Professor Henry (“Hank, Elmer”) Sorenson
February 11, 2023
When sad news bubbles, suddenly, unexpectedly to the surface, it is an arresting, shocking moment. Such was the case upon learning of Henry’s passing from this Life, and from the shared, vital comradery that is ASAI. Henry’s inimitable presence, in so many spheres, has now become a luminous shadow of memories - of the many enjoyable times we all had shared with him, over so many moments, years, decades.
Henry could really be considered a Renaissance Man, given his excellent skills across so many disciplines, and congealed in his status as a Teacher. Further to his professorship, Henry was an architect, illustrator, artist-watercolorist, photographer, historian, musician, naturalist, communicator, organizer, ASAI & DCA President, even explorer; and a most pleasant man with whom to share company. Henry leaves his dear wife Shaila, son Kyle, and daughter, Sondra; and now also bereft of his presence (as the oldest) are three younger brothers (one has passed, too) and his 99 year-old Mother in Florida – as well as numerous illustrator, academic, design and student friends across the country and around the globe.
In the orbit of our Society, so many of us were touched by the undimmed light of his ready friendship. As my esteemed colleague and ASAI Co-Founder, Steve Oles first wrote, “I’m in shock; Hank was the best– my consistent standard of excellence in every respect, personal and professional. I don’t have any idea of how to deal with this profound, immediate shock, and mourn his loss; time is necessary”. And later… “No mere collection of words can adequately address the profundity of loss felt by those of us nearest his life. Our inimitably talented colleague, dear friend and constant inspiration, Henry Elmer Sorenson was the ultimate exemplar of our professional community. He was wise, generous, spontaneous, joyful, and inquisitive about every arena of human endeavor – he was, again, the best — the kind of person I most aspire to be.”
To underscore Steve’s insightful mention, I (ASAI Co-Founder Frank Costantino) also found Henry to be in that mold of a remarkable man. He dearly loved ASAI, and for more than three decades provided dependable, resourceful support to our Society, while sustaining the numerous friendships he had made since first joining ASAI in 1993. That typical connectivity has been the Society’s wonderful operative intent for so many decades, as AIP 7 President Gordon Grice observed. Upon becoming President in 2001, Henry’s arduously planned Bozeman, MSU and Yellowstone conference was held – by sheer grit – despite the disruption and horrible circumstance of 9/11; with quite a few of his supporting members driving great distances to be there for him. Henry held a special place in his being for Yellowstone National Park, in which he photographed numerous wonders of that magical place. In 2013, Henry made very sure to have a repeat conference-performance for his fellow ASAI members with a full-fledged event at the Old Faithful Inn, in Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs; and hosting our tours throughout this country’s two-state national wonder. He thoroughly enjoyed the ASAI/AIP annual conferences; to re-connect with his friends and colleagues, share his insights and discoveries, lobby for the student awards, advise on Board matters; or taking photos and doing sketches during our sponsored field trips; while making sure to bring a flask of the most powerful home-grown bourbon or whiskey to enjoy with friends at the closure of the conference. Henry had made so many friends within our welcoming organization; and to whom he sent seasonal greetings – which invariably included his selected excerpts from the local papers of mundane, unusual, bizarre, and always very funny incidents happening in his town of Bozeman.
As a loyal graduate from the University of Florida, attaining Honors in Architecture, and maybe mischief and friends from an active Greek House (while sustaining his rabid support for the Florida Gators football teams), Henry found his passion for teaching, and served as Professor of Architecture at Montana State University for almost forty years. His keen eye inclined him to specialize in architectural design and graphics courses, with an emphasis on architectural illustration. Henry was an inspiration for legions of MSU students; all the while practicing what he taught ever so well – in his own illustration practice of 40 years. Over his decades in the Architecture Department at MSU, Henry also had the great pleasure of conducting enriching travel/drawing programs with his students to South America, Europe, Japan, and other countries and sites to explore origins and traditions of architecture; always sketching and taking photos. The excitement and learning from these trips was as much a benefit for him as it was for his numerous students.
Also an inveterate photographer, Henry was frequently posting his shots on-line, as well as entering some national shows. He was very proud of the deserving First Place Award he had won at an AIA sponsored Photography Competition. His artist’s eye always captured and framed delightful views of Nature’s wonders (in all seasons), or the mundane, the run-down, the glimpses of light and life anywhere. His artful photos always turned anyone’s eye to his compositions, lights, values and subjects – whether a steaming tide pool, a frozen tundra, or a burnt-out stand of pines – so many from his beloved Yellowstone. Other wonderful captures from his numerous travels were always arresting studies and vignettes of light and color; especially a recent series from Cuba, and from Indian Dance competitions.
