Carnaval, Culebra, Encanto: Alexa Rivera Explores Puerto Rican Culture in Textiles

 Alexa Rivera, a recent Textile/Surface Design graduate who took Prof. Susanne Goetz’s advanced screen printing class last semester, created a collection of designs inspired by Puerto Rico. The collection combines the island’s Taino culture dating back to before Columbus arrived, local architecture, and florals, to beautifully merge history and textile design.

This stripe print invokes a desire to explore the streets of Old San Juan and heritage of the Taino.

Rivera (’22 AAS) says she had never created something that told a story about her culture. She set out to do just that. “Initially, I wrote down a list of things that come to mind when I think of Puerto Rico, such as Old San Juan, El Morro, coqui, dominoes, and La Carnaval.”

Puerto Rico is commonly known as La Isla del Encanto or Island of Enchantment for its beautiful beaches, mountain terrain and inviting climate.  It’s the name Rivera chose for her collection.

Each house in this print has texture and depth as it would appear in Old San Juan. A second stripe shows Taino symbols, a reflection of the island’s past.

The culture of Puerto Rico has been a big part of her life despite growing up in a military family that moved frequently before settling in Suffern, NY. “When I was given this assignment, I had no idea the journey it would take me on.” she said.

“Alexa did a great job,” said Prof. Susanne Goetz, “bringing together Taino culture, architecture, and florals in a way that combines history and textile design in a really beautiful way.”

A blotch print, one of three in Rivera’s collection, which focuses on Vejigantes masks, a feature of the pre-Lenten Carnaval.

The assignment’s objective was to develop a collection in three color combinations for a specific market. Carnaval, for instance, is an exhilarating festival with bright greens, lively magentas, bold yellows, and blues. Culebra invites viewers to escape into the soothing Caribbean waters with warm neutrals and calming blues. Encanto brings light to native island colors — deep blues, warm reds, crisp white, and accents of gold.

Rivera prefers to draw by hand when designing, “simply because I like the process of using pencil and paper.”

She started by drawing about 30 motifs that would then be used in her three designs. She sketched doors, houses, cobblestone, coqui (frogs), dominoes, Vejigante masks (typically worn during the carnival), bongos, and other objects in detail.

Hand-drawn motifs

Most of the motifs are hand drawn on tracing paper with black micron or sharpie. This makes it easier for Rivera to see how they layer together in Photoshop.

Hand-drawn motifs

“Puerto Rico has such a rich culture I wanted to incorporate as much of it as I could,” she said.  She then scanned each individual drawing into the computer, thresholding and designing her layout in Photoshop.

Each of the three prints was designed around the same story but each has a different layout:

“The first design is a ‘tossed layout’ that incorporates a multitude of different motifs in different shapes and sizes. The goal was to create interest: Everywhere one’s eye sees something new to be curious about.“

“There’s so many motifs to incorporate, so a ‘tossed’ print seemed most appropriate,” says Rivera.

The second print was a stripe design inspired by Old San Juan’s streets. San Juan, founded in 1521, is the capital and a city far older than any European settlement in North America. There exists El Morro, a fortress built by the Spanish, blue cobblestone streets and colorful, intricate architecture.

Screen printing starts with a design, in this case a stripe layout, with each dye color separated and printed onto vellum or some sort of transparency to make the “screens” for printing. Fabric areas that overlap appear as a third color, or “trap.”

Rivera says she felt compelled to represent Native American history as well. Taino were the indigenous people of the Caribbean; especially large populations inhabited Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. About two-thirds of all modern-day Puerto Ricans carry evidence of Taino ancestry.

The Taino used symbols to represent different deities, animals, and words. Rivera says she took some of these symbols into her designs to reflect the history of the Caribbean.

Vejigantes motif

Her third design was a blotch print that focuses heavily on the iconic Vejigantes masks, a major feature of the pre-Lenten Carnaval in Puerto Rico. The masks represent demons and can be quite scary. But they are often juxtaposed with bright, playful colors.

vejigantes masks with florals

This print plays with vejigantes masks, softened with florals. Rivera says it is one of her favorites, despite the challenges of drawing the movement and liveliness of the expressions.

vejigantes masks with florals

“I wanted to create a print that showcased the variety and intricate details of the masks, she said, “while softening them with floral elements and keeping the design lively with the addition of musical notes and dominoes.”

Rivera is currently a textile buying intern for URBN Anthropologie. “Seeing the process of cross functional teamwork has been super rewarding,” she says. “As a designer on a merchandising team, I was able to listen to customers through a sales perspective and to implement changes through design. I had the opportunity to design a beach towel collection for summer 2023.”

Alexa Rivera in Central Park

To see more of Alexa Rivera’s work, visit her website: AlexaRivera2MyPortfolio.com.

To learn more about the Textile Surface Design AAS and BFA programs visit: Textile/Surface Design at FIT.

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Pastry Shops, Book Stores and The New Yorker: Welcome to Prof. Jenny Kroik

This fall, incoming Illustration professor Jenny Kroik will bring not only her ongoing successful career to the core IL-264 course in visual interpretation. She also brings significant teaching experience. Working mainly in watercolor, she has three New Yorker covers published.

“Arthur Avenue” New Yorker cover by Jenny Kroik

Prof. Kroik’s credits also include the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Town & Country, Time, HBO, PBS, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. For the past three years, she has been teaching at Bronx Community College, but has also taught at the 92nd Street Y, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and CCNY. It adds up to about 15 years teaching undergraduates and 10 as a freelance illustrator.

Nightlife of Fish” by Jenny Kroik

IL 264, with six lab hours a week, is the second course in a two-semester sequence that goes beyond image creation itself to encompass gesture, motion, and personal style, in all media.

