Jim McCormick called me one day, maybe 13 or 14 years ago. I was new to the state, and he was a retired professor, so I was surprised when he asked me to send materials for his database of Nevada artists. For a young artist, that kind of unsolicited validation goes a long way.
I soon learned that many people have such stories about McCormick. I didn’t even have to leave my house to find one. My husband, Jerry Snyder, took his printmaking class as an undergrad at the University of Nevada, Reno in the early ’90s. He remembers this: “When you’re 18 years old or 19 years old you don’t—or at least I didn’t—think of myself as doing anything worthy of that much thought. As a teacher, he would really treat the work like it deserved to be taken seriously. That turned you on to the possibility that you should take your work seriously, too.”
McCormick died on April 12, leaving an entire community of people who credit him with similar acts of game-changing encouragement. In the social media comments posted since his death, the words “generous” and “friend” come up over and over.
McCormick was born in Chicago in 1936.
“His dad worked for American Airlines, so they moved around quite a bit, Chicago, New York, Tulsa,” said his son, Theo McCormick. “He took a very early interest in art. His parents weren’t thrilled with the art thing. He had an aunt that was an artist, and that gave some legitimacy to the idea that a person could be an artist.”
In 1960, McCormick moved to Reno to join UNR’s art faculty. He was a founding member of the Nevada Arts Council and the first board president of Capital City Arts Initiative. He curated, wrote about and championed Nevada artists—and exhibited his own prints and collages at venues around the country. He built the geodesic domes in Silver City that now house an artist residency, and he co-directed a travel program at UNR. By the time he retired in 1992, he had earned the Governor’s Arts Award and UNR’s Distinguished Faculty Award. That same year, he exhibited a large print/sculpture at Burning Man.
Wally Cuchine, the Eureka art collector, was a close friend of McCormick. One of his many memories is of a time when he traveled to towns such as Lovelock, Caliente and Ely, teaching schoolchildren about the history of their counties.
“Jim came to almost every one of the residency towns and did a program for me,” Cuchine said. On these trips, McCormick would make etchings, both to demonstrate art techniques to students and to sell to benefit cultural groups such as Ely’s White Pine Museum and Friends of Northern Nevada Railway.
“He was relentless about not just supporting the arts, but everybody in the arts, the administrators, the boards,” said Susan Boskoff, recently retired director of the Nevada Arts Council and McCormick’s former neighbor. She also listed poets and performing artists.
Cuchine said one of the things that he’ll miss most about McCormick is his good advice. “He was one of those father figures,” he said. “I’m only 11 years younger than he was, but … he was always there to encourage me and say, ’Go for it.’”
McCormick’s survivors include his wife, Loretta Terlizzi; his children, Kristin McCormick and Theo McCormick; four grandchildren, three great grandchildren, and hundreds, if not thousands of former colleagues and students with good stories of his friendship and mentorship.