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In Memoriam: David Crandall, 1952-2022

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On July 7, David Crandall, a vital member of the Baltimore art community for over three decades, went on a much-anticipated vacation with his sister and extended family. It was his first vacation in years, he told friends before he left. The family rented a home sitting on splendid Kure Beach in North Carolina for a couple of weeks. It was a boisterous and jubilant time for all, particularly David.

On July 15, the day before he was to return, he went out to the beach with his sister Cora. She settled on the sand in a chair to read while David headed for the water, as he had done throughout the trip. She looked up once and saw him smiling, happily standing out in the surf, his back to the incoming waves. She went back to her book. Moments later someone pulled David from the water. She ran to him, but he was unconscious and not breathing. The lifeguards came to his aid, to no avail. An ambulance sped him to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, NC providing treatment along the way. Initial reports noted a head injury, later determined to not be as bad as first thought. He was placed on life support. Cora and her husband, Stewart, were bedside, singing to him, when David died quietly the following day at 4:05 p.m. Drowning was the certified cause.

The word went out via social media, the narrative worthy of the southern gothic fiction in which David was well-versed. Everyone was shocked. People began posting memories and condolences. Many of the stories had similarities: David was assisting on a current creative endeavor, had participated in the past, or was planning to do so in the future. Traces of David were everywhere.

His family noted his uniqueness, his often wry but gentle ways. His niece Allison wrote of his sweetness with the children in the family and posted a poignant video of the beach house living room, empty except for the ethereal sound of David playing flute downstairs, her father on guitar upstairs—an homage loaded with visual absence.

 

Kure Beach 2022, Photo courtesy Cora Wise
David at Kure Beach on July 10th, 2022, with his niece Julie Wise and her mother Cora Wise, Photo curtesy Allison Wise Currin

In the aftermath of his death, when considering how to handle his work, his projects, and navigate his various computers, backups, boxes of files, and ephemera, friends noted they needed a “David type” to assist. Currently his family is working with his closest friends and allies to ensure his work continues and is archived.

David Dennon Crandall was born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 17, 1952. His mother, Dorothy Crandall, was a teacher and National Council of Churches worker. His father, Mace Crandall, was a congregational minister and a magazine writer and editor. The family next headed to Iowa, then on to Berea, a small town deep in Kentucky, a lively center for Appalachian folk arts and culture. The Berea city motto is “Where Art’s Alive,” and it had a life-long, deep influence on David.  He started playing French horn at age 12, and that was just the beginning of his active engagement with music of all kinds.

David graduated from the town’s well-respected local school, Berea College, a tuition-free progressive institution that was the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. He then earned a master’s degree from the University of Kentucky where he studied communications.

 

David and sister Cora in 1959, Photo courtesy of Cora Wise
David in his '51 Ford circa 1975, Photo curtesy of Cora Wise

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, David sang and played a variety of instruments in Bluebird Special, an eclectic bluegrass band from Kentucky that put out one album in 1980. After moving to Baltimore in the late 1990s, he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Imaging, Media, and Digital Arts (IMDA) from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). His thesis exhibition, A Young Soldier’s Guide (staged at the H. Lewis Gallery in Baltimore City), was a complex, experimental, digital-based work with roots in a variety of philosophical thought. He stayed in Baltimore and immersed himself in the art underground and theater worlds.

 

Bluebird Special promo photograph 1971, David Crandall second from the left. Photo courtesy of Cora Wise

 

As a writer and editor, David worked on Link, an acclaimed Baltimore-based arts publication that created ten book-length journals between 1996 and 2006. In 2002, he helped establish the Station North Arts and Entertainment District (the first in the state), through his excellent grant writing. The same year, he was a founding member of Radar magazine, a pocket-sized arts journal designed by Todd Harvey and created in partnership with the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance led by its late director Nancy Harrigan. Radar was unique, written by local artists during its four-year run—a style David was key in instigating.

Though I had known David for a few years then, this was when I first worked closely with him. He was Radar’s general editor, and I was its executive editor. We did four years in the publishing trenches together as business partners. Those fancy titles meant we also had to do everything else: sell ads, distribution, promotion, event planning. It was often exhilarating, though we struggled through some of it. After a few years, we disagreed on how to proceed, and then dissolved the partnership. It took us both a while to reconnect. I am grateful we did. In retrospect, working on Radar with David was one of the most productive collaborations of my life.