Henry was likewise esteemed at MSU (where he started in 1983) amongst his university colleagues, and had become deeply involved in the Design Communicators Association (DCA), for which he had served as its President. He also hosted at least two DCA Conferences at MSU, bringing in an amazing cadre of graphics educators from around the world, all equally adept at their teaching profession in architectural drawing and digital techniques. He wrote many an article for their newsletters, and fashioned many a program under their auspices – including numbers of lectures, workshops, and seminars; some with invited ASAI members. He separately invited a number of ASAI’s esteemed member/illustrators (also his personal friends) for special seminars, workshops and shows for his MSU students; and the general University populace.
Given Henry’s deep engagement with so many students over the decades, plus programs and exchanges with his DCA colleagues, Henry had initially proposed (and persisted for many years) to various ASAI Boards and ex-officio Presidents for the Society to sponsor a student component of our Architecture In Perspective (AIP) Competition. After creating the structure for it, and prevailing with our Board members, so it was done. And Henry was so perfectly right – with ASAI enjoying the increasing student attraction (world-wide) of this new component within AIP and the members’ competitions. His vision resulted in the ever-amazing student works that have been selected for our shows and catalogue; bringing new members and practitioners into our field.
In September 2022, only a few months ago, after helping arrange for their stay near Logan Airport here in Boston, this durable friend (Frank MC) had just seen Henry and his delightful wife Shaila, as they stopped over on their way to Wellfleet MA, to spread his Mother-in-Law’s ashes and enjoy their long-awaited visit to Cape Cod and Nantucket. We had a very wonderful, pleasant dinner, and shared many stories and laughs with so much of Hank’s (& Shaila’s) warm, generous, and fun spirit. Some insights to Hank’s diverse interests were shared by Shaila, that her husband was at times “the absent-minded professor”, who was so involved in so many things, he would forget where he put the remains of a bird or a skunk (in his Mom’s car-trunk). His Nature interests included drawing studies of animal or bird skeletons created from the jumbled collections in his studio – such that at times he couldn’t find things; including family Christmas presents. And as his lovely wife observed, in Henry nurturing these intriguing interests, that “Henry was a deep reader” and a “man in the moment”.
Hank always had so much to give, with an ever-pleasant willingness to share, while enjoying the community of his/our fellow ASAI members & artists. Whenever Society member-friends were passing through to other locations, Henry offered his home as a special stopover, and brought visitors to a favorite location for some painting. Former President Dick Sneary (AIP 15) of Kansas City recalls Henry’s invitation, with four fellow ASAI illustrators, to participate with five invited architects’ teams to charrette ideas and drawings for future plans at Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs. Or if Henry was in the vicinity of another member, he made it a point to connect for a welcome visit; recently with Steve Oles in Taos, NM. He formed lasting friendships in so many sectors of his life – that were full of commitment, adventure, challenge, sacrifice, unselfishness, wisdom, vitality and especially so with his genuine, impish laughter. There is way too much more to say about Henry…except now there is only a deep sadness at his sudden remove.
In body, Hank has left us, but so much of our Dear Friend still remains.
Tina Bryant, ASAI Executive Director: “I am just now receiving this news. I don’t have the words to express my own personal loss, the loss to our industry and the loss to our organization. I am profoundly sad. So many memories are flooding into my heart. Henry was a deeply kind man and a dear friend. I’m going to need a moment to collect my thoughts…I’m heartbroken. Thank you for your friendship, Henry. We had the biggest belly laugh at the most inappropriate moment in London. That is just one of the memories I will hold close in my heart. For years, we bantered about my getting a “Henry Elmer Sorenson, Jr. original“; but there was only one original and he has left us. I know the tears will fade, and I’ll be left with smiles of all that you were to me and to others. I love you, Hank.”
Thomas Schaller, Long Beach, CA ASAI/AIP 6 President – “Oh no … This seems impossible to grasp. What a shock. I was speaking with Hank just yesterday… How can this be? Such a profound loss. I have no adequate words…”
Gordon Grice, Toronto, ON ASAI/AIP7 President – “I always looked up to Henry because he was one of a kind. And he was fearless about everything; he was irreverent, curious, wise, generous, spontaneous, joyful, talented, and inquisitive about every area of human endeavor. The thing that always affected me most about Henry, and will stay with me forever, was his broad, mischievous, contagious smile. Henry was the Best”.
