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Felix Ampah chose a life of art and teaching in the Twin Cities over a position of leadership in the government of his native Ghana.

Ampah, an award-winning professor of art and graphic design at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, died on Feb. 26 at his Richfield home of a pulmonary embolism.

He was 53.

Ampah, who taught at the college for 26 years and was chairman of the art and design department several times, also owned the Ampah Gallery of fine art in Richfield with his wife.

In 1977, he came to the Twin Cities to study art at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, earning a bachelor's degree in 1979.

His college classmate and colleague, Jake Jacobson, said Ampah "was probably the heart of the program" at the college.

"He was the quiet leader, behind the scenes of the program," Jacob said. "He was a genuinely humble person."

Ampah was a member of the royal family in the Abeadze Dominase Traditional Area in Ghana. He was being groomed for a leadership role in Ghana's government, but his family gave their blessing for him to study art in America.

"He loved art," Jacobson said. "Since he was a child, his brush really never stopped moving."

Jacobson said Ampah strove to make his gallery a place to "celebrate life and art," with an eye to educating patrons about fine art, and showing the work of up-and-coming artists. Seminars on art also are given at the gallery.

At the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, he taught art history, upper-level design and fine art classes.

Ampah gave time to his students freely after class, and was always encouraging them.

"He would make them feel they were on top of the world," Jacobson said.

Ampah was named the college's first Teacher of the Year in 2005 and 2006, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system honored him with the Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2007.

Deta Halilovic of Minnetonka, a former student and graphic arts specialist on the college staff, said Ampah was a "really good lecturer" but was known for his support of sensitive art students.

"He really had his ways to boost your confidence," Halilovic said. He gently "got me to think from different angles."

Ampah holds an English degree from a Ghanian university, and a master of fine arts degree from what is now called California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland.

For several years, he was an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota.

His wife, Silvia, will carry on his work at their art gallery.

The gallery "was his dream," she said.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sons, Oliver and Antony, both of St. Louis Park; brothers Philip Stephen and Patrick, of Ghana; sisters Theresa and Irene, of Ghana, and many extended family members in Ghana..

Services in Minneapolis have been held. Services in Ghana are planned.