Prof. Kroik offered a glimpse of her professional life, the places she frequents for inspiration, and how birds and urban nature have been a comfort throughout the pandemic.

“I love painting people and portraying them with kindness and joy,” she says. She uses pleasing and sophisticated color combinations. “I love the tactile qualities of paint, and seeing how it translates to print and screen.”

“Annie at The MET” by Jenny Kroik

Bookstores, bakeries and museums frequently appear in Kroik’s illustrations. “These places are fun to paint,” she says. “They are all places that seem peaceful and warm to me. I love to paint those spaces and the people that occupy them.”

She seeks them out – easy in New York City. “I always love to find new spaces to paint. I guess the MET, MoMa and The Strand, as well as Book Culture are the places I go to most often. All the bakeries on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx are amazing.”

“The Strand” New Yorker cover by Jenny Kroik

We asked what skills, aside from the technical skills of all great illustrators, are necessary to be successful. “The most important skill for me was to learn to deal with the stresses of the job,” she said.

“Learning mindful meditation was a big help, since a lot of the time we are waiting, worrying, getting rejections or just silence…or not even knowing what it is we’re supposed to do.”

Because illustration is a field that is constantly changing, things that worked a few years ago aren’t necessarily working anymore for getting jobs or visibility. “Meditation helped me to be comfortable with uncertainty,” she said, “as comfortable as one can get!”

“Next Stop Spring” New Yorker cover by Jenny Kroik

[Regarding her second New Yorker cover, Prof. Kroik told art editor Françoise Mouly: “I saw this young girl glued to the window, fascinated by the [subway] tunnel. It got me thinking about how one’s imagination is always active when you’re a kid. I started wondering, what can she possibly see? Beautiful flowers? I tried to see the tunnel through her eyes.”]

“Arianna” by Jenny Kroik

Says Prof. Kroik, “Trusting yourself and your instincts is really key, and it’s a hill you have to climb over and over again throughout your life.”

It’s important, she says, to find something that gives you a sustainable balancing point, “beyond things that give you temporary comfort, such as a big slice of pie… though that’s good, too!”

Marsha P. Johnson by Jenny Kroik
James Baldwin by Jenny Kroik

Editors vary in how receptive they are to new talent that reflects a broader range of life experiences. “It depends, but the ones I know I believe are always looking for new talent and new voices. That’s what makes for awesome fresh artwork.”

Prof. Kroik does follow the news cycle, but not exactly to anticipate possible assignments.

“I respond to what is happening in the world because it’s often hard to ignore. Sometimes I feel like my work has a new perspective to offer on a topic so I will pitch that idea, or just post it on my social media to talk about what is happening.”

“Nahid, Librarian,” by Jenny Kroik

Art, she says, can be a form of therapy when one feels helpless against  wars, disasters and injustice. “It is also a great way to organize and get people to listen,” she says. “Art is a powerful political tool.”

Prof. Kroik says she works pretty quickly most of the time, so deadlines are not usually a problem. “It can get stressful at times, especially when it’s midnight and the art is due the next day, and it’s still not quite right.”

“Dog Days” for The Pennsylvania Gazette, by Jenny Kroik

That’s not unfamiliar to what students deal with, although Prof. Kroik says she can’t remember an assignment with a deadline that was less than a week.

A rush job did come in while she was traveling recently in Italy. “I made sketches on the train from Naples to Rome. I worried about not being able to work well while not in my studio, making do with the tools I had on me. But it was kind of fun and turned out well.”

“Jenny Marsh” by Jenny Kroik

Prof. Kroik recently led a bird-sketch walk for the Feminist Bird Club. “It was amazing. They are such a lovely team. All the people who attended were great to hang out with. It’s lovely to see people who are passionate about art and nature,” she said.

“These are also things I’m passionate about, especially urban nature. Birds have been a great source of inspiration and comfort for me during the pandemic. The birding community has been really fun to get to know.”

Jenny Kroik

She admits to not being a morning person. “I usually work late at night, so mornings can be rough. My mornings are spent staring at screens…unless of course there’s a deadline,” she says.

To see more of Prof. Jenny Kroik’s work visit her website at:  www.JennyKroik.com and follow her on IG: @jkroik and Twitter: @jkroik.

To learn more about the Illustration and Interactive Media program go to Illustration at FIT.

All images used with permission.

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From Client to Designer to Laser, A Quick Wash, and Custom Clothing Appears

High quality custom clothing may cost consumers more initially, but it stays in style far longer – maybe forever. With today’s computer and laser technology, even sophisticated and unusual designs move quickly from the minds of customers and designers to finished, long-lasting products.

Students Alex Propios and E-Lorraine Johnson team up for an episode of “Off Field Fashion.”

“Sustainability isn’t just one thing. It’s a change in your mindset to achieve real change in environmental impact,” says Michael Ferrero, Executive Director of FIT’s DTech Lab. Ferrero is executive producer of “Off Field Fashion,” a YES Network series that teams up FIT designers with professional athletes and celebrities.

Textile/Surface Design professor Susanne Goetz recently oversaw an “Off Field Fashion” episode that featured laser technology. Goetz is particularly interested in new technologies, sustainability, and artisanship. Excerpts from the episode are here:

To put it another way, today’s customization tools combine key goals of what FIT wants to lead in the industry – customization, sustainability, clothes that are functional, and timeless.

FIT recently tested these ideas. Two of Prof. Goetz’s students, E-Lorraine Johnson and Alexander Propios, successfully created a jean jacket and jeans for two professional soccer players, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, a midfielder for the Los Angeles Football Club, and Gedion Zelalem, midfielder for the New York City Football Club, the reigning MLS Cup champion.

