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News . Feature Stories . Michael Clay Zahratka '64 grateful for creative life, CIA education


June 18, 2015

Michael Clay Zahratka '64 grateful for creative life, CIA education

Grad planned gift to support scholarships for future students

By Kylie M. Eyre

It was no surprise when an art teacher at Lorain High School identified Michael Clay Zahratka’s exceptional artistic talent and encouraged him to enroll at Cleveland Institute of Art.

As one of ten siblings, and the only one to become an artist, Zahratka was constantly creating. “He was the one that ended up with the talent and the eye,” his younger brother, Robert, said. To make his dream of attending CIA a reality, he received scholarship support and his parents and siblings pinched every penny.

While at CIA, Zahratka flourished. He majored in Painting, learned from some of the best professors in the field, and became well-prepared to launch a career in art. Following graduation in 1964, he completed a fellowship from Syracuse University and was offered a full-time position teaching art history and painting at Eastern Michigan University. He loved to teach and loved his time at EMU, which included a one-year sabbatical to study art and cultures across Europe—an experience he greatly enjoyed. Nearly 40 years and countless inspired students later, he retired from teaching in 2003.

Described by his brother as “a creator and a collector,” Zahratka had an eye for finding uniqueness in art. As a creator, he meticulously crafted multimedia objects, including one seven-foot piece titled “The Witch” that he created using tree branches found on his 10-acre farm in Michigan. Over the course of his lifetime, Zahratka created more than 38 multimedia objects. Many of the components in these objects were hand-carved out of metal or wood, and the level of detail was extraordinary. As a collector, Zahratka searched antique shops and flea markets for tin toys (he had over 600), majolica pottery, and Elfinware, among other items.

Whether he was teaching, creating, collecting, or motoring through the Michigan countryside in his Triumph T3 (another passion of his), Zahratka lived life to its fullest. And he never forgot his time at CIA and the support he received. He felt fortunate for the education and opportunities CIA provided him, and he wanted to help the next generation of artists share these experiences as well.

Before his death in July 2014, Zahratka showed his appreciation by planning a gift to support undergraduate scholarships at CIA. “It was always important for Michael to give back for what he had. His mind worked in the generous category,” his brother reminisced. By establishing a scholarship fund, his support helps make the dream of attending CIA a reality for many students—just as it was made available for him.

For more information on how to invest in CIA’s future, contact Sarah Ott-Hansen, director of leadership and planned giving, at 216.421.8016 or

Eyre is CIA’s assistant director of annual giving + alumni relations.

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