 

David during the time of his tenure as General Editor of Radar Magazine, 2005, Photo courtesy of Cora Wise

 

Over the decades, David became a widely recognized performer and production technician in the region. He worked as a sound designer and tech at many seminal arts organizations in Baltimore and Washington DC. The theaters, events, and art spaces included MICA, Creative Alliance, Towson University, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Red Room, Load of Fun, Annex Theater, Rhymes With Opera, Gala Hispanic Theater, Spooky Action Theater, The 14K Cabaret, The Transmodern Festival, and many others. Most recently he was involved with Le Mondo, a Baltimore artist-centric project dedicated to community use and experimental performance. It aligned with his artistic beliefs.

 

David working at Annex Theater on the 1-800 Mice rehearsal 2016, Photo by Dave Iden
David's car outside Current Space, 2021 photo by Dave Iden

David participated in numerous other projects as an artist, writer, editor, musician, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and always ahead-of-the-curve computer whiz. He played experimental, classical, folk, and jazz music with a variety of people. Always learning, he was a voracious reader ranging from dense experimental text to science fiction. He chose a life of constant creativity with a mix of communalism and freedom, and like many who do he was not rewarded as well as he deserved.

At the time of his death, he was working on an ambitious project detailing the history of various aspects of the arts in Baltimore, including an oral history project on performance art, and a catalogue of all arts actions and events, though he had yet to receive grant funding for such an important endeavor.

Over the years, he lived in numerous alternative Baltimore warehouses and artist spaces, including the Copycat, the H&H Building, and most recently settling into an apartment in CityArts in Station North, the very community he was instrumental in founding.

David drove a beat-up and beloved 1992 royal blue Ford Festiva which was being repaired during his absence. The man’s wild yet focused driving was legendary; he navigated Baltimore City as if it were a race to be won. He knew all the shortcuts and back alleys. He memorized the ever-changing light patterns and knew the time shifts. He found it difficult to be a passive passenger. He drove like he lived his life, always thinking—pushing the boundaries, excited to arrive at the next destination as soon as possible.

I find writing this essay difficult, not only due to a deep sadness but for selfish reasons. David was my go-to editor. Rarely over the past few years have I published anything without his input. He would mark up a long text overnight with little notice and send it back with layers of helpful notes. His editing style never intruded, just homed in on the problems. He gently guided me to be a better writer. He was the best editor I have ever known. I wonder what he would change here, what sentences he would alter or strike, what comments he would leave (they were often hilarious), or what he would demand to cut entirely. I desire to send it to him, just to see if I get a response because…. I still can’t believe this whole story.

When people die so suddenly and unexpectedly, it feels unreal, impossible. Magical thinking sets in. It is a strong defense, as Joan Didion famously wrote. How can the beach, the ocean, a place of joy and wonder, just swallow up a man, take a loved one right before his family and toss them out—gone in a matter of minutes? If joyful vacation waves can extinguish a life so quickly, then what is down the next alley, up the next road, on the next flight, in the next pool—let alone at the next doctor’s visit? If this can happen to David, who was in excellent health, then who among us is next? When those close to us die, what lies next to our memories of them is the bruised shadow of our own mortality waiting. This is a subject which David, steeped in philosophy and a variety of structures of faith, found endlessly beguiling.

David Crandall would be proud, possibly surprised, to see how much he is missed, how much he is loved. As group-oriented as he was known, he was often monkish in his art practice. He would be pleased at the gathering being planned in his honor; he always liked a good party. David, often so intellectual, was also a very sensitive and funny guy. He was a brilliant art raconteur with a big heart who blossomed here in the heady, glorious, weird stew that defines the Baltimore region. David was one of us, a consummate crazy good art citizen. He leaves a bountiful legacy behind.

David is survived by his sister, Cora Wise (Stewart) of Greensboro, North Carolina; brothers Ross Blount (Lorena) of Allerton, Iowa, and Bill Blount (Deb) of Prescott, Arizona; six nieces, seven nephews, numerous great nieces, and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Mace and Dorothy Crandall, and siblings Robert Crandall and Susan Janet Baker. He will be interred near his mother in Mobile, Alabama.

 

David at Annex Theater, production of King of Howard Street, 2017, Photo by Dave Iden

 

A memorial celebration for David Crandall will be held on Sunday, September 25, at 4 p.m. at Le Mondo at 406 N Howard St, Baltimore, MD. Details can be found here.