ROF. GOETZ reviewing DESIGN IDEAS WITH E-LORRAINE JOHNSON

“There’s more to customization than couture,” says Johnson. “My goal is to own my own plus-size design firm and to cater to bodies like mine that are under-represented. People say not to judge a book by its cover, but why not help make that cover fabulous?”

Technology plays a major role in customization, so FIT called upon commercial establishments that already use some of this technology. The teamwork, from student to faculty to production firm, was seamless.

“This technology already enables customization at commercial scale because it allows quick steps from concept to clothing,” said Prof. Goetz.

At present, much of the customization work takes place with surface design, but already it is changing the industry.

Ferrero described the challenge: To develop a custom design to be applied on denim for Tajouri-Shradi and Zelalem to wear during a fashion photo shoot.

As Johnson said, because “these are custom designs, [they are each] for one person so it’s really important to get to know them. Fashion is personal.”

E-Lorraine Johnson with Gedion Zelalem

After his discussion with the athletes, Propios designed a pomegranate motif, after the national flower of Libya, for his designs for Ismael. He noted that the Romans were importing pomegranate from there 2000 years ago.

Johnson said “Gedion is into his Ethiopian heritage. I wanted to pull out such elements as the Lion of Judah and possibly the star motif that’s known on the Ethiopian flag,” but after talking with him “wanted to give it a street style, a hip hop and graffiti contemporary look.”

Johnson’s street-style Lion Motif of Judah motif on the computer ready to to be transferred for the first pass on the garment

Some of this can already be done by remote video-conferencing and mailing samples back and forth. But soon, local fabric samples might be routinely picked up or viewed at outlets near the production folks and near the customers.

After researching Tajouri-Shradi’s Libyan background, Propios began drafting different designs for the florals and placing them in different spots on the denim. “Ismael is mad about his style. He loves to dress up and go  shopping. He is a citizen of the world. He seemed really open to what we had to offer him,” said Propios.

Propios and Johnson with Bill Curtin, owner of BPD Washhouse.

The production process itself, at BPD Wash House in Jersey City, went quickly–faster than the students had imagined.

“The speed of that laser is insane,” said Johnson. The Jeanologia laser, amid flashes of light and flame, burns off the denim’s indigo dye at different levels of intensity to “print” the pattern.

Computer-controlled laser burns the custom pattern into the denim’s indigo dye. “Let It Burn!” said Johnson.

Said Propios, “My designs go from hand-drawn motifs on to my computer onto their computer and just shoot down to the fabric with the laser … it was just so cool.”

As is typical in denim processing, BPD stone-washed the pieces. BPD uses a more sustainable version, formed from powdered “scrap” pumice molded into small blocks held together with an adhesive. They last six times longer than regular pumice.

“Innovative technologies like laser denim finishing allow smaller designers to experiment in a facile and interactive way,” said Ferrero.

The students discussing their experience with FIT President Joyce Brown

To follow Prof. Susanne Goetz on IG go to: @goetz.susanne; Alexander Propios: @alexanderpropios; and E-Lorraine Johnson: @elorraine.co.

To learn more about the Textile Surface Design AAS and BFA programs visit: Textile/Surface Design at FIT.

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Conceptual Display Advertises a Conceptual Exhibit

How does a team of four Spatial Experience Design students create a window display inspired by an artist whose work is elaborate, unfamiliar, and otherworldly? With imagination, skill, and in this unusual case, guidance from the artist himself.

Final window display that promotes Chris Schanck’s “Off World” exhibition

The assignment for the students’ Product Presentation class required the design and construction of a large-scale display that promotes a museum exhibit and incorporates one or more mannequins. The students, who just completed their junior year, chose Chris Schanck’s “Off World” exhibit currently on view at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) at Columbus Circle.

“As soon as we saw Schanck’s designs we knew we needed to use them for our project,” says team member Alexandria Casella. “We drew immediate inspiration from all aspects of his work.”

From the team’s proposal

Schanck’s idiosyncratic furnishings are a fusion of sculpture and furniture. “His work encompasses an unfamiliar world from far away, but it’s the world we live in now,” says Casella.

The prospects of capturing the esoteric nature of Schanck’s designs challenged and thrilled the students.

Installation view of Chris Schanck’s exhibition at MAD. Photo: Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of MAD.

Casella was taken by the boldness and originality of foam, velvet, and plywood merging gracefully.

Penny Kalfas admired the coral reef-looking, textured foam structures. It brought to mind how much of the ocean hasn’t been explored and how that lent itself to the “off-world/other-side/extraterrestrial” aspects of Schanck’s work.

PENNY KALFAS AND ALEXANDRIA CASELLA PAINTING THE MANNEQUIN’S FOAM IN SHADES OF PINK.

Sarah Rosengarten saw Schanck’s Instagram post of a bed he made for a friend. The headboard caught her eye; it was made with a technique they chose to apply to the flooring of their window to give the space dimension and volume.

Ana Belardi was inspired by a wall mirror piece from the exhibition. “The electric blue colors and organic curves framing the mirror was eye-catching,” said Belardi. The proscenium shape and color would be used for the outside of the window.

Penny Kalfas and Ana Belardi painting the foam on the mannequin in shades of pink.

“We decided that the mannequin would serve as the main focal point of the window,” said Casella. “The mannequin is the ‘other’ being. The question is, what is ‘the other?’ Is it gender? Sexuality? Religion? Culture? It’s for the viewer to decide.”

Finished mannequin

After some experimentation, Casella contacted the artist via Instagram. “Wouldn’t it be great to have his input? Amazingly, he responded 10 minutes later and was very receptive and interested in our process and ideas,” said Casella.

ALEXANDRIA CASELLA SPRAYING FOAM AND ANA BELARDI PAINTING THE FOAM PINK ON THE PLYWOOD GRAPHICS COVERED CARDBOARD BOXES WITH FOAM STRUCTURES.

