Aethelred Eldridge Painting

Æthelred Eldridge paints his mural at Seigfred Hall.

Photo courtesy of: Ohio University College of Fine Arts.

Aethelred Eldridge Mural Seigfred Hall

Æthelred Eldridge in front of his mural at Seigfred Hall.

Photographer: Sarah McDowell

Aethelred Eldridge Golganooza

Æthelred Eldridge lectures, as the name of the Church he founded is written on the blackboard behind.

Photo courtesy of: Ohio University College of Fine Arts.

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University mourns Æthelred Eldridge, retired Ohio University professor of art and influential avant-garde artist


Former Ohio University associate professor of art and influential avant-garde artist, Æthelred Eldridge died on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018.

“We are saddened to hear of the passing of Æthelred Eldridge, an eccentric artist and professor who made such an influence on not only the students he taught but to our University as a whole,” said Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis. “His whimsical personality showed through in all his lectures and paintings, and will be remembered for years to come. He will truly be missed.”

Born James Edward Leonard Eldridge in Monroe, Michigan on April 21, 1930, he accomplished several feats before joining the University on Sept. 1, 1958. Prior to teaching and being known for his prominent avant-garde paintings, Eldridge played college football at the University of Michigan and was a pilot and an officer in the U.S. Navy.

He was an associate professor in Ohio University’s School of Art from 1958 to 2014 and was given his own curriculum since his style of art did not cleanly fit into any specific category in the school, with many of his classes almost functioning as performance pieces. With his abundance of passion for what he was teaching, his class lectures were notorious for being works of art themselves. Eldridge would weave playfulness, invective speech tapestries with word associations, electrically charged phonetics and scrambled catchphrases into his lectures to keep his listeners in awe.

“Each day, his booming and beautiful baritone voice could be heard echoing off the walls of Seigfred Hall as he delivered one of his famously eccentric presentations,” said retired Director of the School of Art, Robert Lazuka. “His prime objective was to awaken the minds of those who would take the time to listen to him, hoping to break through ingrained habits and assumptions to expose a revelation – not just about art, but about life. Over the course of several decades, students by the hundreds enrolled in his class, knowing that it was an opportunity to experience something unique. It’s not likely that we will hear a voice like his again.”

He is best known globally for his black and white art accompanied by esoteric writings inspired by William Blake. He is also the founder of the Golgonooza Church, also known as the Church of William Blake, located close to his home in Athens, Ohio.

Most students, faculty, staff and community members in and around Ohio University are familiar with his 50 by 80 foot mural on a wall on Seigfred Hall, the main building for the School of Art that was first painted in 1966. Now in its fourth iteration painted in 1987, the mural depicts a vast sea of Olde English and contorted figures. It has become a beloved icon in the community, even being restored in 2015 to keep the cultural landmark vibrant for generations to come.

“Æthelred was a brilliant artist, generous educator and non-conformist pioneer who refused to underestimate anyone,” said friend and professor in the School of Art, Duane McDiarmid. “He was an insightful student of life and culture, and a profoundly deep well of poetic knowledge. More than that his ability to care was infinite.”

Eldridge is listed in the Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes which characterizes his works as “self-described ‘invective pamphlets’ that are both cryptically pedantic, and at time autobiographical, all within his own mythopoeia.”

The community is invited to attend a Memorial Service and small art exhibition to honor Eldridge at the Ridges Auditorium from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1.


*This story was edited to reflect the correct day of Eldridge's death and correct start date at Ohio University.