By Jim Carnett
(Jim was an Orange Coast College student in the early 1960s. Now in his 36th year as Director of Community Relations, he is editor of Coast-to-Coast. This is a regular column that focuses on OCC’s history and distinctive characteristics and characters.)
Ted Baker was one of the longest-tenured division deans in Orange Coast College’s history…serving in that capacity for 20 years.
Ted, in fact, was a division dean before there was such a designation on campus. He served for a number of years as an OCC division “chair.”
Baker joined Coast’s faculty as an art instructor in 1968, and remained for 30 years. He retired in December of 1998 after serving his final two decades as dean of the college’s Fine Arts Division.
“I can’t believe that I’ve been here 30 years, it just doesn’t seem possible,” he told me wistfully as he prepared to step down just before the holiday break in ‘98. “There are so many great people here at Coast, and they’ve made this the most wonderful experience of my life.”
Though wistful at the time, Ted’s transition into retirement was both spectacular and complete.
“I loved my time at Coast, and I’ve savored my retirement with an equal passion,” he says today. Ted’s enjoyed the perfect retirement, involving himself extensively in his two favorite pastimes, traveling and painting.
Ted’s had his own studio in Costa Mesa for nearly a decade. He was the featured artist in a Chicago show in 2004-05, and had a solo exhibit last year in Dana Point.
“I love doing shows, but they wear me out,” he says with a chuckle. “Getting ready for a show is crazy…the stress level is incredible. I do one show every two or three years, that’s all my body can take.”
Ted and his wife, Marsha, schedule three major trips a year.
“I bring my camera along and take lots of photos.”
Since 1999, the Bakers have been to Jordan, Israel, Egypt, China, Prague, Berlin, Ireland, London, Paris, Spain, Norway, Amsterdam, Rome, the Lake District of England, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Hawaii, Istanbul, Athens, Mexico, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Santa Fe and Taos.
“I recently shot photos of 75 fountains in Rome,” he says. “I specialize in paintings about water, and I’m going to turn some of those pictures of Roman fountains into paintings.”
His paintings are highly abstract, and extraordinarily colorful.
“At this stage of my life – at 73 – I have the freedom to paint exactly what I want to paint. I don’t have to sell my work, so I can be true to myself. I have 40 years of ideas that I’m working on, and I’m able to take my time going down my list. This is a very satisfying and rewarding time of my life.”
Ted joined the college’s faculty in September of 1968 as a 34-year-old practicing artist who’d won national awards, and whose work could be found in the collections of a number of Hollywood celebrities. He’d taught art the previous two years at prestigious Scripps College in Claremont.
“I came to Coast because it doubled my salary,” he recalls with a laugh. “Like many private schools in those days, Scripps didn’t pay well. At the time, however, I must confess to being a bit of an educational snob.
“My first impression of Orange Coast College was that I couldn’t believe the hype I was hearing. Everyone on campus was saying what a wonderfully creative and innovative place it was and, rather smugly, I figured this was a group of provincial people who enjoyed patting each other on the back.”
We do, indeed, pat one another on the back a bit, but what’s the harm in that? As they say in Texas, “It ain’t bragging if it’s true!” It didn’t take Baker long to begin to cultivate a different perspective on the place.
“As I began attending conferences, I saw how respected Orange Coast College was throughout the state and nation. I came to recognize that OCC’s president at the time, Dr. Robert B. Moore, was truly an innovator. I was young, and had a million ideas, and Bob actually let me pursue many of them. He encouraged my creativity.
“I began to develop a deep appreciation and affection for the place. I’ve learned over the years that there’s no other institution quite like Orange Coast College.”
In his final years as dean, Baker headed up the largest community college fine arts division in the state...and perhaps the nation.
“Our division is two or three times larger than most community college fine arts divisions in California,” he told me in 1998. “In fact, OCC’s Fine Arts Division is bigger than some entire community college campuses.”
During his final semester on campus, the division enrolled more than 7,000 students in nearly 300 courses. Orange Coast’s Fine Arts Division includes programs in Art, Music, Photography, Theatre, Film/Video, Display and Visual Presentation, and Digital Media Arts and Design.
