Robert Morrissey only planned to be at Polk Community College for a few years when he joined the art faculty in 1965, but that quickly turned into a few decades for the artist who inspired with his paintings and his teaching.
Morrissey passed away April 27, 2018, at the age of 77, leaving behind a large collection of work and a legacy at Polk State’s Arts Department.
“He had a following of students who took his classes for several, several years,” said Sharon Bevis, a former student and colleague of Morrissey’s. “A group of us joked that we were ‘Bob’s groupies.’ He was a wonderful artist who cared deeply about his students, and the College was blessed to have him.”
Morrissey was born May 21, 1940, in Palatine, Illinois. His art career began when he was only 4 years old, when he picked up his first crayon, he wrote on his website, which showcases his acrylic, oil, and watercolor paintings of landscapes, water lilies, and pop nouveau.
“He was a wonderful artist who cared deeply about his students, and the College was blessed to have him,” Sharon Bevis said.
After college, he moved to Polk County to work at the College. He decided to teach because it left him with plenty of time to paint, he wrote.
The stint was only supposed to last for the three years because he had offers to go elsewhere, he told The Ledger when he retired in 2007 from Polk State after 42 years. But he stayed in Polk where he met his wife, Nancy.
Morrissey became involved in the Ridge Art Association and Central Park Art Show in downtown Winter Haven, and exhibited his work all over Florida, appearing in national publications including USA Today, American Arts, and Baseball Weekly.
His artwork and accomplishments awed many around the country, but at Polk State, he is remembered most for his ability to inspire his students.
Wildlife artist Thomas Brooks, who received his Associate in Arts degree from the College in 1982 and Polk State’s May 2015 Distinguished Alumnus Award, recalls Morrissey as a kind, easy-going guy with lots of patience.
“He was always inspiring me and all students to love and appreciate the arts,” Brooks said. “He seemed to take a special interest in me and my love of art, and had a way of recognizing that passion in people.”
“I will always remember him and how he moved me to paint and be creative in my art,” he added.
“I will always remember him and how he moved me to paint and be creative in my art,” Thomas Brooks said.
Bevis echoed similar sentiments, describing Morrissey as a professor who was very encouraging, but never handed out compliments.
“When you did get a compliment, it meant something big,” she explained. “Students would take his class thinking it was an easy A because it was art, but he always challenged his students.”
Morrissey, who held master’s degrees in both studio painting and art history, taught painting, watercolor, drawing and composition, figure drawing, and mural painting, creating many memorable murals around Polk County with his students.
He left an incredible legacy, Professor of Art Holly Scoggins explained, having established art programming at Polk State along with the late Gary Baker.
“They truly established the program and left me with big shoes to fill,” she said.
Morrissey is credited with taking art education out of the classroom and making it accessible to the community by starting the Student Art Show held annually in the Polk State Fine Arts Gallery.
“He pushed for the arts in Polk County and laid the foundation for Polk State’s Arts Program, which is unrivaled by any other schools,” Scoggins said. “All of this wouldn’t be here without him and we continue to benefit from the great foundation he laid.”
Morrissey enjoyed teaching so much that he returned after retirement when The Arts Department needed.
“My teaching experience helped my art work and my art work helped my teaching,” Morrissey wrote.
“He pushed for the arts in Polk County and laid the foundation for Polk State’s Arts Program, which is unrivaled by any other schools,” Holly Scoggins said.
And his teaching helped other artists flourish.
“When you see the light in the eyes go on – they had a breakthrough and they understand something – that is the best part of teaching,” he told The Ledger.
Robert Morrissey is survived by his wife, Nancy Morrissey; sister, Kathleen Balthazor; and sons, Paul Wegert and Sean Morrissey, a Polk State alum.
“He will be remembered for his humor, patience, talent, and wisdom,” Sean Morrissey said. “His many years of teaching will be a legacy for him, helping his students progress in the arts as well as educating them on history and techniques.”