Middletown native Kendall Messick received tributes Tuesday from both houses of the Delaware General Assembly honoring his more than 20-year career as a photographer and documentarian.
Artist Kendall Messick's work has been displayed in some of the finest galleries and museums in the country.
Now, the Middletown native is getting his due in Delaware, where he received tributes Tuesday from both houses of the General Assembly.
"Obviously, this is a very special honor," said the 1983 valedictorian at the now-defunct Broadmeadow School. "I typically invest years in my projects, so to put my heart and soul into my work and then to be recognized in this way is a very special feeling."
The tributes Messick received this week recognized his 20-year-career as an artist who combines film, photography and other media to document the always unique and sometimes eccentric lives of seniors who might otherwise escape attention.
"I've always been interested in sharing the stories of people who are in some way disenfranchised, and the oldest members of our society are often the most marginalized," he said. "It's amazing what you can discover when you make time to really engage people and get to know their lives."
Messick is perhaps best known in Delaware for his 32-minute documentary, "The Projectionist," and its subsequent book and touring exhibition, which is on display at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover until June 28.
The 2003 film explores the life of Messick's childhood neighbor, Gordon Brinckle (pronounced Brinkley), a former usher and projectionist at The Everett Theatre whose lifelong fascination with early 20th-century movie houses inspired him to create an elaborate replica in the basement of his Hoffecker Street home.
Naming it "The Shalimar," Brinckle adorned his private theater with crimson walls, gold-tasseled curtains, footlights, a miniature Kimball organ, a ticket office, an 18-speaker sound system and a 16 mm projector.
Messick said he hopes the recognitions he received this week will help raise local interest in Brinckle, who died in 2007.
"I think he's looking down on all this and smiling," Messick said. "He always longed for his theater to be seen and appreciated, and I think for his work to live on like this was a dream come true for him."
A graduate of the International Center of Photography and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Messick initially worked in corporate sales and management before his artistic career took off in the late 1990s, following his work as a still photographer on the documentaries "There is No Such Word as Can't," and "Here and Now."
His first major project, the feature-length 2002 documentary "Corapeake," captures the lives of African-Americans in Corapeake, N.C. The Chicago Tribute described it as "a human chronicle of great sympathy, warmth and insight, photographed and edited with seemingly effortless artistry."
Messick followed "The Projectionist" with "Impermanence," an exhibition of 42 photographs inspired by a house fire that devastated his turn-of-the-century New Jersey home and studio in 2006.
His latest film, which will debut later this year, is titled "Swann Song," and chronicles 93-year-old New York City actress Elaine Swann's ongoing quest for stardom.
Messick's photography also has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., and the Museum of Modern Art in
New York and is among the permanent collections at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
His documentaries, meanwhile, have been the subject of articles in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, ARTnews Magazine, Folk Art Magazine, Esquire and the website Gizmodo.
"Being written about by major publications or featured at formidable institutions is at the top of any artist's list of accomplishments, but being recognized by the legislature in your home state is in a different category," Messick said this week. "It's an acknowledgement of my work unlike anything I've ever experienced and I'm truly humbled."