“I’ve always perceived myself to be an artist...that’s what I am,” he told me as he prepared to clean out his desk for the final time. “I continued to paint for the first dozen or so years that I was on OCC’s faculty – in fact, I continued to maintain a studio – but I really haven’t had time to paint for the past 15 to 18 years. I’m very anxious to return to my roots.”
And “return” he did!
He retired to a bright and airy 500-square-foot rented studio in Costa Mesa where he has since turned out a steady volume of work. Ted has worked in serial form, creating 15 to 20 paintings at a time on a single subject. Much of what he has generated have been water-themed paintings, as well as landscapes and a considerable amount of abstract work. His imagery contains spiritual essences and overtones. I’ve viewed his work in several exhibitions.
“My work, typically, is very abstract and not easily understood at a narrative level,” he told me. Being a simple narrative-level sort of guy myself, I’ve found his words to be true. But I’ve also found his work to be striking and dramatic.
Born in Long Beach, Baker was the son of a Disney film editor, who, during World War II, worked as a motion picture photographer for the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. His dad saw considerable combat action, and much of his footage ended up being included in the popular post-World War II television series, “Victory at Sea.” Baker’s father later was a film editor at UPA Studios.
“Dad wasn’t an artist, but he was very good at drawing,” Ted says. “He was an editor on the classic Disney film, ‘Fantasia,’ and I often accompanied him to the Disney Studios when I was young. He was the first person to pull me toward the professional art world. I wanted to be an animator.”
Baker started drawing at the age of three or four.
“I got lots of positive feedback from friends and relatives. They’d look at my drawings and go, ‘oooh!’”
He graduated from Long Beach Poly High School where he was a cartoonist for the school’s newspaper and yearbook, and was an artist for the campus literary magazine. He attended Long Beach City College for two years as an advertising design major.
“I spent lots of time studying cartooning as well. I knew all the cartoonists of the day, particularly those whose work could be regularly found on the pages of the New Yorker and the Saturday Evening Post. I admired that work.”
Baker transferred from Long Beach City College to UCLA, where he earned a B.A. degree in art. During his senior year he was recruited by the Los Angeles School District to consider a teaching career.
“I’d had a couple of jobs in advertising and realized that I really didn’t like working for someone else,” he said with a smile. “As a UCLA senior, I decided to give student teaching a try. The first time I walked into a high school classroom I was hooked. I was a bit of a ham, and I knew that teaching was the profession for me.”
Ted finished his UCLA B.A., and then picked up a teaching credential.
As he was preparing to teach art at Los Angeles High School his first year out of college, Uncle Sam intervened. He was drafted in 1956.
“I joined the Naval Reserve and went on active duty immediately.”
He served two years in the Navy, spending most of his time at sea. He visited some of the most exotic ports in the world. Ted worked in Naval sonar for a time, but developed claustrophobia toiling in the tiny sonar room in the ship’s bow. He then became a quartermaster, but the Navy ended up discovering his true artistic talents.
While serving on the destroyer escort, USS Albert T. Harris, he became the guy who kept the ship’s name and squadron identification numbers smartly painted on the stack and stern.
“The name was done in old English script, and, because of corrosion caused by the sea, I was continually painting and repainting it. I couldn’t complain, however. It wasn’t bad duty.”
What Baker ended up discovering while in the Navy was that he had a taste for travel. It’s a craving that has persisted and grown over a lifetime. During his first cruise he spent several months in the Caribbean. His ship then participated in a NATO cruise to the Mediterranean. He spent more than six months in Europe. Later, he extended his enlistment several months so that he could return to Northern Europe on another Naval vessel, a destroyer tender called the USS Yosemite. He visited the Brussels World’s Fair.
“One of my very first stops in Europe was Rome,” he recalled. “I hadn’t studied art history at UCLA, but I immediately fell in love with the subject while in Rome. The Navy sent us on a tour of the city – trying to civilize us – and I encountered art history for the first time at the Vatican museum.”