 

Community Remembrances

Numerous people wrote short testimonials in honor of David after word of his passing spread. The following are abridged versions. The full versions will be presented at David Crandall’s memorial. These were gathered and edited with the assistance of Kini Collins, Annette Wilson Jones, and Sanzi Kermes.

David Iden
David was a friend and artistic colleague of mine for nearly a decade. As a company member of the Annex Theater, his work formed the foundations for some of the most spectacular theatre produced in Baltimore. So many shows could not have happened without him.

Natasha Tylea
David was pivotal in pushing me into Technical Directing in the early ‘2000s and he always encouraged me to confidently show my worth to all the assholes out there who second-guessed a woman being in charge of tech. I was so always happy to see him and hear what auditory creations he was up to and always wished (and made sure he knew) that I had more time with him to just chill and chat.

Laure Drogoul
Thank you, David. For the many hours of technical design, ingenuity and for making magic on a shoestring budget at The 14Karat Cabaret and the Transmodern Performance Festival. Thanks for your wry humor, expansive mind, and endless support of the weirdo, difficult crackpot expressions of our fragile cultural landscape.

Melissa Webb
David’s unending, longtime support for the art/music/performance/theatre scene in Baltimore was incalculable and came from his deep and total love of our community. David was someone who literally personified the giving, collaborative, supportive energy of creativity in Baltimore.

David Beaudouin
When you’re a lifer in B’more, the folks you’ve known for decades become deeply woven into the crazy quilt of your life. David Crandall was one of those people. There’s no replacing that patch in my quilt. Rest easy, old friend.”

Gregory Rago
David was the sound guy at my band’s first concert at the Creative Alliance and then we were colleagues at MICA.  David, thanks for the many interesting conversations, the many great book recommendations (he always had a book with him), and for many years ago making a very nervous band sound awesome. You are missed.

Lucy Symons
David always made me feel listened to and appreciated, he challenged, and he shared. I will always remember his thoughtful and generous presence.

Ken Kolodner
David played his typical tasteful sax in The Baltimore Old-Time Jam band for the Baltimore Square Dance just a few weeks before his death. I gave him a ride home after the dance and chatted for a good while as he told stories about his many years playing for dances, with fiddlers, with Evening Star, etc.

Vin Grabill
David was a uniquely creative individual. I had the pleasure of serving as the chairperson of his thesis committee when he was enrolled in our IMDA MFA program at UMBC. Rather than follow the tradition of mounting an exhibition in our CADVC [Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture] gallery, David sought and received the OK from us to create a fascinating, multi-layered exhibition in the basement of a friend’s Bolton Hill house.

Kyle Rudgers
Hiring David at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company was one of my best decisions. It led to a fruitful artistic relationship as well as a friendship I valued greatly.

Rob Hatch
I met David just over a year ago when I was putting together a pick-up band, The Dirty Buggers; for Cicadarama last June. David did so much for so many, and clearly had so much left to do. I know I am not the only one who feels like something beautiful was taken from them. I am however very grateful that I got to have David in my life… even for a short time.

Sanzi Kermes
He was the person who gave me “senryu” (Japanese poem form) when I thought I was writing haiku. For you, David, with love:

Eclectic savant
Brilliant mind of catalytic speed
master of mystery

Richard Tryzno Ellsberry
David was a hilarious wit, intellect, and teacher, once hosting a group reading of a book by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (1969). He and I also brainstormed on how one could document decades of fragile independent arts actions in town–the stuff that makes Baltimore Baltimore. I will miss him terribly. We all will.

Kini Collins
Hearing of David’s death, I thought of John Steinbeck’s comment about how his friend Ed Ricketts died—that only a train was powerful enough to stop him. Well, it took the damned Atlantic Ocean to create this monumental hole in our world. Baltimore without Crandall. Unthinkable.

Annette Wilson Jones
It seems like David was everywhere, involved in an astounding variety of arts communities: traditional music, Contra dancing, theater performances (as sound person and as performer), music performances (as sound and as performer), writing arts grants, writing for other arts purposes, curation. Much of the time, his work was in the dark, behind the curtain, backstage, in the shadows but his contributions to those arts communities affected more people than any of us will ever know.

