June 04, 2021
Throughout the pandemic, CIA has hosted virtual talks—Creativity Hour and Fireside Chat—that invite alumni to share insight with the CIA community. With that in mind, Link asked alumni to share the best advice they received as students. For many, lessons learned at CIA have endured.
David Verba ’80: Advice from Julian Stanczak ’54, insight from stranger stuck with me
When I first started at CIA, an instructor suggested I hang in the hallway a large 4x5-foot acrylic painting I had done on my own and not part of a project so he could see it and get back to me with some comments. This was, it seemed like, Week 2 of being a student. Meanwhile, another older instructor, who I did not know but learned later from my instructor was highly regarded and about to retire, talked to me at length about the work. I don't remember if he saw me looking at the work and started a conversation or what, but I do remember one of the things he said to me was that the most colorful exhibit he ever saw was an exhibit in which the artist only used a few colors in every painting. That talk from my first weeks at CIA has always stayed with me.
As a side note to that memory is another brief—but more essential—one. Julian Stanczak told me to “go to the art museum and don’t look at who did the artwork or the date.” He emphasized this next point in his Julian Stanczak way: “Just look at what is going on in each work!” That one sentence, to me at least, is essential to really understanding art and always goes through my mind when looking at art.
Connie Simon ’72: Carroll Cassill helped me believe in myself as an artist
The faculty member I received much wise advice from back in the ’70s was Carroll Cassill in Printmaking. Among many other wise statements, he told me to “believe in my own handwriting.” He helped me do just that. Of course, believing in your own unique temperament and style is the essence of being a fine artist and not always easy.
Leonard Koscianski ’77: Ed Mieczkowski ’57 helped us keep it real
Ed Mieczkowski wasn’t what you would call a “nice” teacher. In fact, he was rather caustic and sarcastic, but he was our god. Regarding our assignments: “This is not a game, it’s for REAL.” I recently started working with the LewAllen Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which has represented Ed for years. I will be showing in the same gallery with my mentor! How’s that for REAL!
Kimberly Chapman ’17: Richard Fiorelli ’74 helped cast doubts aside
Choosing just one CIA faculty member who had a strong impact on my art career is akin to choosing a favorite child. It’s impossible. But if I had to—absolutely had to choose just one—it would my Foundation Design teacher Richard Fiorelli. I was in my mid-50s when I arrived at CIA in search of a BFA in Ceramics. Truth be told, I was terrified—sometimes to the point of immobilization. It was Richard who listened to my doubts and provided sound advice in my first year. He suggested I “squelch the seed of doubt;” otherwise, it will keep growing. He told me to pull it up by its gnarly roots and cast it aside. Typical of Richard, his advice came with numerous and humorous illustrations. Today, as I strive to be a compelling artist with a message and work hard to navigate the deep waters of the art world, I still find myself heeding his advice. I agree with Richard—the seed of doubt never helped anyone.
Catherine Butler ’81: Wisdom from Miller ’40, Salomon guides my career
I have two from John Paul Miller and one from Judith Salomon.
From John Paul Miller during a one-on-one discussion of a piece I was working on in jewelry class: “I can only tell you what I would do if this were my piece, but you and I do not think at all alike, so do what you will with what I suggest.” The freedom to ignore or discard his suggestions made me consider his input more seriously, and made me consider what my intent was and what would best serve that intent in my work. I use some variation of his words in my teaching, encouraging students to use their own agency, intellect and intuition as they consider feedback.
From Mr. Miller in a one-on-one conversation in my BFA Exhibition: “But Catherine, you have to make pieces that somebody could love!” To which I replied, “But, I love these pieces!” (knowing also that my friends, peers and some other faculty loved them, too). It made me realize that I was heading into uncharted territory, and that even when someone you had the utmost respect for didn't agree with that direction, it is important to follow your intuition.
From Judith Salomon (when she was a relatively new faculty member): “Catherine, doesn’t anyone here make small jewelry pieces like earrings that people can wear every day?” At that time, all the Jewelry and Silversmithing students were working on major pieces that took months, if not years, to complete. Her comment completely changed my trajectory in life, as I started making little abstract pins and earrings that eventually evolved into figurative pins, earrings and necklaces, a production line that was hugely successful for me for a good 20 years and essentially launched my career as an artist and art educator.