As an OCC faculty member he returned to Rome more than a dozen times, and often accompanied art students there. He led his first Orange Coast College international tour to Europe in 1974, and took students back on eight subsequent occasions.
“I’ve always gotten a huge kick out of taking students to Europe to visit the museums and view the architecture. To see the wonder in their eyes is a thrill.”
He and Marsha have returned to the continent numerous times, and the experience never – ever – gets old.
“I’ve been in every country in Europe except Poland,” he says. He’s also traveled extensively throughout Mexico and the Middle East, and, more recently, Asia.
“Ted was one of our very best Study Abroad teachers,” says George Blanc, who headed up OCC’s Study Abroad Program for many years. “He was very knowledgeable, very thorough and very professional. His students loved him.”
Following his two years of active duty in the Navy, Baker returned to Southern California where he taught at Los Angeles High School for six-and-a-half years. He instructed stage design and stage crew classes for the entire period, and also taught senior art and ceramics for three years.
“I enjoyed working with students on the theatrical productions,” he says. “Many of our students were the sons and daughters of Hollywood professionals, so we did some lavish productions. Hollywood scenic designers would frequently come by and help me with sets, because their kids were in the shows. It was a fantastic learning experience for me.
“We once did ‘Kiss Me Kate,’ using the original Broadway set. It needed to be repainted, of course, so several painters from Hollywood studios gave me a hand with the project. It was wonderful.”
Baker completed his M.F.A. in painting at Claremont Graduate School, and left Los Angeles High School to do a residency at Claremont. When he finished his degree he was hired by Scripps College on a full-time basis as an art instructor.
“I was very happy at Scripps. The Claremont Colleges create a marvelous environment for their faculty members. Though I was making only $6,000 a year, I was able to associate with some big names from the education and art worlds.
“Scripps had a very specific and formal protocol. There were always receptions and parties being hosted by faculty members and administrators, and you’d receive a proper written invitation to each. It was expected that you would attend.”
Baker accepted the OCC art post in 1968 because the salary – at $12,000 per year – was twice what Scripps was paying. He found the community college environment to be decidedly less formal.
“I’d only been on the OCC faculty a few days when the Fine Arts dean, Bob Krieger, stopped me and said in passing, ‘Oh, Ted, we’re having a party at my home in about three weeks. You’re invited.’ Well, I never heard another thing about it, so I just dismissed it. A couple of Saturdays later I was in bed at 11 p.m. and the phone rang. It was Krieger on the other end of the line! ‘Hey, Ted,’ he said, ‘why aren’t you here? The entire art faculty is at my house. I told you about this weeks ago!’
“I learned from that experience that protocol at Orange Coast College is decidedly different, and much less formal, than at Scripps. The two cultures are worlds apart.”
But Baker fell deeply in love with his new OCC assignment.
“Oh, I fell in love all right,” he says. “I taught art classes here for my first 10 years, and began leading Orange Coast student art tours throughout Western and Eastern Europe in ‘74. Dr. Moore gave me the freedom to stretch my wings as a teacher. I really enjoyed working with students on the campus.
“I would never have entered administration had it not been for Dr. Moore. He was my champion and inspiration.”
In 1976, Baker was named Art Department chair. Two years later he replaced the retiring Paul Cox as Fine Arts Division chair. Cox was a professor of music.
“I followed Paul into the post, and made a fairly dramatic change in management style. Paul had been a member of OCC’s staff since the early 1950s, and his management style was somewhat authoritarian. People loved and respected Paul; it’s just that his was the accepted management style of the day. I tried to make things a bit more collegial.”
Baker refers to his years as dean as “a wonderful adventure.”
“I was an artist, not an administrator, so it took me a while to learn the ropes of being a dean,” he laughs. “But I really enjoyed associating with the faculty and students in the various departments within the division. My greatest joy was knowing and working with people.”
During his tenure as an OCC administrator, he was active with the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the Orange County Arts Alliance, and was a member and chairperson of the Costa Mesa Cultural Arts Committee.
Though he wouldn’t trade his 20 years as dean for anything, the job did have one large momentary downside.