The students met with the designer via Zoom. “He loved our idea and challenged us to be more conceptual with the window. It was an amazing experience to have first-hand critiques and insight from the artist himself,” said Casella.

It’s rare that a team of students get to work directly with an established artist in creating an interpretation of their work. We asked Schanck what inspired him to provide such valuable mentoring:

“I benefit from trying to explain my work to others in a way that is accessible, especially to students,” said Schanck. “I’m interested in the students’ point of view, because we are separated by a generation –  I wonder where the most impactful overlap occurs in how we see  the world.”

Alexandria Casella putting up the plywood graphics inside the window.

As a last step, the team covered the foam with many shades of pink paint and sprayed it with clear glitter to give it a glossier finish and to make it glow.

The team’s final display features stuffed spandex fabric for the floor and walls, spray foam for the sculptures throughout the window, and a mannequin that portrays the out-of-context takeover of the extraterrestrial world.

Says Kalfas “The display prompts the viewer to consider this abstract material and pattern that is consuming the ‘other-world. The mannequin might be a female being consumed by societal struggles. Or it might be an alien from the ‘other side.’”

How well did they execute the different facets of Schanck’s work that are on exhibit?

“Considering they come from mixed disciplines I was impressed with how cohesive their exhibition was,” said Schanck. “I found their written description of the project incredibly insightful.

“I work in a space that is not entirely clear to me. This is the part that requires faith. So, when others can find meaning in my blind spots, I am thankful for the exchange of ideas and perspectives.”

Schanck plans to put the students’ work on his website and to possibly use their descriptions of his work.

Professor Kong and Ana Belardi applying vinyl proscenium to the front of the window.

“Working successfully in a group is a great real-world simulation,” says Schanck. “Agreeing on a common goal, committing to sleepless and delirious nights and learning new materials and techniques in real time on a shoestring budget is possibly the most valuable part of this lesson and what it means to pursue a vocation in the arts.”

Spatial Experience Design team rejoices!

The window display will be up until early September. It can be viewed from outside the Pomerantz Art and Design Center at 7th Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets.

To see more of each team member’s work on social media go to: Alexandria Casella on IG: @alexandriacasellaart, Ana Belardi: @belardi_design, Panayiota Kalfas: @panayiotadesigns, and Sarah Rosengarten: @sarahrosengartendesign1.

To learn more about the Spatial Experience Design program (formally called Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design) go to: Spatial Experience Design at FIT.

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Variety in Designs and Materials Mark the Work of This Year’s Jewelry Design Grads

From a class that began during COVID lockdown with 18 students, eight are graduating this week, making it through the Jewelry Design program with “perseverance, dedication and a whole lot of talent,” says Prof. Michael Coan.

The students will be entering a new world, with greater demands for more “personalized” jewelry, says Prof. Coan. That’s thanks in part to a broader range of perspectives from a more diverse customer base.

Headdress by Jess Roe

“The most valuable take-away for our graduating students, is that jewelry, regardless of economic, political, and financial conditions, survives and even flourishes, if one is attune to the pulse of the people,” says Prof. Coan.

The graduating students’ creations were crafted from materials ranging from precious metals and gems to sensuous polished wood. The work was created for the students’ capstone collections, the culmination of JD 267 Jewelry Seminar/Best Business Practices class.

Earrings by Ariana Stern

Kim Nelson, Chair of Jewelry Design says “The work show’s how boldly they overcome the formidable challenges of COVID-19 lockdown to create highly facile and personally expressive pieces.

“It’s one of our strongest presentations in regards to the interplay of traditional and digital technologies, as well as precious and non-precious approaches.”

Examples are the designs of Ariana Stern and Yana Zhus. Stern’s Greek-inspired earrings, above, contain over 150 stones. They are part of her Fine Jewelry Collection.

Stern’s earrings, as well as Zhus’ necklace, below, can be fitted with precious metals and top quality diamonds and emeralds respectively. The pieces pictured are representations in silver, black spinels, and CZ’s. Priced for precious metals, the earrings are valued at $9,800, and the necklace at $79,000 (gulp!).

Necklace by Yana Zhus

“The Graduating Student Exhibition for us is a tight show in terms of design concepts and fabrication,” says Prof. Coan.

Two of the students, he tells us, have already gotten offers for some of their work from the Exhibition.

Cuff Bracelet by Hye Lee

“I’m particularly excited by the way a number of our graduates included sophisticated applications of enamel to bring color and even transparency to their work,” says Prof. Nelson.

For example, Hye Lee’s bracelet, above, made of glass enamel representing winter (the cool acrylic) turning into spring flowers. It is an art piece, priced for some lucky wearer at $3,250.”

Skyler Bonolo’s wood necklace, below, is was a part of his Art Jewelry Collection. It shows a “strong horizontal design statement, employing several types of woods,” says Prof. Coan.

Necklace by Skyler Bonolo

Rachel Egenberg’s necklace, below, is from her Fashion Jewelry Collection. Wood is used in a manner that simulates ivory.  Prof. Coan says that Egenberg has “an affinity for design elements that strike the deeper recesses of the soul-wrapped turquoise, a gem that symbolized wealth and status in ancient civilizations in Africa, Asia and the Americas.” The wrapping technique is one that does not involve soldering.

Wood necklace by Rachel Egenberg

“How to make customized jewelry work for the masses will be a challenge. I feel these students, who have been tested with physical restrictions, will be making a tremendous impact in the jewelry industry,” says Prof. Michael Coan

Cardona Khyla’s earrings, below, reflect her interest in an ethereal kingdom of sprites, elves and fairies. Prof. Coan describes the earrings as “transformative.” They belong to her Fashion Jewelry Collection and are made of gold-plated brass and briolette cut CZ’s. Subtle, delicate and striking!