Valerie Mayen ’05: Gene Pawlowski ’65 advised to focus on why, not what
During my fifth year, when I was working on my thesis, I was stuck on what narrative to pursue. I had too many ideas and not enough focus that felt purposeful. Gene Pawlowski noticed my struggle and advised me to think less about what I wanted to make, or a collection of pretty illustrations just to fill gallery walls, and rather to dwell on the why. He encouraged me to think about what I wanted to say as an artist, why I wanted to say it and to whom I wanted to say it—for what purpose. This simple statement led me to develop a concept that took my illustration work to a new level that included performance art, fundraising, nonprofit collaborations, spoken word and even fashion design, which culminated at Cleveland Public Theatre for a three-night performance run. It was a body of work I was the proudest of in my career as an artist. It inspired me to pursue deeper reasons and initiatives when I started my handmade slow fashion business in 2008, which I still run. Gene was my biggest champion and truly took the time to listen, problem solve and support his students.
Peyton Leatherman ’20: Lincoln Adams ’98 spoke of the value of committing
The advice that has stuck with me is from Animation professor Lincoln Adams ’98. My junior year, I had to start deciding what my specialty would be, and I was putting it off because I was terrified to commit to the wrong thing. He told me something along the lines of, “No decision you make will outlive you.” It made me less afraid. I realized putting your all into a career path and realizing you want something else is way better than not committing fully to anything. I’ll always have time to start over, nothing is really permanent.
Kristin Brindza ’20: Dan Cuffaro ’91 emphasized the importance of innovation
I graduated last May from Industrial Design, and even though I received countless pieces of helpful advice, there's one piece that I still use today when talking about innovation and not always needing to succeed but at least move the needle. My senior year, I struggled with my Housewares project and moving out of the zone of not being too innovative but also keeping things fresh and new.
My professor, Dan Cuffaro, gave me the example of an older Apple iMac that had a rotating screen. He showed me an advertisement video for it and we had a discussion around the product. His advice was around how not every product I will design will win an award or be in everyone's home, but I can always try to get people thinking—and that thinking can lead to something even better. Obviously, this version of the computer did not stick around long, however it did help Apple formulate what the next generation version could be like and got competitors thinking about this new way to interact with a screen. I've used this example and advice multiple times since hearing it and I think it's a great example of a product that did not necessarily succeed but instead led the way for better innovation.
Linda Zolten Wood ’87: Larry Kraus showed me the light
The best advice I got that I still use today was from Larry Kraus, second-year Painting in 1983, when I brought in a finished piece from my apartment that was painted with minimal lighting at night. It was dark, limited value range and grim. He told us to have a mixture of light, from daylight to incandescent bulbs to wide-spectrum color represented—and MORE LIGHT than you think you need to help you mix and SEE the colors that you're using.
Also, it was Larry who told us to use a white palette surface to mix colors on or you'd distort the colors. Great advice.
Gale Gand ’80: Moe Brooker’s lessons push my creativity as a chef
I was a Metalsmithing major but took painting from Moe Brooker. He was such an interesting and passionate teacher. He really influenced my creative process and how I looked at things.
I am a pastry chef now and have had a robust 40-plus year career, receiving two James Beard Awards, doing a TV show called Sweet Dreams on the Food Network for 10 years, writing eight cookbooks (another on the way), and serving as pastry chef at my own and others' restaurants. I started cooking during my time at CIA at Light of Yoga, which was at the top of Coventry. (If anyone knows a way for me to reach someone from there, please contact me.)
