A few years ago, Beverly and Bill Cottman were having dinner at a restaurant in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, when they heard a voice from across the room.
“Are you that Bill who is on the ‘Mostly Jazz?’ Radio show?” “He was someone who recognized her voice,” Beverly Cottman said.
This KFAI program was just one of the many ways Bill Cottman contributed to the Twin Cities scene. He had the mind of an engineer and an artist, more precisely of a photographer, projectionist and writer whose curiosity seemed boundless.
A mentor to young artists, a long-time Juxtaposition Arts board member and frequent Homewood Studios exhibitor in Minneapolis, Cottman died of cancer on December 5. He was 77 years old.
âThe entire art community is saddened by the loss of Bill Cottman,â said artist Seitu Jones, who met him in the early 1970s.
Born in Salisbury, Maryland, Cottman met his wife in 1966 at Howard University in Washington, DC, where he studied engineering and biology from Beverly. In less than a year, they were married.
âHe graduated on a Friday, we got married on a Saturday, and came to Minnesota on a Sunday,â said Beverly, also known as Aunt Beverly Storyteller.
His first job out of school was for the Saint-Paul-based IT company Univac, where he was an application engineer.
In 1967, he joined the Hallie Q. Brown Camera Club, frequented by black photographers from the Twin Cities. But he didn’t have any photo exposure until 2003, after he and his wife moved next door to Homewood Studios in north Minneapolis. It was the first in a long series.
âIt was slow growing thanks to what he wanted to accomplish with his photography,â said George Roberts, co-founder of the art gallery / artists’ gathering space. “Did he see himself as a street photographer? As a historian? As a documentary maker? As an artist and creator of new things? He asked all of these things all the time and kept answering those questions.”
Inspired by the photos of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gary Winogrand and Roy DeCarava, the art of Romare Bearden, the poetry of Langston Hughes and the music of John Coltrane, Cottman positions his own work somewhere between street photography and what he calls âsocial landscapesâ. â¦ Compositions of people, places and things that cross my path daily. “
From the early days of the North Side arts crawl FLOW, founded in 2005, he has always been a great support, whether it is exhibiting works or supervising young photographers.
Cottman believed in keeping art active. During his 2016 exhibition âDisturbancesâ (also the title of a book he published), he frequently changed the location of the works of art during the 20 days of the exhibition while also organizing events. weeklies focused on different elements of his work.
âAs a photographer, one of his favorite subjects was his family,â Jones said. “Bill was truly multidisciplinary – he was a poet for those of us fortunate enough to be linked with his continuous observations made in the form of a haiku – a ‘Blackku’ form more than anything.”
As a writer, Cottman often used the form he called “17s” because each work was only 17 syllables long.
By the time of his death he had almost finished with a fourth book of writings and pictures, titled “Precarious”. His previous books – âSurface Tensions,â âPresence,â and âDisturbancesâ – are available on Blurb.com or through his website billcottman.com.
âBill was a very nice person and he did some really nice things, but not for people to notice him,â his wife said. “He really believed in himself and especially in his creative ideas.”
Cottman began hosting KFAI’s “Mostly Jazz” with Beverly’s mother, Patricia Edwards Walton, in 1996. After his death in 2003, his daughter Kenna and granddaughter Yonci joined him as co-hosts.
For the December 11 show, Kenna performed some of her father’s favorite tracks and answered inquiries over the phone with former KFAI Executive Director Janis Lane-Ewart. She and Yonci will continue to host the show, ensuring the family legacy lives on.
Cottman is survived by his wife, their daughter Kenna Cottman and their grandchildren Yonci and Ebrima Jameson of Minneapolis; her brother Harry Quinton, of Williamsburg, Va., her nephew Daryl, of New York, and her niece Debra, of Maryland.
A family memorial has already taken place. There will likely be a celebration of life at a future date. Memorials are suggested at the Walker West Music Academy in St. Paul or at Juxtaposition Arts in Minneapolis – or simply purchase works from local artists.