Earrings by Khyla Cardona

Alyssa Schwartzberg used a technique called “marriage of metals” for her rabbit design, below. She fused colored Japanese metals, such as Shibuichi, defined as one part silver to three parts copper.

“There was never a doubt of the wonderful creativity displayed by our students, but the ability to bring them to fruition within an uncertain environment is nothing short of spectacular! It’s a milestone moment,” says Prof. Coan.

Rabbit and necklace in background by Alyssa Schwartzberg

Says Prof. Nelson, “Due to the pandemic closures, this became a very small, close, and personal group of talented and dedicated students. I will certainly miss seeing their faces and their work in the classroom.”

For more information about the School of Art and Design Graduating Student Exhibition go to: GSE22.

Find more of the students’ work at: Yana Zhu on IG @yana_zhu_; Skyler Bonolo’s website CollidingEyes.com; Jess Roe on IG @lastroe; Rachel Egenberg on IG @RachelEgenberg; and Hye Lee on IG: @hyelee_v.

To learn more about the Jewelry Design program visit:  Jewelry Design at FIT.

Images used with permission.

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Zion Ozeri’s photos capture Jewish diversity 3,000 years post exodus

Americans, and even American Jews, are used to thinking of Jewish families as well-educated strivers living a comfortable life in a major city. But for many if not most Jewish communities around the globe, the look is different even if the strivings are what we would expect. Photographer Zion Ozeri, Photography ‘78, knows that better than most. Many of the most evocative images of contemporary Jewish diversity are his, captured worldwide over a career that has spanned more than 40 years.

“Pictures Tell” Photo courtesy of Gefen Publishing

That’s particularly evident in Ozeri’s new book, “Pictures Tell: A Passover Haggadah,” (Gefen Publishing). The word “Haggadah,” which comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to tell,” refers to the guidebook used at a Passover Seder.  A Haggadah typically features traditional songs, prayers, commentaries, and stories that commemorate the exodus of Jews from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago and offer lessons that still resonate today.

“Cave,” Haidan, northern Yemen. Photo: Zion Ozeri

“The Passover Seder is celebrated by Jews all over the world,” says Ozeri.  “It’s something that connects far-flung Jewish communities. At the same time, every community brings its own unique customs, its own spin on the rituals.  So it reflects both our unity and diversity as Jews.  I like to think my photography does the same thing.”

“Holocaust Survivior,” Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo: Zion Ozeri

“Pictures Tell” is Ozeri’s second Haggadah. The first, published (Simon & Schuster) in 2005, was “The Jewish World Family Haggadah,” also illustrated with his photos.

“Shepard,” Kfar Zeitim, Israel. Photo: Zion Ozeri

“I was pleased with the first Haggadah, and the way the photographs helped illustrate the stories and songs,” says Ozeri.  “But there was more I wanted to do.  ‘Pictures Tell’ gave me the opportunity to spotlight the photographs as not just illustrations, but essentially visual ‘texts’ in their own right. The photographs are in dialogue with the traditional texts. They can help spark discussion and provide a visual way into the conversation for people of all ages.”

“Setting the Table,” Santiago de Cuba. Photo: Zion Ozeri
“Zion Ozeri’s photographs do more than document the lives of people in the Jewish community. They connect us with this community on an emotional level and, in doing so, help to bridge perceived differences.” – Dean Troy Richards, School of Art and Design  

Ozeri was born in Israel, the son of immigrants from Yemen. He came to New York to attend FIT after a stint as a draftee in the Israeli army. During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, he was a tank commander.

“Four Mothers,” Mevasert Zion Absorption Center, Israel. Photo: Zion Ozeri

“So much of my perspective and vision as a photographer was shaped by growing up in Israel as the son of Yemenite Jews,” Ozeri says. “The Jews of Yemen, The Last Generation” is among his previous titles.

“Matzah oven,” Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo: Zion Ozeri
“I learned not just the fundamentals of photography, but also the power of photography as a medium that can engage people, move people, and even motivate change.” – Zion Ozeri

“While many of the earlier pioneers and immigrants to Israel were European, we represented a different face of Jewry.  We brought a different understanding of what it meant to be Jewish, and what it meant to be Israeli.”

“Outdoor market,” Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo: Zion Ozeri

His parents came to Israel during a period when ancient Jewish communities in Arab lands were being pressured to leave ancestral homes. Thus, he was raised and schooled among many diverse cultures. He notes that this gave him a cross-cultural perspective that suffuses his work.

“Twilight Mincha,” Rosh Hay’ayin, Israel. Photo: Zion Ozeri

Ten years ago he launched the DiverCity Lens curriculum and program for public schools, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Education (DOE). The program uses photography as a tool to help students reflect on their own cultures and to explore the rich diversity of our city.

“The Secret,” Mevaseret Zion Absorption Center. Photo: Zion Ozeri

The DiverCity Lens program typically works with 12-18 high schools and junior high schools each year, culminating with a student exhibition in the rotunda of the DOE headquarters at the historic Tweed Building on Chambers Street.

“Backpack,” Operation Solomon, Ben Gurion Airport. Photo: Zion Ozeri

Much of Ozeri’s work today involves helping others – especially young people – better understand themselves and their world through the medium of photography. He says his FIT training played an important role in the direction his career has taken:

“Brooklyn,” Photo: Zion Ozeri

“I learned not just the fundamentals of photography,” Ozeri says, “but also the power of photography as a medium that can engage people, move people, and even motivate change.  My work rests on the shoulders of earlier photographers and artists who saw their work as part of a broader humanistic endeavor.”

