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Discovery True Colors Dec/Jan 2006

Henry Sayre says he writes every day, unless he is totally ill and can’t get out of bed. Not writing every day goes against his philosophy that hard work really does pay off. “If you don’t do something all the time, you don’t get better,” he said simply.

Having said that, would it surprise you to learn that only after writing three books did Sayre understand the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’? This fact illustrates point number two: You never stop learning. Ever.

With seven published books topping his accomplishments, one of which is the leading art appreciation book in the country, Sayre confesses he knows more than a little something about art history, particularly American and European art of the 19th and 20th centuries. But when he tackled his award-winning book geared for fifth graders, Cave Paintings to Picasso, Sayre stretched his creative prowess even further.

“I typically write complex sentences, and this book taught me how to write at a fifth grade level,” says Sayre, adding, “I’ve wanted to write that book for 20 years.” Already in its second printing, Cave Paintings to Picasso is in museums and bookstores as far away as New York. In November, Sayre received the Oregon Book Award’s Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature.

Before coming to Oregon and establishing himself as an art history professor and author, Sayre grew up in Colorado. He has a doctorate in American Literature but has explored many art forms—he loves dance and sang in high school and college. He was even a music reviewer in the 60s for a counter-culture magazine in San Francisco. This job allotted him more records than he could imagine, most of which he sold to pay for grad school.

After grad school, Sayre had a three-year English teaching stint in North Carolina. But he confessed that having his son develop a southern accent was motivation enough to leave the area. In the early 80s he moved to Oregon and taught for several years at OSU until 2001, when the OSU-Cascades campus opened. Around that time, Sayre began teaching in Bend and is now a Distinguished Professor of Art History.

A ski and golf lover, he also serves on the board for Arts Central and is president of the board for Cascade Festival of Music. His wife, Sandy Brooke, is a painter and assistant professor also at OSU-Cascades. Of late, Sayre has been working on a six-volume, 1,500-page survey of the Western humanities entitled Centers of Culture, which will be published in 2007.

Once completed, the writer and art historian will jump to his next project that explores how videos and TV affect our memory. Particularly, Sayre is convinced that since the spawning of MTV, individuals are beginning to encode memories not as still-life photographs, but as short video clips. “I think MTV is completely responsible. It’s just changed us so that we all think about memory in three-minute music video clips,” he explained.

When asked his age, Sayre paused and finally sputtered, “57.” With just a touch of his well-known witty sense of humor, he professed, “I don’t think of myself as a senior citizen.” And though he’s a distinguished scholar with too many accomplishments to list, perhaps, he ponders, his most noteworthy achievement is that he can still “ski like a kid—fast and hard.”

What is your favorite fitness routine? Walking 18-holes, up and down, at River’s Edge on a hot summer day, carrying my own golf bag, and playing however badly.

What is your idea of a fabulous meal? Large: roast leg of lamb with Gruyère scalloped potatoes, haricots verts, and a bottle of Walla Walla red wine. Small: an heirloom tomato salad, a plate of fresh anchovies with crusty bread, and a glass of Walla Walla red wine.

If you could come back to life as any person, animal or thing, what or who would that be? I would probably like to be a filmmaker the next time around.

What is the thing you know most about? Nineteenth- and twentieth-century European and American art.

Where is the best place to vacation? Paris and the south of France.

What would be your recipe for a long life? Less stress, more fun.

Whose book could you not put down recently? Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon

Who are your heroes in real life? Novelist Larry McMurtry, dancer Twyla Tharp, painters Gerhard Richter and Cy Twombly, poet David Antin, and performance artists Guillermo Gómez- Peña, and Laurie Anderson.

What is your secret hobby? Cooking.

Which talent would you most like to have? The ability to play the piano well enough to improvise jazz.

What is your greatest regret? Developing an allergy to shellfish at age 38.

What is the best thing about Central Oregon? Sunshine.

Who or what inspires you the most? My wife and kids.

What is your biggest flaw? I hate confrontation.

What is your greatest asset? I hate confrontation.

On what stereotype would you want to set the record straight? That art historians are neither athletic nor sports fans.

What has been your biggest accomplishment? It’s just about accomplished as we speak—a six-volume, 1,500-page survey of the Western humanities (art, music, literature, philosophy) entitled Centers of Culture, now in press and to be published by Prentice Hall early in 2007.

What is the one thing you are grateful for today? My very satisfying life.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger? That you need to work at what you love every day if you expect to continue to get better at it.

What do you most value in your friends? Their good humor and patience.

What is your motto? Living well is the best revenge.

What is your biggest complaint about today’s politicians? That they have allowed religion increasingly to determine and define their political agendas.

What’s the greatest invention in your lifetime? The personal computer and the internet.

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