I have a reputation for plating things beautifully and I attribute that to Moe. He taught me to not only see an object, but to see negative space, line, color and shading and use it to guide the viewer's eye to where you want it to go. Also, I remember a day we were drawing and he took away the use of color—all color, gone. We had to draw in black, gray and white. When the class started to complain, he explained that when you take away our usual tools we use to express ourselves, it helps us reach beyond to new solutions we otherwise wouldn't have tried. I use that all the time now. I take away the comfortable solutions I always gravitate toward because they've worked in the past, and it pushes me to new heights in my creativity, finding something REALLY new as a solution. It's kept me innovative and separate from my fellow pastry chefs, in a good way. It's made me a trendsetter and a leader in my field.
Eric Mantle ’66: John Paul Miller ’40 was the best teacher I ever had
John Paul Miller's advice about creating a quality visual image was to choose a simple/mundane subject and present it in a complex/unique manner. John Paul Miller was the best teacher I ever had. His teaching was always a guide to me, and helped me be a better teacher during my 48 years in the classroom.
Chuck Tramotana ’65: Advice from Viktor Schreckengost ’29 guided my career
Being the first child to attend college from an immigrant family, I was truly blessed to have selected the Cleveland Institute of Art to attend and have John Paul Miller, Fred Miller and Viktor Schreckengost as my professors—and lifelong mentors and dear friends.
As design director of the Gorham Silver Co. and then senior vice president of design at Nachtmann USA (a fine crystal manufacturer), I would almost daily think of one of these three great artisans and strive to achieve the high standard of excellence each of them inspired in their students.
Vik had three quips he would often express to his product design students—and to me in particular—for the obvious reasons: Firstly, “The best design is no good to anyone if it comes in a day late.” Secondly, “Keep one eye on the drawing board and one eye on the clock.” And lastly but most significant, “Oftentimes, a good design is passed over because it has not been presented properly.”
Vik’s favorite design assignment was his dinnerware project. Several weeks of designing plates, cups and saucers, turning plaster models, cutting cross sections to insure functionality, stacking requirements, design and sculpting comfortable cup handles, etc. I honestly had the least interest in this assignment. Ironically, six years after graduation, I was assistant director of design at Gorham Silver Co. when Gorham purchased a china company and a fine crystal company to expand Gorham's presence in total tabletop products of silver, fine china and fine crystal. Within the year, I visited and worked with design and production staffs of fine china and fine crystal companies in Germany, Italy, England and Ireland. Oftentimes, when I was alone after an overseas production meeting, I would look up and say, “Thank you, Viktor, you really made me look good today”—and he did many, many times over during my career.
As a trustee and honorary trustee of the Attleboro Arts Museum in Attleboro, Massachusetts, I have curated three exhibitions in honor of Viktor Schreckengost. The first, Viktor Schreckengost, honored his 100 birthday and him receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The second, Viktor Schreckengost & Legacy, exhibited more than $600,000 of Vik’s original oil and watercolor paintings, ceramic sculptures, dinner ware, appliances, toys and pedal cars as well as the design work of 22 of his design students. The third, Compact & Collectible, exhibited 70 pedal cars, mostly Vik’s, and was attended by more than 4,000 visitors to the museum.
Most definitely John Paul Miller, Fred Miller and Viktor Schreckengost had nothing less than an inspirational and dynamic influence on my professional career.
Jef Sturm ’63: No one had a better drawing education than me
What can I say? It was the best four years I ever spent. My teachers and professors were the best anyone could have. I have numerous memories of the advice and counseling that I received from them. John Paul Miller ’40, Francis Myers, Joseph Paul Jankowski ’49, Marco DeMarco ’40, Emilio Grossi, John Clague ’56—no one had a better education than I did in drawing, painting and design. At this time, at the tender age of 80, I am still working as a painting teacher. I have more than 20 students, both private and public. I am in five galleries and sell my work. Not to mention that I had a graphic design business for about 38 years. There is no better institute of learning than CIA. I will remember it always and be forever grateful to have studied there.
Benjamin Rodriguez Jr. ’05: Lane Cooper changed my life
I graduated from the CIA in 2005, and like many, struggled to find work in the area of my interest. I took any job I could find because I was also a newlywed and needed to help my wife in any way possible. Lane had been a big mentor of mine during my time at the CIA and we always kept in touch. In 2006, she suggested I come back to work as a technical advisor in my old major, which was the T.I.M.E. (Technology Integrated Media Environment) program. They were looking for new TAs, and I knew I could help with everything I had learned while there.