“Back in 1982, during economic hard times, I had to give layoff notices to three faculty members in the division. That was personally very difficult for me. It was a wrenching experience. We were later able to hire all three people back, but I never completely recovered from the trauma of the situation.”
Baker became known as a “hands-on” dean. He maintained regular personal contact with all members of the Fine Arts Division faculty, as well as with many students. His office door was always open, and he was accessible.
He also attended dozens of performances and gallery exhibits annually.
“I’d like to say that I went to those events out of obligation as division dean, but, actually, I did so because I loved going,” he says. “Marsha and I averaged at least one performance or event a week during the school year.”
During his final year as dean, OCC’s Fine Arts Division was responsible for approximately 120 different performances, programs and events. Eighty-eight theatre performances were slated along with four philharmonic concerts, two wind ensemble performances, 10 jazz concerts, two choir concerts, two guitar concerts, three dance concerts, and a number of gallery exhibits.
“Ted saw virtually every production we did,” says OCC Theatre Department chair, Alex Golson. “His presence in the theater was very much appreciated by students and faculty alike.
“And he was a very knowledgeable and appreciative theater-goer. He was always effusive in his praise. Even if a show was a clinker, he found something positive to say about it. He particularly enjoyed complimenting individual students on their performances.”
Baker was even a performer himself in several Fine Arts Division productions. He played the clarinet with OCC’s Wind Ensemble for many years – in fact, still does! – a concession to his elementary school music days.
“After many years of doing nothing with my music, I picked up the clarinet again and joined the wind ensemble. I really enjoy playing with the group. It’s a way for me to express myself in an artistic medium that I’m not terribly proficient at. Still, I absolutely love it!”
OCC theatre professor, John Ferzacca, convinced him in the early 1990s to take a role in the acclaimed OCC production of the military courtroom drama, “A Few Good Men.”
“Yes, I let John talk me into that one,” he says with a laugh. “I played the judge in the court-martial trial, and I don’t think I ever once said my lines correctly in all 10 performances! It was a high-wire act! I was scared to death...but it was lots of fun. It gave me a new appreciation for what actors go through. It was a wonderful show, and I was very proud to be a part of it.”
“Ted wasn’t bad at all, in fact, he presented a mature and commanding presence on the bench,” Ferzacca said. “And, because he was sitting at the bench, he was able to put his lines in front of him on cue cards. I don’t think the audience even realized he was using cards as an aid.”
OCC’s Fine Arts Division gained stature in the eyes of the rest of the campus during Baker’s years as dean.
“He was a fighter, he really stood up for the division in the college’s Deans’ Council,” Golson said. “He wasn’t combative – that’s not Ted’s nature – and he didn’t make enemies of the other campus deans, but he did stand up for us and we were appreciative of that.
“And he was our biggest cheerleader. He was always touting fine arts activities and performances to the rest of the campus. He was proud of the division, and he didn’t hide that fact.”
“Ted was respected by the Fine Arts Division faculty because he was one of us,” said art professor, Victor Casados. “He wasn’t just an administrator wearing a jacket and tie, he was also an artist. He’d been there...in the classroom and in the art studio. He was never a paper pusher.”
Ted is proud of many things that happened during his tenure as dean at the college, but he’s most particularly proud of the 60,000-square-foot Arts Center that went up in 2002, and the 8,500-square-foot Doyle Arts Pavilion that was completed this spring.
“I began working on the Arts Center in 1986,” he says with a smile. “It took us 16 years, but we finally got it done. Lots of people played important roles in its construction, and I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish.”
Baker was on hand for the Doyle Arts Pavilion’s dedication this month.
“What a fantastic building,” he says. “The two galleries are absolutely breathtaking. No other community college in the nation has what OCC has.”
Ted says he returns to the campus often to attend events.
“I have lots of lunches with the old-timers,” he says. “It’s always a joy to see familiar faces again.”
His departure, however, has left a vacuum.
Orange Coast College will always remember with affection its “Snob From Scripps”…Dean Ted Baker!