Vladimir Dupre: The Soul of an Artist

Despite the challenges of the pandemic in 2020, one man marked a milestone. Vladimir Dupre, who kept the Fine Arts at Waldport running as Executive Secretary, celebrated his 100th birthday in September with family at an outdoor socially distanced gathering.

I first met Vlad in 2010, when I was doing research for what would become Here on the Edge. I interviewed him one afternoon at his apartment in northern California, just an hour away from where some of my family lived. We hit it off immediately, and Vlad’s memories of the Waldport group were so rich and detailed that I returned for another talk the next day. We became friends in the years following, and kept in touch through phone calls and occasional visits, as I included a trip to see him whenever I went to California.

A highlight came in October 2014, exactly one year after the book came out, when I did a show at the iconic City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, joined by Vlad and also Chuck Davis, who had been instrumental in launching the printing operations of the Fine Arts. The two of them shared memories of their time in Waldport, and signed books for the appreciative crowd who lined up afterwards to talk with them.

Later that night, I drove Vlad back to his home outside Sacramento, and we talked well into the night, about the show and the book, about war and peace, about family, the world, life and love and just about anything worth talking about. It was one of those times you hold dear in your memory after the one you shared it with has gone.

Vlad Dupre died on November 8, 2020, at the age of 100. He is survived by his six children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His papers related to the Fine Arts are in special collections at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.

The thing that always struck me about Vlad was his humility. He didn’t talk of his personal accomplishments; it was always about the people he knew: Bayard Rustin, Billie Holliday, S.I. Hayakawa, and more. When he applied in 1944 to come to the Fine Arts at Waldport, he wrote that he had no artistic talent himself, but his fiancee, Ibby, was an accomplished actress — and his proposal was that if they accepted him, she would come along and they would gain an actress for their theater group.

And that’s exactly what happened. Vlad and Ibby got married, came to Oregon, and lived in a beachfront cottage across the highway from Camp Angel. Ibby acted in the classic plays Candida and Ghosts, and Vlad kept the Fine Arts going by handling the paperwork and other behind-the-scenes duties, the stuff that no one sees getting done.

An example was in a letter he wrote to the Brethren Service Committee headquarters on his first day on the job. The Fine Arts Group was doing good work that should be shared across the Civilian Public Service system, he said. They could begin with a portfolio of their theater productions, including notes on direction along with the script and pictures of the set, so that other groups could produce the plays themselves if they liked. These could be sent singularly to other camps, or even made into a catalogue and distributed more widely, he said. “Many more ideas are in the process of formation and as they develop, I shall send them along.”

Vlad’s contributions were not lost on the group’s lead figure, the poet Bill Everson, who had originally handled all administrative work and knew how tedious and time-consuming it could be. Everson recognized the soul of an artist whether or not they produced what we normally call art. Writing to the BSC Director, Everson said that Vlad’s competence and enthusiasm were “a joy to behold.”

Vlad had never seen this letter, which I found in a research library’s special collections. When I read it to him all those years later, he just laughed and shook his head.

Vlad Dupre working at the Untide Press, ca. 1944.

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