Red, White and Blue Student Backpacks Resonate

Each year FIT’s United College Employees union sponsors a Constitution Day postcard competition.  The goal of the students’ designs is to illuminate a section of the U.S. Constitution in a contemporary context.

In 2014 Graphic Design student Sooji Lee’s first-place image referenced mass shootings in schools. At that point there had been 387 of them since 1992 with more than two out of every three shooters 10-19 years old. The Constitution grants many rights but also brings responsibilities was the stated message.

Constitution Day competition first-place design by Sooji Lee, 2014

The image of red, white and blue backpacks arranged as an American flag is haunting in light of recent events. It was reported, for instance, that in El Paso, parents and their children were shopping for backpacks and other back-to-school supplies. Demand for bullet-proof backpacks has vastly increased.

Says Troy Richards, Dean of the School of Art and Design, “This winning design of apparently innocuous objects, school backpacks, is given an emotional charge when seen in light of school shootings that have left such a devastating impact on young people and our country. In today’s fractious political climate, our differences are being exploited, the result being mounting tension and outbreaks of violence. Hopefully, these tragedies will make us pause to consider the consequences of hateful rhetoric and ask, instead, how we might come together again as a country.”

Winners of the Constitution Day competition are selected in the spring for the week of Constitution Day (September 17). To submit a design for 2020, students can email their work to [email protected] and cc: [email protected] (history professor Daniel Levinson Wilk, who helps oversee the competition).

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Samuel Tannenbaum: Modernity with a Shaker Sensibility

In a post-post-modern era of computer-aided design and retro-ornate popularity, what is old can be startlingly and gorgeously new. Samuel Tannenbaum, a 2019 Textile Surface Design grad, draws on his small town roots and his aptitude for textile design and crafting, to create original fabric designs and fabric-based artwork.  His work has a distinctive, elegantly spare, Shaker sensibility.

A quilt by Tannenbaum reminiscent of his mother’s quilting style that also references Shaker design. “They often used fabric from discarded clothing and home textiles,” says Tannenbaum

He discussed with us how it all came together and where he plans to go next.

Q: You reference your mother’s quilting style and family historic home. Was there an appreciation for folk art early on?

A: Oh, yes. My mother’s needlework and quilts are on display throughout our house, as well as her collection of angels. She owned a quilting fabric store and taught me how to sew at a young age. We made a quilt together while I was in elementary school.

An “in-process” style digital print on linen showcasing colored pencil drawings of furniture found in Tannenbaum’s childhood home paired with Shaker sayings relating to keeping a tidy home

cont. I was home-schooled. My sister and I would pick out a craft book from our library every week and make as many items as we could before having to return them for the next. My parents encouraged my projects and inspired me to go into textiles professionally. I have that first quilt I made with my mom displayed on a quilt rack in my bedroom.

A textural piece that highlights the way fabric is made. When producing warp for weaving, one often “chains off” to allow the yarn to stay in order. Tannenbaum took these groups of chained warp that would normally go onto the loom and sewed them down a backing fabric, highlighting a step of the hand making process

Q: The Shakers were an Early American sect known for their devotional lifestyle, craftsmanship and design skills. How does being influenced by Shaker design blend with your intuition and creativity? 

A:  The Shakers were making things to be simple, functional, and long-lasting but never gave up the aspect of coziness that made each piece feel homey. I am always looking to create work that references history but doing my own take, incorporating my style.  Like the Shakers, my upbringing gave me an appreciation for making things by hand. No matter the outcome, it was special because someone made it with their own hands.

A digital print inspired by American folk artist Charles Wysocki

“The relationship between fibers and abstraction, if often overlooked or ignored, has been present from the beginning of Modernism. Sonia Delauney and Anni Albers come to mind as talented artists who took advantage of fabric’s inherent geometry and chroma. I am reminded of both artists in looking at Samuel Tannenbaum’s work. Here is an artist who is curious and interested in exploring different traditions and histories—who successfully and literally weaves these disparate influences together in a compelling and unique way.”

– Troy Richards, Dean, School of Art and Design

A more artistic piece of Tannenbaum’s made from the scraps of another quilt in a more modern layout

Q: You grew up in Oneonta, a small college town. What was its artistic influence on you?

