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News . Feature Stories . Jergens admired, respected by CIA community


March 20, 2023

Jergens admired, respected by CIA community

Ryan Bodley ’17 chats with Robert Jergens ’60 during the student scholarship reception in 2015.

By Michael C. Butz

“Truly inspirational.” “Kind, insightful and present.” “A grand man.” “An influential teacher.” “A beautiful soul.” Cleveland Institute of Art alumni and former colleagues shared these descriptions and many more of faculty emeritus Robert Jergens in the wake of his death on January 29.

Jergens was a 1960 graduate of CIA, and after attending Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and taught at CIA from 1969 to 2000. He was known to many as a demanding and gifted professor. In 2001, he was awarded faculty emeritus status, and in 2002, he became the first person after Viktor Schreckengost to win the Viktor Schreckengost Teaching Excellence Award.

“We were encouraged to experiment and find the inherent beauty of abstract forms, and his students knew to come prepared with the energy to debate through constructive critique,” says Pamela Argentieri ’87, one of Jergens’ former students. “I remember him looking excited as he picked up my over-labored drawing and ran it under water, allowing the colors to bleed and run together. He opened my eyes to what a serious artist is. I still have the letter I received from him welcoming me to CIA”

Craft + Design professor Matthew Hollern joined CIA in 1989, which is when he met Jergens. “He taught in the Foundation Design room next door to the Metals Department in the former Gund building on East Boulevard. We were colleagues for the rest of his tenure, and friends long after his retirement.

“Robert was a very important member of the faculty, particularly for his leadership of the Foundation Design faculty,” says Hollern. “Robert was a quiet leader, chair of Foundation for a period of time, and served as a role model and mentor to many faculty. His teaching was legendary, surprising, creative, thought-provoking. He taught students to see differently, and to think divergently.”

Jergens’ impact was felt long after he left CIA. From 1998 through 2017, he set up the Robert Jergens ’60 Scholarship for Excellence in Foundation Design for students who were pursuing Craft majors.

Hollern recalls Jergens approaching him about creating the scholarship during a Faculty Exhibition opening reception.

“Each year after, we invited Robert to attend our scholarship review process where we would select five winners, one for each major (Ceramics, Enamel, Fiber, Glass, Metals),” Hollern says. “Robert always deeply enjoyed the review, and lunch together with his colleagues in the Craft disciplines: Brent Kee Young, Judith Solomon, Bill Brouillard, Tina Cassara, Deborah Carlson, Kathy Buszkiewicz, Gretchen Goss and myself.

“Robert was always excited to see the young artists’ works, and loved to see the most innovative and ambitious works rewarded,” he continues. “He was exceptional, kind and remarkably generous. His scholarships were essential to scores of excellent students, and exceeded $300,000 over the decades.”

In his personal artistic practice, Jergens explored complex relationships between abstract composition and observed reality, with a particular concern for the way the mind processes optical data.

In 2016, he was presented with one of CIA’s top honors: the prestigious CIA Medal of Excellence for artistic achievement. “As an artist, Robert was always innovative, making work that was new and unfamiliar, edgy and quirky,” Hollern says.

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