Steve Estes
Dave was the guy who knew how to make things work, whether a grand sound design on a budget, an antique clown car from hell, or a dinner party with politically opposed guests. We shared some special interests, music, food, whiskey, and certain authors. We met mostly at impromptu dinners at my house. We often did not agree but it did not matter to our friendship. My wife Tina says when we disagreed it was like listening to two brothers playing verbal volleyball. Dave leaves a big void in my life that will be tough to fill. He was my best friend.

Marc Nasdor
My close friendship with David began several years ago, and was mostly centered on our biweekly, or even weekly dinners, especially during the pandemic. David would often contribute some incredible oddities to the meals, from his homemade coffee kombucha to frighteningly interesting offal for a stew. I will miss David dearly: the conversations, the companionship. We all remain in shock over his passing.

Skizz Cyzyk
David was ubiquitous. I would run into him everywhere. If he wasn’t involved in something, he was there supporting it. I first met David in the early 90s after one of my films screened at The Orpheum. He came up to me, introduced himself, told me how much he liked my film. That started a 30-year friendship. By coincidence, the last time I saw him was at a recent screening of a new film of mine at The Charles. Again after, he told me how much he liked it. I wish I had been able to talk to him more that night.

Megan Hamilton
David Crandall tried to teach me about audio equipment, about handling cables. And that in fact was a bit of what he was. Someone who cabled all of us together and gave us the energy, the help, to do the best work we could.

Gary Kachadourian
I remember sitting next to David at Floristree waiting for an artist lecture series to start. Everyone was at least 25 years younger than us. Simon and Garfunkel were playing on the sound system. David leaned over and stated that we were probably the only two people in the room that understood the irony of this situation. David relished being the observer of ironic situations. His UMBC thesis installation at H Lewis Gallery, 1999, was the most obsessively complex and detailed I’ve ever seen. You stood on and in a mass of rubble while soldiers marched through jungles on multi-channel video screens and with layers of sound. I wish he’d made more work like that, but he seemed to prefer being everybody’s collaborator. He was great at it all.

DS Bakker
David had a wicked dry sense of humor and was always quietly relaxed and competent. We worked together on several projects. A couple were of our own devising and others with some talented individuals we both knew and worked with. I am sad because I hadn’t seen David for some time due to the lockdown, schedules, and I simply had the assumption we’d get together again sometime eventually. As a collaborator he was awesome to work with. David Crandall was brilliant—but in a subtle way. A light is out now, leaving part of the stage in the dark.

Robin Rhodes
David was a special person with infectious and contagious energy who delighted me in all of our interactions on multiple stages or at Club Chuck.

Lorraine Whittlesey
He was a friend and collaborator. We joined forces on numerous successful projects for over two decades. Bud the Musical, the Ebony & Irony Series, and Zippy the Pinhead: the Musical are a few examples. I’ll remember our extended family dinners, get-togethers pre-Thanksgiving at Birds of a Feather and so much more. For all that, I’m most grateful.

Nancy Linden
I don’t remember when I met David; he was always there. My earliest specific memory is from 1999. We collaborated. My own installation included an empty chair positioned beside an old radio; David made a beautiful tape to play as if over the radio, incorporating tinny music, voices in a distant room, children’s squeals and laughter, train whistles. In mid-July 2022, I was working on a project that involved sound recording and left a message on his phone.  The next day I received a call back, and answered it with, “Hi, David!” and his sister said, “Oh, I wish it was David.”

Louis F. Linden
David never boasted about his successful creation of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. You had to ask. But when you did, he was an infallible institutional memory, especially later in life when we had to fight to preserve what he had created from gentrification. The last time I saw him … we found ourselves waiting for the stoplight change and had one of those “how’s your mom and them” conversations. It lasted less than a minute. It’s the only time I can think of where I really, really wish that the light would have stayed red a lot longer.

Cara Ober
David was one of the first editors I ever worked with, in my first ever foray as a writer at Radar. Since that time, close to twenty years ago, David was a person I always knew I could reach out to for help, for advice, for technical assistance. He was one of our first proofreaders when we launched BmoreArt as a print journal. He was always out and about at art shows and concerts and I was always happy to run into him, to chat and catch up. He was a fixture in the Baltimore art scene, truly helpful and generous to anyone who asked him, and he will be missed.

Header Image: David at the High Zero Festival 2021, Photo by Dave Iden

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