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Wednesday, June 9, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Christian Staub, renowned artist, dies at 85

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Send in the clowns. Christian Staub, abstract painter and photographer of texture, light, circuses, sidewalk cracks and the Bite of Seattle, died of emphysema May 30.

Mr. Staub, 85, taught photography and architecture at the University of Washington for 21 years, in a career that spanned the continents with exhibits in Paris, Zurich, Vienna and Ahmedabad, India. His collections have been shown in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany.

"He saw things in a different way than other people," his wife, Renate Staub, said. "We would walk somewhere in Seattle, and he was fascinated by parking lots and shadows of building. I would point out the sunset, and that was of no interest to him at all. The next day he would set up his camera at the parking lot and shoot cracks in the sidewalk."

He was born Aug. 1, 1918, and grew up in Menzingen, Switzerland. The village was so small it didn't have its own high school, so he went to boarding school. His father, a veterinarian who treated the livestock in their village, didn't approve of his son's desire to become an artist — he thought his son should study something that would provide money to feed him — but Mr. Staub moved to Paris to pursue painting anyway. When the Germans invaded France during World War II, he moved back to Switzerland and studied photography with Hans Finsler, a leader in the new objectivity movement.

For a while, Mr. Staub freelanced for magazines, then worked at a U.S. advertising company. The ad firm had a Swiss watchmaker client, which allowed him to spend time in Switzerland to publish two books of photos — one on the circus and one of village life there. He returned to Germany after the war to teach at the new Bauhaus school. Grant Hildebrand, UW professor emeritus, called Mr. Staub's reputation "brilliant."

Before he came to Seattle, Mr. Staub taught in Ahmedabad, India, at the National Design Institute. He joined the UW in 1967. His colleague Hildebrand wrote: "Chris was the first photographer of such stature to become a part of our faculty."

His wife said he didn't believe he could teach creativity. "You can teach (them to) ... do the work right," she recalled him saying. Renate, 67, is a financial specialist in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the UW.

She also called him passionate, though he mellowed as he aged. "He knew what's right, and he followed that," she said. "There are not too many gray areas (to him), not like politicians."

After Mr. Staub retired, he worked on exhibits of his photographs. As one of his last projects, he gave 20 of his prints of Grock, a man who Renate Staub described as a "philosopher clown," to a traveling exhibition. A collection of Mr. Staub's photographs of the Bite of Seattle will be shown at Bumbershoot this year.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Alexandra Staub, an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pa.; and his sister, Paula Muller-Staub, in Switzerland.

A memorial service will be held June 29 at 5 p.m. in the music room of the University of Washington Faculty Club.

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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