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Released September 16, 2003
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally ran in The Talon, a quarterly publication of the Southern Miss Alumni Association.

Renaissance man

SOUTHERN MISS ALUM DEVELOPS NEW METHOD
OF STUDYING ART'S OLD MASTERS

By Marie Yarbrough

HATTIESBURG - Ed Ford has been drawing since he was in first grade, but it wasn't until college that he developed a passion and curiosity for the methods other artists - the great Renaissance artists - used in creating their masterpieces.

Ford got his start in 1980, when he enrolled at The University of Southern Mississippi as a freshman. The Mize native said he had an overwhelming feeling he was academically behind the other students. "'I've got to catch up,' I thought," Ford said. "So I took Latin, Greek, history and anatomy to get myself caught up."

It was while studying in the university's art department that Ford found a passion for the old masters of the Renaissance period. He participated in Southern Miss' study-abroad program in Rome, Italy, but credits his foundation in art to professor Jim Meade. "He used the old masters as examples," Ford said. "He taught that we should learn them to know how to look at art - to study them."

While studying the Renaissance masters, Ford became curious about the methods the artists used to create their compositions. "It wasn't anything anyone had the answer to," he said. "The curiosity of the actual business of making the compositions lead me to my master's and to my dissertation."

After receiving a bachelor's degree from Southern Miss, Ford went on to the University of Georgia in Athens. He intended to earn both a master's degree and Ph.D. there. In 1988, he received a master's degree and immediately began work on a Ph.D. However, when it was time to start his dissertation, there was no one at the university to direct it.

A few years later, Ford applied to St. Andrews University in Scotland to study with Dr. Martin Kemp, one of the leading art historians and authorities on Renaissance design. When Kemp transferred to Oxford University, Ford followed him.

This spring, he earned a doctor of philosophy, Trinity Turn from Trinity College at Oxford University. For his dissertation, "Interpretations of Marks from Draughting Tools in Some Italian Renaissance Drawings: Evidence for the Use of Geometrical and Numerical Design Systems," Ford examined evidence left by marks of the tools artists used. Through an investigative methodology that he developed, Ford concluded that evidence of the marks leads to information on the artists' design procedures.

Because of the archaeological evidence that remains, it was possible for Ford to study the artists' "design systems" scientifically. "What I came upon was a method of investigation," he said. "Some artists used tools that are a part of the geometric system-such as a compass or a straightedge. When you employ the geometry process, you can figure out their composition. The investigatory method was to look at these marks in the paper and unravel the artist's composition."

For his dissertation, Ford analyzed the drawings of Antonio Sangallo, Palladio, Uccello, Michelangelo and Peruzzi, but his primary focus was analyzing the works of da Vinci. Ford credits Meade for his decision to investigate the Renaissance artists. "His favorites were Italian Renaissance, and that's the best place to look for evidence," he explained. "It still exists."

These days, Ford is making a name for himself in the art community. In February 2003, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City hosted one of the largest exhibitions of Leonardo da Vinci drawings, and Ford was invited to write a chapter in the catalog. Future career plans are just as promising. He wants to publish his dissertation in art history journals and continue teaching and publishing his work.

For now, though, Ford has been staying busy as a stay-at-home dad with his two young children. Ford and his wife recently moved the family from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, Utah. "It's great to have the opportunity to teach them," Ford said of being home with his children.

Whether his children will develop artistic tendencies is anyone's guess. "My wife is verbal; I am visual," he said. "Neither of us is mathematical."

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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