Retired Southeast literature professor Max Cordonnier takes own life after recent illnesses

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Retired Southeast Missouri State University professor and well-known local artist Max Cordonnier took his own life at his home, Cape Girardeau County Coroner John Clifton said Wednesday.

Cordonnier, known for computer-enhanced art filled with images from literature and mythology, was 71. He had retired from the university in 1992 after 31 years as professor of English teaching courses in Romantic- and Victorian-era English literature.

Cordonnier, who friends said had been in declining health, was found shortly before noon Wednesday by a neighbor checking why he had not retrieved the morning newspaper from his doorstep, Clifton said.

Clifton did not release details of the death, which he ruled a suicide.

Friends recalled Cordonnier as a gentle, generous man who threw himself into art after his retirement. He was a member of the Visual Arts Cooperative and, in 2005, he and other members donated artwork to raise money for Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina relief.

"His pieces were very complex, and he actually put a little statement next to his artwork explaining it," said Craig Thomas of the cooperative. "Each was an interesting piece that always raised questions when you looked at it."

News of the death came as a shock to Thomas, who said he had visited Cordonnier Tuesday.

Recent illnesses had slowed Cordonnier, friends said. He was an energetic walker, joining fellow retired professors Henry Sessoms and Martin Needles on walks around Cape Girardeau that stretched four to five miles.

Their destinations, Sessoms said, included walks to watch construction of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, the River Campus and the new federal courthouse.

"He deserves recognition," Sessoms said. "He was such a wonderful person."

In earlier years, Cordonnier's exercise routine also included a strong golf game and tennis. The tennis games continued up to a few months ago, said friend John Bierk, also a retired professor of English.

"He had a very droll sense of humor," Bierk said. "He was very quiet, very gentle. He had a tremendous variety of friends on almost any part of the religious, political or social spectrum. He was able to make people feel safe and secure rather than in conflict with him."

Along with teaching hundreds of students over the years, Cordonnier helped establish the Cape Rock in 1965, a literary magazine that survives to this day as a venue for new and established poets from across the nation and the world.

His art was like a difficult poem, Bierk said. "His art is really like a montage of real figures out of history, mythological figures and figures he created. He would put them in a mixture that you could understand only if you understood all these interrelationships."

The use of computers to create or enhance his images helped him produce more art and fit with his personality, Sessoms said. While some may view computer technology as a domain of the young, he said, Cordonnier dived into it.

"Max was very much interested in technological stuff and he knew a lot more about the computer than I did," Sessoms said. "He was always up on the latest thing."

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Ford and Sons Funeral Home.

335-6611, extension 126

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