Back then, CIA was a five-year program and T.I.M.E. was a relatively new digital arts major. I had heard about the program during my foundational years and fell in love when I discovered that it offered digital filmmaking. Movies were everything to me growing up, and finding out that this new major at CIA was going to give me the ability to learn and start making my own films was incredible. I spent all of my time during the three years of my major making short films and being enamored by all the new technology we had to work with.
I met Lane in my second year. She was an art history teacher when she first came to the CIA and I immediately regretted taking her class. It was hard, tons of work—and soon I found myself struggling and failing it. But Lane took it upon herself to meet with me after hours to help me get my grade up. She is brilliant and tough but has the kindest of hearts and helps push her students to see in themselves what they’re capable of achieving.
In 2006, when I was working in the T.I.M.E. program as a technical advisor, Lane told me that I needed to go to film school and I should start applying. Of course, I knew of the many film schools out there but had never thought about going to one. She asked me which ones I thought would interest me and the first and only one I thought of was New York University. My father was born in New York City but moved to Ohio at about age 12. Family has always been important to my parents, and so along with my sisters, we would take yearly trips to NYC to see all of our distant relatives. The idea of graduate film school was daunting, and I never thought I would get in because I knew they were highly selective. But Lane persisted.
She believed in my talent and work and thought that this is the path I needed to try for. So, at the very last minute, I completed and sent off my application for the Tisch Graduate Film Program at NYU. Months went by without hearing a word and I just thought nothing was going to come of it. I never had my hopes up because I felt it was too big of a dream and undertaking. My wife and I discussed the possibility of having to move away from our families and figuring out the cost of paying for it was a lot to consider. But my wife, with the ever-loving support she has for me, would always tell me this is something that could open doors and we’ll figure it out.
Then the letter came and said that I was one of the last one hundred finalist and that I needed to come to NYC for an interview with the faculty. Everything changed and I couldn’t believe it, this could actually happen. My wife and I drove to NYC, I went to my interview and thought it went well. Back home in Ohio, now that this was becoming more of a possibility, my wife and I started to have more serious talks about what we would do. She was excited and scared, of course. Both of us had never lived anywhere other than Ohio. But we both agreed that if the opportunity comes, I couldn’t turn it down. This could be a chance to reach my dream of becoming a filmmaker. Lane was excited and hoping for the best. I think a part of her was also shocked that this idea of hers might actually work.
About a month later after the interview at NYU, I was home by myself when the phone rang. It was the chair of the graduate film program. He said, “Hello, Ben. I’m just calling to tell you that you’ve been accepted into the 2007 fall class of the Tisch Graduate Film Program at NYU.”
I made it through the intensely hard but incredibly fun three years of the program. Learned a lot about myself as a filmmaker and developed friendships that continue to last to this day. During the program, I discovered more of a love for the craft of editing, and after completing my studies at NYU, I found myself working at one of the top commercial editorial companies in NYC. From that experience, I made new relationships that led me to editing my first feature film, Dog Eat Dog, with legendary writer-director Paul Schrader. We then worked together again on his critically acclaimed film, First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke. Most recently, Paul and I finished his latest film, The Card Counter, starring Oscar Issac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe.
I know I am incredibly blessed and fortunate to be doing something I love, and it isn’t without the love and support of many people that got me to this point. Even to this day, my wife and I will joke around in saying that all this is Lane’s fault. But we couldn’t be happier, although our parents do wish we lived back home in Ohio. Occasionally, we think about what our lives would have been like if Lane hadn’t told me that I needed to go to film school. Would we have moved away from Ohio? What career path would I have had? It’s crazy to think that just a small thought in one person's mind could have such an enormous impact on two young people's lives. I love Lane for having the belief in me even when I didn’t believe it and I am forever indebted to her for lighting the spark. She is very special to me and a person I hold near and dear to my heart. I hope that one day I have the opportunity to help someone else reach their dream and pass on the spark that was given to me.
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