Schenectady homicide victim Duane Todman recalled as spiritual, talented artist

Colleagues are remembering Duane Todman, who was slain Saturday night, as a talented artist with a flair for the spiritual
Colleagues are remembering Duane Todman, who was slain Saturday night, as a talented artist with a flair for the spiritual

SCHENECTADY — The first day Charlie Sweeney met Duane Todman, they drank tea and talked about art for hours.

It wasn’t long before Todman took what he referred to as his “holy grail” of an art guide from an old mentor, painstakingly photocopied the pages, bound them together with shoelaces and gave them to his new pal. 

“He was a sweetheart and an enormous talent,” said Sweeney of Todman.

Sweeney spoke of Todman Tuesday, the day after police identified Todman as the man shot and killed Saturday night on Craig Street in Schenectady. Todman was 27. No arrests have been made.

Todman was recalled Tuesday by friends in the art world as a talented artist with spiritual depth and a keen eye for observation. 

“He would often come to large events and set up an easel and just paint the room,” said Kristen Holler, executive director of the Albany Barn, the arts cooperative where Todman lived and worked before recently moving to Schenectady.

“I think he was just a person who saw and appreciated beauty in objects and tried to convey that,” Holler said. 

Todman was fond of oil painting, favoring a bold and penetrating style akin to Renaissance greats like Caravaggio, recalled Sweeney, an artist in residence at the Albany Barn.

More recently, Sweeney wanted to buy a painting from Todman, who agreed to lower the price if he could catch a ride with him to the Clark Art Institute at Williams College in Massachusetts to study the classical techniques of the masters.

“Like most modern people, he had ambivalence about his church upbringing, but had the desire to do the same things those Renaissance painters did,” Sweeney said. “As a young black man in today’s world, he swam against the grain.”

Todman was attracted to spiritual themes, with meditative poses featuring prominently in his work.

“I think he took a lot of comfort in his faith,” Holler said.

Todman was slain in front of Higher Ground Worship Center on Saturday, just steps from the Electric City Barn where he had a studio. 

His killing marked the second gunshot homicide in the city in four days.

In a case that also remains unsolved, Fred Gentry, 48, was fatally shot just blocks away on Tuesday night. 

Community activist William Rivas recalled Todman on Facebook Monday as a “generational talent when it comes to artistic ability.”

Rivas recalled how Todman approached him after learning of his community work and asked if he could paint his portrait. 

“I had the opportunity to spend a few days with him and realized his immense talent and genuine spirit,” Rivas wrote on Facebook, where he shared a photo of him sitting for the portrait. 

The pair were also collaborating on several community art projects. 

“I can never understand the loss of any life but for someone like him whose soul was so giving really does not sit well with me,” Rivas said.

Todman was also fond of sketching portraits of his neighbors at the Albany Barn. 

He moved to Schenectady only recently and Holler struggled to make sense of his slaying.

“There’s nothing that I can say that would make me think that he would be targeted by somebody,” she said. “But I believe it’s necessary that people know that regardless of how or why this senseless tragedy occurred, our community has lost a truly creative, talented,  and dedicated artist.”

Todman was quiet during his residency at the Albany Barn, and while he made friends, he never presented any issues. 

Sweeney said Todman wasn’t mixed up in gangs or criminal activity.

But he did have a habit of talking to strangers, including asking neighborhood figures to pose for him.

Todman’s talent also touched on screenplays, music and other media, Holler said, and the artist hoped to launch an exhibition on All Saint’s Day on Nov. 2. 

No information is immediately available on survivors, although Holler said he is survived by at least one sister, who also has a studio at the Albany Barn. 

Holler recalled how the artist would leave small reminders of himself even in his absence, including a note accompanying an unfinished still life, an arrangement of yarn, thread and a bolt of ribbon that will forever remain incomplete.

Only the yarn, a brilliant cobalt blue, stood out in an otherwise muted landscape. 

“Even when he was not in the space,” Holler said, “there was a piece there and you knew what Duane was working on.”

Anyone with information on Todman’s death is asked to contact the city police department’s TIPS line at 518-788-6566.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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