Zion Ozeri

A copy of “Pictures Tell: A Passover Haggadah” will be on display in the New Books section at the college’s Gladys Marcus Library.

Ozeri’s work has been published widely in major publications. His work has been on exhibit at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; ANU Museum, Tel Aviv; Centro Cultural Recoleta, Buenos Aires; Skirball Museum, LA; 92Y, and The Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC and many other museums and galleries. He lives in New York City.

To see more of Zion Ozeri’s work, visit his websites: ZionOzeri.com; DiverCityLens.org; JewishLens.org, and follow him on Instagram @ozerizion.

To learn more about the Photography and Related Media program at FIT go to: Photography at FIT.

Photos used with permission.

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From Paperboard to Eye-Stopping Project: Packaging Design Students Top the Competition

A team of three Packaging Design BFA students has won first place in the Paperboard Packaging Alliance Student Design Challenge for 2021. Competing against more than 40 other teams from 10 schools, FIT teams also took one of two honorable mentions and one of four “shout outs” for semester-long class projects that required creativity, teamwork, and mastery of the technology needed to economically turn flat paperboard into eye-stopping, functional three-dimensional packaging.

Hate is a Virus super kit

The winning FIT concept – the Super Kit – was unique and timely. It was developed for Hate is a Virus, the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) organization against Asian American violent crime. The team members are from AAPI ethnic groups from three different countries — Indonesia, Guam, and India. All seven FIT teams got to choose an organization for which each team did a project.

T-Shirt and educational materials packaged in The Super KIt to spread awareness for the Hate is a Virus organization

Their concept, aimed at students age 7 to 9, combines 20 cards with conversation-starting questions, other teaching materials such as a family tree fill-in, and a T-shirt, all in a small folding carton that turns into a superhero shield with room for the students’ own messages. Except for the shirt, the whole kit starts out as one standard-size 14 x 28-inch sheet of paperboard. The folds locks everything together with no glue needed.

Hate Is a Virus design concept

“FIT’s Packaging Design BFA Program is the only one in the United States,” says Packaging Design Coordinator Sandra Krasovec. “We compete with colleges that approach the issues more from a structural engineering point of view.”

Nevertheless, “FIT students have almost always come away with one of the top three prizes since we started participating in 2006,” she said.

The Super Kit winning team: Jessica Vergel, Ankita Ghosh and Claudia Natasha

“We’re coming at it from a different perspective – brand development and how to best portray the brand narrative and its visual application to a 3D package.”

The first place award winners – Ankita Ghosh, Claudia Natasha, and Jessica Vergel – participated in the competition in Spring 2021 as juniors in PK343 Explorations in 3D with Professor Adam Straus. Students submitted concepts last May. Judging was held in Fall 2021 and the top three teams were notified late last year.

Super Kit Team member Jessica Vergel

The three team members presented the FIT team’s project to 200-plus industry members in Denver, at the PPA/PPC (Paperboard Packaging Alliance/Paperboard Packaging Council) 2022 Spring Outlook and Strategies Conference. “We were so proud of them. They spoke beautifully.” They received their first-place prize at an awards dinner.

Sandra Krasovec/Professor & Packaging Design BFA Coordinator, The Super Kit Team members: Ankita Ghosh and Claudia Natasha; Heidi Brock/President and CEO at American Forest and Paper Association; Super Kit Team member Jessica Vergel; Packaging Design Professor Adam Straus

The students presented to industry members who “run the gamut, from paperboard manufacturers and converters to print production and use of special materials and finishing techniques,” said Krasovec.

Addressing sustainability with packaging design concept

She added that it was “really nice for industry to see what the students had done, and students had a lot of great opportunities to network, including a bowling event.” “Our students attended the conference program and met the other top teams. Each school had a table in the exhibitors’ hall, along with conference sponsors – students were able to display their concept prototypes, and so could talk to attendees as they walked by.”

The 2021 class was a particular challenge because like the FIT group that took third place in 2020, they were doing this virtually. “Working in different time zones to develop a 3D concept via a 2D screen was a real challenge,” Krasovec said.

About the Hate is a Virus community

“Adam and I, especially Adam because he’s an inventor, were trying hard to art direct and explain ideas because this is a hands-on process and you can’t show exactly what you want to communicate via a virtual meeting!”

Krasovec said a lot of the explanations involved sketches and short videos. “We typically met once a week during most of the semester.”

Said Krasovec: It’s an interesting time for our industry and an interesting time for our students to consider innovation and sustainability challenges, so we equip our students to have a voice when they go out into industry to start their professional careers…and to lead conversations.”

Recognition also came as in two other categories. An Honorable Mention for the project: PERIOD All-In-One Dispenser Box. Team members included Alana Abesamis, Melissa Portillo, and Alyssa Randone.

PERIOD All-In-One Dispenser Box won an Honorable Mention

And a Shout-Out went to the team who designed Doctors Without Borders Obstetrics Kit with team members, Courtney Hannel, Lily Janker, and Tiffany He.

The Doctors Without Borders Obstetrics Kit receives a “Shout Out”

To read an earlier post about FIT involvement in the Paperboard Packaging Alliance Student Design Challenge, go to: “Packaging Design students hit the sweet spot!”

To learn more about the School of Art and Design’s Packaging Design BFA program go to Packaging Design at FIT.

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Collegial Art with Prof. Julia Jacquette

Energy, excitement, and wide-ranging talent were in evidence in Prof. Julia Jacquette’s Fine Arts course, Painting VI: Sources of Painted Imagery, when Joan Endres from the Dean’s Office came by to view student critiques. Here’s a closer look.

Marissa Bohk. Photo: Joan Endres
Painting by Marissa Bohk. Photo: Julia Jacquette

The class of 23 students was well along on their assignment, Identity and Cultural Influence, when Endres, who oversees the Art and Design Instagram account, visited them in week five, a third of the way through the spring semester. Many of the photos she posted are repeated here.

