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Full Circle

Thanks to a civics teacher who encouraged him, Carl Grupp went on to become an internationally known artist and a revered teacher. Now, a fund established to honor his legacy will help inspire creativity in others while encouraging today’s young artists to pursue their passions.

Carl Grupp was a renowned artist, iconic teacher, passionate scholar and prolific storyteller.

But before he was all of those things, he was just a kid from Sioux Falls with red hair and thick glasses who was trying to find his way.

While he loved to draw — he even worked as the cartoonist for the “Orange & Black,” the Washington High School student newspaper — Grupp was, admittedly, more of a curious dreamer than serious student. He was a fan of classic stories like “Dick Tracy” and “The Lone Ranger,” but by the time his senior year came around, he still didn’t have a good sense of where his own story was headed, or what his next chapter would be.

That all changed when his high school civics teacher took the time to encourage him to pursue a college education.

“I didn’t think I was college material but, because of him, I changed my mind and tried to go to school,” Grupp said in a 2013 interview. “I thought it was amazing that he would tell me that. I wasn’t a great student in high school. I’d be lucky if I got a C in civics class. You just never know where the encouragement you need is going to come from.”

For Grupp, that encouragement made all the difference. Knowing that someone believed in him provided the spark he needed to enroll at Augustana University. There, he studied under art legends Palmer Eide and Ogden Dalrymple, both of whom inspired Grupp to discover and pursue his own passions for art.

After Augustana, Grupp studied at the School of Associated Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design where he earned the prestigious Ethel Morrison VanDerlip Fellowship. After traveling and studying art abroad, he went on to earn his MFA from Indiana University. In 1969, he returned to his roots and took a job teaching art at Augustana.

He would go on to spend nearly four decades at Augie, teaching, guiding and shaping the careers of generations of artists while continuing to produce his own artwork, participating in more than 100 regional, national and international art exhibitions.

Honoring a Legacy

"Self Portrait at 41," by Carl Grupp.

While Grupp passed away in 2019 at the age of 79, the story of his extraordinary life is about to come full circle thanks to a new fund established by his children as a way to honor his legacy.

The Carl A. Grupp Charitable Fund, held at the Community Foundation, is designed to “create opportunities for kids to find inspiration, just like he did,” said Carl’s daughter, Saskia (Grupp) Ekstrom. “Dad’s foundation was built around a teacher who pushed him to think differently; who challenged him to use his abilities to the fullest. That changed his whole life. That moment in time changed everything. We wanted to do something to create opportunities for today’s young artists to receive the same kind of encouragement he did.”

“That’s what’s driving us in creating this fund,” said Carl’s son, Carl Grupp Jr. “Our Dad’s whole life was dedicated to creating — to pouring out what was going on in his life into his artwork and to teaching and inspiring his students. We want to honor his legacy by supporting initiatives that will inspire and create the next generation of dreamers, artists and art teachers, as well as movements that use art as a way to build and strengthen the community.”

Distributions from the fund will support various initiatives and movements throughout Sioux Falls that will inspire and celebrate art and the imagination of art, as well as efforts that support the teaching of art. Distributions will be reviewed and awarded by Carl’s children, Saskia and Carl Grupp Jr.

Flexibility and the Potential for Impact

Carl Jr. and Saskia said their decision to honor their dad’s legacy with a fund at the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation came about because of two reasons: flexibility and impact.

“Dad didn’t leave us answers or instructions for what to do with the enormous physical collection of art he left behind,” Carl Jr. said. “I think he knew we would figure it out. I think he just wanted us to be patient until the pieces clicked into place. We feel like we’ve found a good partnership working with the Foundation.”

“The team at the Foundation knows this community and the needs and opportunities that exist here. We know the Foundation will make us aware of opportunities this fund could support that we wouldn’t be aware of otherwise,” he said.

"Jardin Borda," by Carl Grupp

In order to have the greatest impact far into the future, Carl Jr. and Saskia are hoping to grow the fund to support future dreams, such as an after-school art program for students at the Washington Pavilion — a program led by visiting artists; as well as future art exhibits, programs to help families engage in the arts, and more.

“We can only imagine what the possibilities will be, and we can only imagine how excited dad would feel about all of this,” Carl Jr. said.

Community Foundation President Andy Patterson called the fund a catalyst for possibility.

“We’re so grateful to Carl Jr. and Saskia for choosing to work with the Community Foundation,” he said. “And we are excited to see the ways in which distributions from this fund will impact young aspiring artists, art teachers and our community in ways that embody Carl Grupp’s passion for creativity, his devotion to learning, and his love for the Sioux Falls community.”

Supporting a Legacy

Those interested in joining the movement to honor Carl Grupp’s legacy by creating opportunities for future artists and creative endeavors can do so by:

  • Purchasing Grupp’s original artwork. Proceeds from the sale of Grupp’s artwork will be donated to the Carl A. Grupp Charitable Fund. See a collection of Grupp’s work for sale online at carlgrupp.com.
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