A: It is far from any larger city. I turned to activities that I could practice at home. I’ve always sought to create a space to live that feels entirely comfortable. I often turn to making things to fill my space with — quilts, pillows, scarves, wall art. My mom filled our house with an abundance of quilts and makes needlepoint and slipcovers. She showed me that textiles can be used to change the way you feel in a space. The right pattern can brighten your spirits, especially when your couch has stars all over it!

Working on the finishing touch of the quilt, knotting the top, batting, and backing together. Photo: Keira Wiggins

Q: Can you describe the skills you’re employing?

A: They include the worlds of fine arts and textiles. I incorporate aspects of fine art, such as collage and pencil drawing, into my print work. My main love is weaving. I enjoy taking a simple construction and making it look complex, or vice versa. I also use embroidery, knitting and crochet in exploratory ways that are not so traditional. My intention is to dive deeper into fiber art and to combine what I have learned in all of these disciplines to create experimental works of art, whether they be functional or decorative.

A close up of the quilt knotting process. Photo: Keira Wiggins

Q:  How has studying at FIT helped you develop your vision?

A: I gained an understanding of how the industry works and to prepare assignments to a certain standard. I would not have grown as much as I have as a designer and artist had I not pursued textiles academically. I gradually developed my personal style, which took a lot of trial-and-error throughout my coursework.

A decorative pillow made using the Bargello technique, a type of counted thread embroidery. It was used by Tannenbaum “to mimic simple color by number embroidery kits for children, an activity I  partook in when I was younger.” The design focuses on a variety of different traditional quilt square patterns, deconstructed and randomly placed into a composition together.

“FIT also gave me the opportunity to study abroad at the Chelsea College of Arts in London for a semester, which aided me greatly in discovering my artistic voice. This paired nicely with the traditional industry preparation. It allowed me to put my own twist on textiles and to provide something different for the industry.” 

Q:  You seem well versed in the origins of Early American design.

A: Yes, I minored in Art History and took as many classes as I could on a variety of subjects. I tried to base my textile work on a topic that I was learning about in whichever art history class I was taking. My interest in Folk Art and the early American style stemmed from my History of American Art class, and developed in other courses. This style I feel most connected to, even though I am influenced by a range of references, including the Ulm School of Design, Bauhaus, the Zero Movement, Agnes Martin, and Hieronymus Bosch.

A collection of Tannenbaum’s pique and matelassé handwoven samples inspired by vintage attic-found quilts and the menswear company Bode

Q: Tell us a little bit about your plans, and what you’re working on now.

A: Currently, I am working as a studio-retail assistant for the home textile brand MINNA in the Hudson Valley. I am also an in-house weaver for the fashion designer Gary Graham in Franklin, NY. I weave in the store as a form of performance art, and then my fabrics are used to create home decorative objects.

I am considering a Masters program exploring sustainable practices relating to textiles before I embark on my own business endeavor. I hope to eventually have a business selling limited-run home textiles and one-of-a-kind textile art pieces.

A grouping of samples from Tannenbaum’s thesis collection. There is a hand crafted map of his neighborhood with his home, elementary school, and local park.

Samuel Tannenbaum’s “Hands to Work” collection incorporates representations of significant objects from the artist’s childhood historic home with an idealized simple lifestyle. The collection references the Shakers’ simple, functional design. Daily tasks for the Shakers were preformed as a devotion to God. They are remembered for the phrase “Hands to work, hearts to God.” The references to childhood ways of making, colored pencil drawings and simple embroidery techniques reflect inspiration drawn from the devotional drawings, neighborhood maps, furniture and pantry boxes of the Shakers.

To see more of his work go to: SamuelTannenbaum. Follow him on Instagram at: @stannenbaum.

All images used with permission.

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Jewelry Design Senior Exhibit: “Somehow we top the year before”

“Every year we wonder if we can top the last year, and somehow we do,” says Jewelry Design Professor Michael Coan, referring to both the graduating student work currently on exhibit and designs singled out for Accessories Design Council awards. Of note this year, are the boldly sculptural designs that illustrate how digital tools and hand-making are unleashing new levels of creativity. In the wall cases, where finished pieces are displayed next to renderings, the viewer can see the trajectory of the design work.

Here are a few of the collections you can expect to see in the Goodman Resource Center, on exhibit until May 29.

Tristen Douglass’ eight-piece collection

Tristen Douglass received the first place win for fashion jewelry. “There’s the basic regalia for any goddess,” says Coan, “with a special appearance of a pharonic scarab.”

