I first met Henry Hensche in March of 1970. Sullen 19-year-old hippie college student that I was, I grudgingly consented to my mother’s insistence that I wear a jacket and tie to demonstrate my respect for this supposedly great man. Henry greeted me wearing a paint-stained sweatshirt, and threadbare unwashed trousers barely hanging on his skinny butt because Ada had neglected to remind him to wear a belt. A shock of white hair stood straight up on his head. Henry talked to me for hours, probing, asking impossibly difficult questions and calling me a fool when I couldn’t answer, telling me how the world was, how art was, how the government was, bamboozling me, flummoxing me, assaulting my intellect in ways that it had never before been assaulted, leaving me exhausted, convinced that I had just met an extraordinary individual. And he never talked down to me. He was the great man, the master; but I was not, in his eyes, a supplicant there to pay homage, to be patronized. Anybody who came to talk, to listen, was important to him. I could tell that he didn’t care about my jacket and tie; he didn’t even notice them. I was hooked.
Hard work and commitment are part of Henry’s legacy. He showed us that there was no shortcut to great art. His specific teaching on color and light are useful tools in the creating of art, but of greatest importance was Henry’s relentless quest for beauty. The essayist and critic, Walter Pater, writing about aesthetics, said, “What is important… is the power of being moved by the presence of beautiful objects.” Henry had that power and it was his most fervent desire to share that power. Even if Henry had never picked up a palette knife, even if he had painted large black and white abstractions (like one of his more famous students), his legacy would endure because Henry did not teach us a method for mixing colors, he taught us how to see. That’s Henry’s legacy.