’ve got to deal with the advertising, they have to deal with the organization; all those things associated with a gallery.”

The visual arts department uses the gallery to jury student scholarships in February, where students show different artwork and scholarships are distributed to various students based on the artwork presented.

“It’s really hands on in terms of the department and students are really involved in … utilizing the space,” Steele said.

Students have the opportunity of learning from Rychtarik’s art since his pieces have been displayed in a building where students come in hourly.

“There’s more to art than just creating art and that’s what I feel that’s important the students know their options,” Rychtarik said. “I think it’s the responsibility of the art department to tell them there are other options.”

Rychtarik has worked with art many different ways and he encourages students to stray from just focusing on their own art.

 “There are a lot of related areas like museum work and working with other people’s art,” Rychtarik said. “A lot of the influence I’ve gotten are from other artists and … for so many years I took care of other people’s work that you can really get … wonderful ideas for your own work.” 

He varied his art experience through being an art teacher, he traveled in a van teaching art to Native American schools, working at the Flandreau Indian School, Siouxland Heritage Museum in Sioux Falls and the South Dakota Art Museum. He is currently retired and residing in Brookings.

“I have fun doing art,” Rychtarik said. “It is hard many times but … I enjoy the process probably more than the final product and discovering.”