My dear friend and "artner," the printmaker George O'Connell, Emeritus Professor of Art at SUNY Oswego, passed from the scene on Sunday, May 10, 2015 at the age of 88. George was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1926. He and I collaborated for more than three decades on books, exhibits, poemprints, memorials and Xmas cards -- our collection of these is in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution (www.aaa.si.edu/collections/lewis-turco-and-george-oconnell-christmas-card-collection-13428), By age 86 he had navigated so many health problems and accidents that I had begun to call him "Super George." In his last days he wanted nothing more than to be relieved of pain, and although those who knew him well are sad not to have him with us, we are relieved that he hurts no more.
I had more than one reason to admire and honor George. Everyone who served in the armed forces of the US during World War II was my hero or heroine. Tom Brokaw called them “the Greatest Generation,” and they were. George O’Connell was a veteran of the War in the Pacific, and it is one of my strongest sources of pride that he and I were collaborators for so long a time. I was deeply privileged and honored to work side-by side with one of my heroes. To me, he truly was Super George.
We began collaborating in 1976. Our first project was an Xmas card, "The House," the poem by me with "Owl," a silk-screen print by George O'Connell, published by George’s Grey Heron Press in a Limited edition of 130 cards signed by both of us.
Thereafter we began issuing more and more elaborate cards almost every year. The next. a broadside titled "A Winter Song," was rather large for a “card.” The poem was a modern version of an ancient Welsh poem by “Wesli Court,” (my anagram nom de plume) with a lithograph by George published by Grey Heron in 1977 in a limited edition of 200 numbered copies, of which 84 are signed by "Wesli Court." For some reason we skipped 1978 and ’79, but in 1980 we issued two cards to make up for it, I guess -- “Fading Things” and “First Snow,” both poems from a series I was working on at the time titled A Sampler of Hours: Poems and Centos from Lines in Emily Dickinson’s Letters, published in book form by SUNY Press in 1993. We did more of Emily in 1987:
Our first book publication was arranged by Charlie Davis, the leader of the early Indiana jazz band called “The Joy Gang” and composer of the jazz classic “Copenhagen.” When he retired during the Depression Charlie opened a furniture store in Oswego, NY, and when he retired from that he took some poetry composition courses at the College from from Roger Dickinson-Brown (who also died this year) and me. In the last class he took Charlie wrote a long poem inspired by William Carlos Williams’ “Patterson,” which I had ordered him to read, and when he’d finished that he published it himself and then wanted to start the Mathom Publishing Company.
George had in common with Charlie that he was a jazz aficionado and musician; George had begun as a drummer in high school, and he played the vibes in local bands and orchestras. Charlie decided he wanted to publish a book of my poems from Mathom, American Still Lifes, so he asked George to do the cover and several illustrations. The book was published in 1981, the same year as the first exhibition was mounted in which George and I were partners.
The Albany exhibit was titled, The New York Landscape, Poems by twenty State University of New York poets, with visual responses by twenty State University of New York artists. Our contribution consisted of "Millpond," a broadside poem I had written in Saratoga Springs at Yaddo in 1959. It was printed in handset type on handmade paper by Buffalo Papers, together with "Dusk Light," an intaglio by O’Connell. The exhibit was held at The Plaza Gallery, from 16 October through 30 November, 1981, and at the Pratt Manhattan Center Gallery, New York City, from 18 December, 1982, through 15 January, 1983, with a subsequent tour of New York State. The Catalog was edited by Peter Gordon for the Plaza Gallery.
This original pairing led to establishment of the Jeffrey Sisson Permanent Memorial Exhibit: "Millpond," in calligraphy by Jean Garvey, together with four prints by George O'Connell, at the Aurelia Osburn Fox Memorial Hospital in Oneonta, New York, in 1982. Subsequently there was a Chancellor’s Reprise Exhibition of the original show in the South Tower of S.U.N.Y. Plaza during the Fall semester of 1994.
One of George’s favorite themes in his prints was, of course, jazz in all its glory and manifestations. The poem of mine that he liked best was titled “Lorrie” which I’d written at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs in 1959. This was the poem we used in the 1984 “Xmas card” paired with his print "The Girls Who Sing in the Band" in a limited edition from Mathom of 200 copies signed by both poet & artist.
Several years later, in 1989, George did an entire Artist Book on Lorrie, one of my prize possessions; one copy only exists.
It would take too much time and space to list the rest of our Xmas cards here, but readers may see our 1996 "The Falcon Carol" on-line at
We had the opportunity in the spring of 1996 to mount a full-fledged gallery exhibition at the Rathbone Gallery of Sage Junior College in Albany — with the assistance of an S.O.S. grant from the New York State Council on the Arts — of my sequence of poems titled Bordello, issued during the exhibition in a five-copy limited edition portfolio of poem-prints and images, printed on paper hand-made by both printmaker and poet – we had a fine time making the paper in the basement of his home on Baylis Street in Oswego.
Four years later George O’Connell and I collaborated on a series of black and white monoprints with poetry titled “The Jazz Joint” which was included in a four-person show, Some Kind of Narrative, at the Kirkland Art Gallery in Clinton, New York, from March 4 — April 11, 2001.
A retrospective exhibition of our work, “Collaboration: Prints and Text,” took place at the Tyler Art Gallery on the campus of the State University of New York College at Oswego from November 9 — December 9, 2001.
In 2009 I wrote a limerick for George’s 83rd birthday which we always celebrated at a dinner in an area restaurant, and I used his print of my poem titled “Jasper Olson”:
October 16, 2009
The printmaking artist named George
O’Connell was apt to disgorge
Jazz pictures of ladies
Erupting from Hades
And Satan’s most blistering forge.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE,
and farewell, old friend.