Barbara Ratner, Atlanta, GA ASAI/AIP13 President – “Henry didn’t waste a minute. He traveled everywhere that intrigued him, and had, I think, a wonderful time. I always wished I could take that sketching class he taught, just to see through his eyes and share the outdoors with him. I should have asked.”
Dick Sneary, Kansas City, KS ASAI/AIP15 President – “I first met Henry in Seattle (AIP 10), and found him to be great conversationalist, and had so many compliments for his ASAI member/friends. Hank loved entertaining us at our retreats, with his guitar and off-key, raspy (wannabe Tom Waits) voice. Henry was an original”.
Jane Grealy, Brisbane, AUS ASAI/AIP 17 President – “It is so difficult to accept this knowledge. What a life lived to the fullest. Loved by us all.”
Masaaki Yamada, Tokyo, JP ASAI/AIP26 President – “Henry was always kind and courteous to everyone. He had lived in Japan as a child, and was very interested in Japan. I remember when we went to Kyoto during the 2011 Tokyo Conference, he was always the only one who left the group to take pictures. So, I had to look for him every time. And I will never forget that every year at our Conferences, he would bring Montana whiskey and I would bring sake, and we would make a toast in someone’s room; there was also the local sake competition at the 2016 Boston Conference. It is heartbreaking that he will never be able to be there again.”
Stewart White, Baltimore, MD ASAI/AIP27 President – “Henry had the best smile, hands down. I have a James Gurney sketch of him in a sketch book somewhere. His Conference in Yellowstone was epic…So thoughtful.”
Jon Soules, Toronto, ON ASAI/AIP30 President – “You’ve expressed my feelings…perfectly Thomas. My condolences to all who knew Henry. He was so talented and kind and someone I always looked forward to seeing again. I hope to see many or all of you again soon. We’ll have a drink in his memory.”
Chris Grubbs, Savannah, GA Hugh Ferriss Memorial Prize Winner – “Henry…a gifted and humble spirit. I will think of you always.”
Elizabeth Day, San Marcos, TX First ASAI Member – “This is just crushing news. Henry was a treasured friend, a gifted and remarkable man, so very kind and giving. We were so lucky to have him in our lives. One of my favorite memories is his first AIP conference in Yellowstone immediately after 9/11, when he read the Bozeman crime report from decades ago and played the guitar for the 25 intrepid souls who managed to get to Yellowstone. I really have no words, just trying to breathe… My best wishes to all of you.”
OLE SORENSON posting his Facebook tribute – “Three days ago my oldest brother, Henry Sorenson, passed suddenly in the early morning hours of a heart attack. He was 76 years old, had had high blood pressure for a period of time but was dealing with it, he was exercising (he always exercised), had lost weight, and by all outward appearances was doing really well. His passing was truly a shock to all of us… Much to my surprise (though the truth is that it should not have surprised me), several people have posted up his passing as well as the ASAI, the American Society of Architectural Illustrators, of which he was an active member. Those postings have resulted in many very heart-felt remembrances and acknowledgments as to who he was in people’s lives, as opposed to the condolences that the vast majority of people share. Those acknowledgements opened up my eyes to the fact that I knew very little about my brother’s life other than that he was my brother, that he was a professor at Montana State University, and that the things that other people loved about him were often things that I found annoying.”
“You could not go for a walk with Hank without his stopping to talk with virtually everybody, to pet a dog, to take a picture. At this point there will be a small ceremony up in Montana with his close family. Later we will plan one, and possibly two, memorials. One here in Florida, where for over 45 years he and his best friend, Ron Norris, hosted a party named appropriately the Beach Bash. The other, and this is not set in stone by any means, would be in Montana where he taught, his family lives, and where his other group of friends and compatriots are centered. The intention of course is to celebrate his life, but probably more importantly to celebrate life in general. I want to thank everybody who responded to my own messages and writings about my brother and let you know that I read every single one of them, and though I can’t respond to each and every one, they are all appreciated”.