Detail from Tristen Douglass’ collection

Douglass’ work consist of objects trouves (found objects). “She does all the mysteries of the Aztec mask to Delphic Oracle and the Triple Goddess,” says Prof. Coan.

Allison Mack, 2nd place winner

Allison Mack received a second place win for her “Modern Antique” pin and earrings.  “It’s an antique look that she made from resin, acrylic and cubic zirconia,” says Prof. Coan. Her red “Pavlocks” (bracelet with magnet closure for easy access) is also a winner.  “It’s delicate, intimate and powerful.”

Julyanna McNamara’s five-piece collection

Julyanna McNamara’s five-piece collection includes a “Courage”‘ brass knuckle. “They’ll see you coming with that and think twice. It’s loud admiration,” says Prof. Coan.

Perisha Bhaga’s four-piece collection

Perisha Bhaga received a first place win in Fine Jewelry. “The judges liked the crispness of her line and its sculptural scale,” says Prof. Coan. “They all have a Brâncuși-esque feel, wood bangle, and off-center ring and two bracelets (one with stone and one without). It really moves. It’s elegantly exciting.”

Detail from Perisha Bhaga’s collection

Says Prof. Coan, “Come see the latest, the up-and-coming, next generation, the future of jewelry designers.”

The School of Art and Design’s Graduating Student Exhibition showcases work of 800 graduates from 16 areas of study. Their work can be viewed throughout the main floors of the Marvin Feldman Center, Shirley Goodman Resource Center, The Museum at FIT, Art and Design Gallery in the Fred P. Pomerantz Art and Design Center, and John E. Reeves Great Hall. For more information go to: 2019 Graduating Student Exhibition.


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Amy Lombard Talks About VICE: The Ads

People nationwide have enjoyed hilarious poster ads for VICELAND’s show, VICE LIVE, the weeknight, two-hour variety special that debuted in late February. The photographs are meant to keep you on the edge of your seat—as if you didn’t know what was going to happen next. They have been seen on billboards, subway and bus ads and in every kind of advertising format across the country. FIT alumna Amy Lombard, (Photography ’12), did the shooting. Here’s what she told us about how it all came down:

Amy Lombard for VICE

When I was approached about creating the campaign for VICE LIVE, a new late night show on their TV network VICELAND, I was really flattered. The idea was to channel older VICE magazine covers. These photographs were intense, they kept you on the edge of your seat, and they had this quality where (for better or worse) you could not look away.

Amy Lombard for VICE

The show was VICE’s first foray into live television. [VICE LIVE ended in early April.] Photographically they wanted to capture this idea that anything could happen because it’s live.

VICE was one of my first clients–so the company has always been near and dear to my heart. To watch the evolution of the company and how it has grown has been really incredible. There’s a certain level of spontaneity in my work that I think made me the right person for this job. That, and stylistically they wanted the heavy, harsh flash aesthetic.

Amy Lombard for VICELAND

In the campaign you’ll see a man’s bare foot on a dart board, a fire extinguisher on fire, a fish in a blender (don’t panic!). There’s a level of heightened absurdity that is probably a more extreme version of the essence of my work at large.

I think my favorite image is the foot on the dart board. This shot wasn’t even planned. I had really been gunning for a foot moment in this campaign, and the idea was dismissed until at the last minute the creatives wanted a dart board. The art director unexpectedly slapped his foot up onto the dartboard–and, well, now that foot is on billboards all over.

Amy Lombard for VICE

As with all the photographs for this campaign, they clearly show things that are not supposed to happen, which feeds into the larger concept.

[Note: The goldfish in the ad below currently resides in the loving home of a member of the production team.]

Amy Lombard for VICE

“We always tell students to push the thing that makes them unique. Amy seems like a very normal person but constantly makes very weird photographs. Most students make crazy work in school, but their photography gets much more palatable when they start working in the photo industry, but Amy doubled down on the weirdness.  Her first big job was shooting the Bunny Ranch in Nevada and she continues to get hired to shoot the stranger parts of the human experience.”  – FIT Photography Chair, Brad Paris

Amy Lombard for VICE

The fire extinguisher bursting into flames is probably the most realistically terrifying (because in the event of that actually happening, you’re—well, screwed!) I love this picture because you really feel that sense of “oh, shit” when you look at it.

