Front & Center - Theater Reviews

Front & Center: 7.25.18

St. Louis native Del Dace has devoted his life to connecting people with art, either by creating images with a paintbrush or inspiring minds in the classroom and on stage. The 83-year-old artist, muralist, painter, author and educator is known for designing evocative sets for nearly four decades at The Muny. He now lives at Village North Retirement Community, where he keeps a studio and spends a good deal of time at his easel. He refers to himself as a ‘representational painter of landscapes and still life.’

Dace first immersed himself in art and set design at a very early age. “As a 13-year-old in 1949, I became The Muny’s first ‘paint boy,’” he says. “I washed brushes and floors and helped work on sets.” He was invited to become an apprentice to the theater’s scenic artists and eagerly said yes—and a behind-the-scenes ‘stage star’ was born.

Later, he earned advanced degrees in education and art administration and says both formal instruction and hands on experience were instrumental in shaping his career. He enjoyed post-doctoral study at Oxford University in England, worked on Broadway, headed fine arts departments at various schools, and wrote a number of books and articles on art education, all while wielding a busy brush. “I’ve owned businesses, too,” he adds. “I’m not self-made; I had wonderful grandparents, teachers and mentors who helped me.”

Dace’s work has taken him around the globe. He created sets for iconic clients like the Sydney Opera House in Australia and designed scenery for television studios, convention centers, resorts, hotels and restaurants in many cities. Local projects have included the History of Aviation in St. Louis mural at the airport and other largescale paintings for the Masonic Temple and Saint Louis Zoo. “My work also is in the permanent collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum,” he says.

Dace recalls memorable local projects at landmarks like the Fabulous Fox Theatre. “When it was a movie house decades ago, I created marbling and other faux finishes for the large columns,” he says. He also painted background scenery for KPLR-TV’s weather reports and in-studio interviews, and helped design Shriners parade floats. He found working for The Muny a highly enjoyable challenge. “The theater used to produce 10 shows a season,” he explains. “Rehearsals were on Sunday, and we only had a week to work on each set. The board sent me to New York City one year to study stage designs. It was a great experience.”

Wherever his travels took him, he always returned home to St. Louis, and still finds this area fertile ground for his talents. “I just finished some large murals in St. Peters, and I’m still doing scenes for churches, hospitals and restaurants,” he says. “I’m working on paintings for my retirement community, too.” He also has created murals and scenes in more than 700 private homes across the U.S.

Dace says he enjoys portraying everything from animals and people to architectural scenes using acrylics, pastels, oil paints, woodcuts, charcoal, and pen and ink. He also loves working ‘en plein air’—outdoors, on location—whenever possible. “My style can move from contemporary to very realistic,” he notes. “Nothing is new to me at this point!”

the muny’s 100th season continues
Gypsy | July 27 through Aug. 2
Meet Me in St. Louis | Aug. 4 through 12

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