From another Ole FB message – Thank you for your kind words about my brother. His passing was a shock to all of us. There was more for us to do. Hank & I were in the planning stages of yet another brothers’ trip; like the one we took to Peru several years ago…now, well, it won’t be the same going back to Normandy, Bastogne, Angkor Wat, that I’d visited and wanted to share with him. My way of coping is to write. This was written the day of his passing…
“Thinking about life and trying to create something that makes sense to me, I think that our lives are like a sentence in a book. We do not know how the book started, who’s the author, or even if it’s a comedy, tragedy, action thriller, or romance novel… we are simply one sentence in the tome. Nor do we know how the book ends, or even if it does end. Perhaps it is continuously in the writing phase much like the Sagrada Familia is constantly being built. We are simply a sentence. The beginning of that sentence, that capital letter, is our birth. The period, exclamation mark, or question mark at the end is simply…the end of the sentence. What happens in between is our life. Much like an author trying to find the right words to express the ideas in his mind, we evolve. The sentence that is us shifts backwards and forwards, explores other avenues, until hopefully we find something precise enough to express who we are. Some of us are lucky enough to find the right words to express ourselves honestly and clearly. Others of us never find the right words, being lost in the forest that is both the dictionary and the thesaurus of our life, oftentimes getting close to what we’re trying to say, attempting to be, but never hitting home the way we would truly like. Today, at 1:20 in the morning, in a hospital in Bozeman, Mt, the period was placed on the sentence that was my brother’s life. There was more to be written…”
Perfection Wasted – John Updike
Another regrettable thing about death – is the ceasing of magic, which took a whole life to develop and market –
the quips, the witticisms, the slant adjusted to a few – those loved ones nearest the lip of the stage –
their soft faces blanched in the footlight glow – their laughter close to tears – their tears confused with their diamond earrings –their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat – their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one; imitators and descendants aren’t the same.
Sam M., MSU Student – “I was very sad to learn of Henry’s sudden passing. He was one of my favorite professors in all of my studies and I considered him a friend. As a grad student coming to Bozeman from Las Vegas – a total newbie – I felt like Henry always looked out for me and made sure I was adjusting to life in Montana. He didn’t owe me a thing, and he looked out for me anyway. As a grad student taking one of his observation drawing classes for the first time, my first impression was that he was demanding and sarcastic. While there may be some truth to both, that hardly describes the depth of his life and his experience. I got to know Henry well in the year and a half I was in Bozeman. I traveled on foreign study with him to Bolivia and Peru, and seeing the way he approached the world and opened himself to so many experiences and inputs has helped me shape my own life. He always took care of himself physically… at Machu Picchu, he hiked as high and as far as any of us. I have some really great memories of that trip and drawing/watercoloring with him. I also was a Teaching Assistant in one of his 2nd-year architectural graphics classes, and it was often entertaining to be on the other side of seeing students meet and react to Henry for the first time. We kept in touch after I finished grad school. He came to San Francisco for an ASAI conference, we met up, and we went to meet him and Shaila for breakfast the last time I was in Montana. I can still hear him yelling at some of my fellow students when we were touring Peru…”Colter, you’re in my picture!”….We will all miss you, Henry.”
Marissa F., MSU student – “Henry shared his talent and gifts freely with the world, impacting the lives of countless individuals. Henry loved to travel and experience new places, but as his photography and drawings illustrate, he found beauty in the mundane. Through observation and field drawing Henry taught his students to see, using “the Mind’s Eye.” He was a kind soul that taught how to be present and at peace. What an impactful legacy Henry left behind that will live on in the hearts of the people he touched, changing future generations.”
Lindsey L., MSU – “So grateful for the skills I learned to express myself/make beautiful images. Also for introducing me to different cultures and crafts and helping me to see the world a little through your eyes & appreciate the beauty around us, especially in old things / the intersection of humans and nature. I’ve been able to use this skill to give others gifts of beautiful documentation/memories. Sending thoughts/hugs to your family & closest friends – I know they will be really missing you. You have left quite the legacy.”
Marcel VG, MSU student – “Really sad to hear of the passing of Henry…one of my professors at MSU, brilliant artist and had an amazing hand for sketches. Thank you for all your lessons and dedication to your students…”
James S, MSU student – “He was the best to ever do it. He shared it with us and brought out our best work. Thanks dude, you are a real one 100%-ter.”
Tina Bryant, ASAI Ex. Director – “A beautiful soul has left us with our cherished memories of him. How do you describe this man and in what order do you put the words as grief is processed? Kind, talented, passionate, photographer, wise, peaceful, quick to laugh, husband, friend, father, professor, curious, brother, humble, colleague, son, musician. We as a community are shocked and saddened, along with so many, by this news. Allow us some time to put together an official statement that will honor Hank appropriately; but for now, know that we are grieving with you as our hearts are also broken.”