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News . Feature Stories . Faculty member designs symbolic CIA chain of office


March 20, 2023

Faculty member designs symbolic CIA chain of office

President + CEO Kathryn J. Heidemann wears her CIA chain of office while sharing a moment with her son, August, after her investiture ceremony in September. Photo by Amber N. Ford ’16.

By Jordan Berkovitz

When Kathryn J. Heidemann was named President + CEO of the Cleveland Institute of Art, Board chair Cynthia Prior Gascoigne charged Craft + Design faculty member Matthew Hollern with a dazzling task: “We’re going to need some new bling.”

The bling in question was a chain of office, a symbolism-rich ceremonial adornment often worn by top collegiate and civic officials.

“As a symbolic object, the chain of office represents the essential elements of a college, and creates a unified whole for the president to wear, and for all to see,” says Hollern, professor and academic coordinator for the Jewelry + Metals concentration within Craft + Design.

The chain of office is a relatively new tradition at CIA. It was inspired by Board member Michael Schwartz, who served as president at both Kent State University and Cleveland State University and would attend CIA ceremonies in full regalia, including two presidential medals.

The first CIA chain of office was presented to President Emeritus Grafton Nunes in 2018, during his tenure as President + CEO. Heidemann received hers during her investiture ceremony on September 23, 2022.

What went into Heidemann’s chain of office? “The process starts with a good conversation about the College and the recipient. This is essential because empathy is the first component of design thinking,” Hollern says.

“Research and initial concepts help shape a design brief with concepts and parameters. A familiar process of design then opens up to sketches and renderings, which leads to the next conversation,” he continues. “Iteration affords design experimentation, variations and prototypes, along with aesthetic considerations. Material language is essential to designers and makers, and each material is considered for physical, aesthetic and symbolic value.”

Meetings with Gascoigne determined final design elements. Ultimately, the chain—made from sterling silver, bronze, enamel, and lab-grown ruby cabochons—was created through 3D modeling and 3D printing, lost wax casting, fabrication, stone setting, enameling and hand-finishing.

Hollern describes every element of Heidemann’s chain of office as significant. The palette of bronze, oranges and reds was one of the more important considerations. The center medallion design refers to the pediment window on the north façade of the original Joseph McCullough Center for the Visual Arts and features CIA’s logo.

At the other end, the counterweight element features the original name of the school, the Western Reserve School of Design for Women, and 11 keystones symbolic of CIA’s 11 presidents. The chain includes 10 medallions, which represent six academic disciplines and four essential elements of the College: Foundation, Liberal Arts, craft, design, entertainment arts, visual arts, the Jessica R. Gund Memorial Library, the Cinematheque, the Jane B. Nord Center for Teaching + Learning, and Reinberger Gallery. The chain is heavy and hinged at each link, industrial and refined, representing characteristics of CIA and the city of Cleveland.

One special design component was kept secret by Hollern. In her first post as president on Instagram (@ciaprez), Heidemann shared a photo of herself at age 4 dressed as Wonder Woman and reflected on working with artists and designers and their “superhero powers.” This led to a bronze element fashioned after the headband of Wonder Woman that unites the two wings of the chain at the center medallion.

What sets CIA’s chains of office apart from those at other institutions? Their uniqueness. “Unlike a traditional chain of office made for and held by a college or university, the chains of office at CIA have been offered as unique ceremonial regalia for each of the two most recent presidents,” Hollern says.

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