Abigail Dutes. Photo: Joan Endres

“The experience of observing the students’ critiques was inspiring,” said Endres, a communications associate for the School of Art and Design.

“They all know each other, having shared classes and have such thoughtful, encouraging comments about each others’ work.  There’s a sense of community among these artists who are finding their own voices and have sharp insight about their colleagues’ work,” she said.

Kayla Edmonston. Photo: Julia Jacquette

In their junior year — and in this third course in the painting sequence — students “still have structured assignments,” says Prof. Jacquette. “But in my section and the other section, taught by Prof. John Allen, they’re encouraged to focus on their own vision.”

Rebecca Cooper, “A_Woman of Valor.” Photo: John Allen

Jacquette’s intention is for the assignments and in-class prompts to continue providing structure, but also to allow for latitude as they master and hone their skills.

Kai Liguori. Photo: Joan Endres
Kai Liguori

Jacquette conducts two major group critiques like the one Endres watched, and many more impromptu ones that don’t take a full class.

For this project, the students start with sketches of their initial ideas for their painting. They also respond to a worksheet where Jacquette asks them their ideas for personal identity or what might be their cultural influences. The worksheet is meant to help bring ideas to the fore.

Kaili Woop. Photo: Joan Endres

Students are also asked to create digital folders and actual hard copy folders of visual research, photos of what interests them visually, and that might include imagery of the cultures they’re from or that influenced them.

Huairan Zhang. Photo: Joan Endres
Huairan Zhang. Photo: Julia Jacquette

For this first assignment of the semester, Jacquette asked them to take a stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, making sure to include galleries of non-Western art.

Tyler Lormel. Photo: Julia Jacquette
Tyler Lormel. Photo: Julia Jacquette

“They were encouraged to use the Met as a visual library,” she said.

Jacquette notes that “a lot of those ideas about structure, preparation, and exercises, were developed with my colleagues. Kudos!”

Jess Romano Sossi. Photo: Joan Endres
Jess Sossi Romano

“I try to give them assignments that allow them to bring their own vision to the art,” says Jacquette.

It’s easy to say but not always easy to execute. “As a professor you know they must use of certain skills that they’re still learning, but in advanced courses like this one, skills may be more about form than content.”

Harry Wyatt. Photo: Joan Endres
Harry Wyatt. Photo: Julia Jacquette

Jacquette praised her students, saying “this group really embraced that they are game for the idea that they still need prompts but are also bringing their own ideas to the assignments.

Gloria Lee Seonhee. Photo: Julia Jacquette
Jane Schechter. Photo: Julia Jacquette

Despite the large class size, she said, “this is probably the best class I’ve ever had as a group…maybe ever.”

In this class, Jacquette conducts two major group critiques and many more impromptu ones that don’t take a full class.

Grace Keller. Photo: Joan_Endres
Grace Keller. Photo: Julia Jacquette

In Jacquette’s words, “Because it’s an advanced class and they are really segued into making self-determined art work,  it requires a lot of one-on-one discussion.

“It requires me, as the professor, not only giving feedback and suggestions but really giving them advice about how to strengthen whatever they want to be doing,” says Jacquette.

Dylan Daxian Zhao. Photo: Julia Jacquette

“Whatever their ideas are, I’m helping them make those ideas clearer to achieve the best work they can with the choices they’re making.”

Dylan Daxian Zhao. Photo: Julia Jacquette

Jacquette says painting classes in her own junior year, at Skidmore, “were very similar to this in many ways.”

“I’m bringing that experience and pride as a student to my students now,” she said.

“I actually remember the work that I started making as a junior. It was the first time I felt that it was my art work.

Elliot Tellef. Photo: Julia Jacquette

“I loved all the classes I took at Skidmore. During my junior year we were encouraged to find our own voice. My excellent professors worked with me to strengthen that voice.

Olivia Oppenheim. Julia Jacquette

“I hadn’t thought about that until this moment, but that work to this day is still important to me. I don’t show it. I don’t exhibit it, but how pleasurable it was to be making something completely of my own choice.”

But, Jacquette adds, “as I am doing now with my own students, I was nudged, I was given prompts.”

For more information about the Fine Arts AAS and BFA programs, visit: Fine Arts at FIT.

Follow the School of Art and Design on Twitter: @fit_artdesign and IG: @fit_artdesign.

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Vaccine Jitters? Corlette Douglas ‘14, Illustrates New Children’s Book

A new children’s book that helps explain vaccinations to young readers, “Maxine’s Critters Get the Vaccine Jitters,” is illustrated with aplomb by Corlette Douglas, (Illustration ‘14). The main character, the charming and buoyant Maxine, playfully engages with her stuffed animals to help put them at ease about getting vaccinated.

“Maxine’s Critters Get the Vaccine Jitters” book cover

Douglas’ illustrations capture the dread of Maxine’s “critters” with subtle but distinct gestures of fright. That all begins to change when Maxine explains to them, with clever repartee that “vaccines keep us well.”

Yet, their reluctance remains until they get vaccinated. Both illustrator and author have created a menagerie of lively stuffed animals with minds of their own. Their personalities suspiciously reflect that of Maxine’s come to think of it.

From “Maxine’s Critters,” Illustrated by Corlette Douglas
From “Maxine’s Critters,” Illustrated by Corlette Douglas
“Wow! I’m really impressed by Corlette’s illustrations in ‘Maxine’s Critters Get the Vaccine Jitters.’ As her former professor I’m happy to see the results of Corlette’s hard work and dedication in these marvelous illustrations.” – Illustration Prof. Eric Velasquez

Douglas got involved in the project in April 2021, when her agent, Saritza Hernandez, called to let her know that The Experiment, an independent publishing house, had seen her work on Instagram and thought her style would fit perfectly.

