Mark Dean: Artist, engineer and over-achiever

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Hill resident Mark Dean exudes a quiet energy — polite, respectful and always up for a new challenge.

Mark Dean, Pine Cove resident, artist, engineer and marathon runner is our Artist of the Week. He is seen here with his bike, Erika, “a story for another time,” Dean noted. Photo by Marshall Smith

He ran the Boston Marathon in 2013 and finished with a qualifying time of 3 hours, 45 minutes, just 40 minutes before the first bombs exploded. Dean’s time qualified him to run again in 2014.

Having been a late-starting soccer phenom in college, he began training for the U.S. Soccer National Amateur Championship immediately after the Boston Marathon. While training, he tore his Achilles tendon.

Determination is key to Dean’s character, part of how he approaches his life. He knew he had qualified to run the Boston in 2014 and yet could not run after his injury. “I had to train for the Boston by walking,” said Dean. “I couldn’t run. But I knew I had to compete.” He did run in 2014, with a torn Achilles tendon, and finished 33 seconds shy of qualifying for 2015, with a time of 3 hours, 65 minutes, 32 seconds.

Born in Boston and raised in San Diego, determination and an interest in the natural world around him showed up early for Dean. “It was obvious in kindergarten I had artistic ability,” said Dean. “Other kids were drawing stick figures and I was drawing forms. In high school, I won the Bank of America Achievement Award in Art for my body of work.”

Dean first attended Mesa College as an art major. “Two things I excelled at were art and soccer,” he recounted. “I had not played team soccer in high school but tried out for the team at Mesa. I made the team and we came in third in the San Diego County Soccer League my first year, having come in last the year before. Then, in my second year, we beat San Diego State to finish first taking the Kennedy Tournament Cup. Seamus McFadden was on the team. He went on to become head soccer coach at the University of San Diego.”

Dean creates wood-burned etchings on his Manzanita lamps and other pieces. In this piece, Dean has etched a sleeping lion, one in his “Fantasy Idyllwild Wildlife” series. Photo courtesy of Mark Dean

Art took a back seat for much of his life as Dean pursued a successful career in engineering. He had obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1979 from San Diego State in Industrial Studies with an art minor, and got an extraordinarily challenging job right out of the gate — from a college job board. He began working for Dr. Gabriel Maria Giannini, noted physicist, inventor and aerospace executive. “I worked for him for eight years,” said Dean. “He treated me like a son. I worked at his Kearny Mesa plant as his mechanical designer, doing military contracting.”

Always alert to challenges, Dean noticed that computers were changing mechanical engineering. “I thought that unless I did something, I would become obsolete in my field,” he recalled. He went back to college in 1987 and took a course in Computer Aided Design. With that in his resume and a new skill set, Dean continued to prosper in his engineering field, designing high-end cooling products for military aviation.

“My artistic senses were in a cocoon during that time,” Dean noted with a glint in his eye. “I was an engineering worm for 33 years, but now that cocoon is beginning to hatch. I’m not sure what the result will be — butterfly or moth — but I’m hatching.”

When Dean was younger, his father had sold a lot on Cape Cod to buy a cabin in Pine Cove. While working in the San Diego area, the Pine Cove cabin had become a part-time getaway for Dean and his family. Dean bought a cabin across from his father’s cabin in 2005, intending to tear it down and make more parking for the family cabin. Instead, he spent four years rebuilding and remodeling it. “I put my heart and soul into that project,” he noted. He had previously bought and remodeled five homes in the San Diego area, doing all his own work.

He moved to the Hill full-time in 2010. After a divorce that was final in 2015, Dean turned his attention to his art with the same determination and focus as had propelled his running successes. “My friend Julia Meadows had a gallery in Idyllwild and told me she’d give me a show for my photography,” said Dean. “I started photographing Idyllwild’s landscape, the beauty of our mountain and our community. I was committed to the art form, something, along with painting and drawing, that I had explored while in college. I shot for a year before the gallery showing.”

With a runner’s energy, Dean is wiry and moves with purpose. In abating his property of manzanita, he recalled that his father had always wanted to retire in Idyllwild and make lamps from manzanita. “My father was a great man,” said Dean, “a truly great man. I loved my father dearly.” To honor his father, Dean began making lamps from the manzanita. “It’s personal,” he said.

He picked up a wood-burning set and began etching on the lamps, creating what he calls whimsical fantasy wildlife of Idyllwild — animals such as the Bengal Tiger, lion, Scottish Red Squirrel and the Kodiak Bear that have not inhabited the San Jacinto Mountains. “Our black bear kind of changed that,” he laughed.

Dean continues to grow in what he does. He recently finished on the podium in a half marathon, third place in the San Diego Craft Classic. “Next year I turn 65, and you know what that means?” he asked. “It means I enter a whole new age class of runners and I’m ready to post some wins.

“With my art, I want to progress as well toward a lifetime achievement, a large chainsaw sculpture for Idyllwild before I leave this Earth. I want to move on to other mediums and have all my art be one-of-a-kind originals. That’s who I am. I want to do pottery, clay sculpture and start to paint again. I’m thinking of entering the Plein Air next year. I just don’t want to stop.

“My mother suffered from dementia. As long as I am learning new things, staying engaged with life, keeping a healthy mental and physical state, and enjoying myself, I will continue to grow and create.”

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