“I knew this special book needed to be shared with everyone,” Douglas said.

From “Maxine’s Critters,” Illustrated by Corlette Douglas
From “Maxine’s Critters,” Illustrated by Corlette Douglas

Douglas notes that there’s more that goes into illustrating a book than just the sketching, coloring and finalizing of the drawings. “As the illustrator, you not only get to communicate with the author but the art director of the publishing house as well.”

Thus, despite being a freelance illustrator, there is typically a team approach with all the creative people exchanging ideas. Maxine, the book’s main character, comes across as upbeat and playful, and engaged with adults. Douglas says “That’s 100 percent thanks to the author Jan Zaumer and her amazing writing skills building on Maxine’s character.”

Illustration detail of Maxine bringing her “critters” to get vaccinated.

Maxine, says Douglas, reminds her of her niece. “They’re both fun motivated people who are always willing to learn more about the world around them.”

Says Douglas, “the full range of emotion I’m able to show is from years of practice and trial-and-error. It helps to create a character sheet with posing, facial expressions and some extra doodles to help you get a feel for each cute critter.”

At FIT, “I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do, but interacting with so many creative, like-minded peers and professors helped me consider what kind of artist I wanted to be,” says Douglas.

“As a senior, in my children’s book class, taught by (award-winning author and children’s book illustrator) Prof. Eric Velasquez, I enjoyed the process of creating a book from start to finish. I was open to learning more about creating books for both kids and parents. I learned how to build a perfect portfolio for the industry I wanted to pursue,” she said.

From "Maxine's Critters," Illustrated by Corlette Douglas
From “Maxine’s Critters,” Illustrated by Corlette Douglas

“I’ve been illustrating characters that look like me for a long time now, since day one of my career. What has changed, aside from my becoming a better artist, is that more and more people are taking notice of my work. That has me very excited.”

Says Prof. Velasquez “I remember Corlette from my Book Illustration class.  She worked really hard and was  a dedicated student. Corlette’s work had a very distinctive style, which is still a part of her work today.”

When it’s Maxine’s turn to get vaccinated, she has a downturned expression. But she’s holding out her arm, as if to say: There’s a part of this that’s unpleasant, but I’m being a good sport about it. After getting her shot she immediately becomes exuberantly happy again.

illustration detail of Maxine passing out treats after getting vaccinated

This sudden change of expression isn’t merely an illustration device that’s common to cartooning:

“It was something I made note of while interacting with my niece and kids in general,” Douglas said. “They seem to switch how they feel at the drop of a hat! So I thought it would be funny to have Maxine do the same in the book.”

Oddly enough, Douglas doesn’t remember having a lot of stuffed animals as a child. “But I can say that I have a very big designer toy collection now as an adult!”

Illustrator Corlette Douglas

To view more of Corlette Douglas’ work visit her website: www.corcorart.squarespace.com and follow her on IG: @corcor_chocolate_pretty.

To learn more about the School of Art and Design Illustration program go to Illustration at FIT.

Follow the School of Art and Design on Twitter @fit_artdesign and IG @fit_artdesign.

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Paintings by Prof. Anne Finkelstein on Every Wi-Fi Kiosk in NYC

Ten paintings by Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design professor Anne Finkelstein are on display until February 27 on every LinkNYC screen in New York City – over 1,800 in all.

The project serves as an example in wayfinding, a concept she teaches in her 6th semester BFA class: Placemaking, Wayfinding and Environmental Graphics (VP 305).

Most New Yorkers see the 55-inch screens daily at kiosks that once were pay-phone booths. Now the kiosks can be used for free calls, device recharging, and for their fast Wi-Fi access.

“The street kiosks act as wayfinding devices, providing access to emergency numbers and phone charging,” says Finkelstein.

The giant 55-inch screens at the kiosks also display weather information, transit schedules, news of subway delays, local resources and more.

“The kiosk is an incredible example of one of the most important parts of wayfinding and that is reassurance, the certainty that the kiosk will be providing information allows for more information to be displayed and, in addition, for art to become a narrative element.”

– Craig Berger, Chair, Communication Design Pathways and author of “Wayfinding: Designing And Implementing Graphic Navigational Systems” 

“Night” by Anne Finkelstein

“Night” is an image that everyone in the FIT community should recognize. It’s a painting based on a photograph of the corner of 28th and 7th at night.

“Closed Restaurant” by Anne Finkelstein

“Closed Restaurant” is a painting based on a photograph of a closed Venezuelan restaurant—a casualty of the pandemic.

“18 Street Subway” by Anne Finkelstein

The “18th Street Subway” is a painting based on a photograph of the 18th Street subway entrance at 7th Avenue and the Con Ed substation behind it.

Slideshow of all 10 Paintings:  “Look for them on the street, and if you are quick with your camera take a picture. Please post it or make a story with the date and location and tag me,” says Prof. Finkelstein on IG @annefinkelstein.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

LinkNYC teamed up with the NYC Department of Information Technology in 2018 to collaborate with local artists for #ArtOnLink, to provide artwork that “captures and celebrates life, beauty, and culture in New York City.”

On LinkNYC website Ruth Fasoldt, Link’s Director of Community Affairs, says “#ArtOnLink has created a unique way for New Yorkers and visitors to view and appreciate local artwork on the go — and even learn some of the unspoken but important NYC tips and etiquette rules that New Yorkers know well!”

To view more of Professor Finkelstein’s work visit her website: AnneFinkelstein.com and follow her on IG: @annefinkelstein.

For more information about the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design major visit: VPED at FIT.

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