While the images feel like they’re snapshots, it was extremely production-heavy and took five days.

Amy Lombard for VICE

The fire extinguisher shot was probably the most labor intensive. It required permits, a fire handler, a specific kind of extinguisher, a specific wall built…It’s really wild! I now know so much about lighting this on fire. It’s such a wonderful, useless bit of knowledge!

Amy Lombard is a documentary photographer and writer whose focus is on American culture. In addition to VICE her clients have included the New York Times, New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, WWD, T Magazine, M Le Monde, Time magazine, WIRED, Bloomberg, Businessweek, Refinery29, Samsung, Facebook, Barneys and Swatch. To see more of her work, go to:


All images used with permission

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Interior Design: Working well and doing good

“We spend close to 90 percent of our lives indoors. It means our health and well-being are directly impacted by interior design and indoor air quality,” says Interior Design Professor Ethan Lu.  That makes this year’s theme, “Designing for Wellness,” for the 2019 NY11+ Interior Design Student Exhibition especially pertinent. The non-profit showcases student work from top New York State educational institutions.

Standing in front of FIT’s student work display at the 2019 NY11+ Student Exhibition Event in the Teknion showroom. From left-right: Susan Forbes, Katherine Amato, Alexandra Fay, Michaela Sweetin, Immanuel Went, Andrew Gulino, Interior Design Chair Carmita Sanchez-Fong and professors Gordon Frey, Suzanne Lettieri, Andrew Seifer, and Ethan Lu

FIT alum Andrew Gulino’s fall 2018 thesis project, “Brushwick,” was chosen for the exhibit. His work was displayed at the Teknion showroom in Manhattan.

“Andrew Gulino’s project is an after-school art center in Brooklyn for underprivileged teens that would provide art courses not offered at their public schools,” says Professor Lu.

Andrew Gulino’s fall 2018 thesis project on display

Gulino’s thesis project covered topics, such as health and mental wellness, and design strategies, such as bringing natural ventilation and indirect daylight into the art studio spaces. His name of the art center, “Brushwick,” is a playful word pun on the Bushwick neighborhood in Brooklyn.

“The thought behind the design of ‘Brushwick’ was a space that gives provides for the community and most importantly supports the art education. More and more public schools are dismantling their art programs due to budget cuts. ‘Brushwick’ allows underprivileged students to take engaging art courses and collaborate with artistic minds. In my high school, only one art class offered, so I wanted to create a space that benefited those who may not have the same opportunity like I had.” – Andrew Gulino

View of Teknion showroom’s main reception space with Interior Design Chair Carmita Sanchez-Fong and FIT students

“FIT’s Interior Design department has put a tremendous effort into addressing sustainability, health, and wellness across our curriculum.  Hopefully, this message will resonate further as our students become interior design practitioners,” says Professor Lu.

View of Teknion showroom’s main lecture space with Prof. Ethan Lu and FIT students. A panel of professionals discussed issues of health and well-being in the built environment

Professor Lu said he was impressed with the number of FIT faculty, students, and alumni who showed up to support NY11+, a coalition of New York State educational institutions that offer interior design degree programs.

“Building a support system of interior design education, professional examination, and state licensure is really important for the longevity of our profession,” says Professor Lu.  “We need more events like this from coalitions, such as IDLNY and NY11+, and associations, such as ASID and IIDA, in order to pave a strong career path for future interior design students and emerging professionals.”

Interior Design Prof. Suzanne Lettieri and FIT student standing in Teknion’s main reception space

A panel discussion followed the exhibition opening reception.  It was moderated by Benjamin Huntington, an ASID member and New York State Certified Interior Designer.  Panelists included Rebecca Steiger, Suzette Subance, and Angela Spangler.  They are working professionals from Gensler, TPG Architecture, and International WELL Building Institute.

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Students See Update for a Landmark Building

Bringing a landmark building up to date requires a great deal of sensitivity.  To see the work-in-progress on-site is a rare opportunity and great education for students. 

These students from Professor Manuel Mergal’s Interior Design Technology III class, recently visited a New York City townhouse gut renovation project for which their professor is the architect.

Prof. Manuel Mergal’s ID 381 Design Technology III class ready for their construction site tour

According to Professor Mergal the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, so any intervention has to be reviewed by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“The students were able to see first-hand all the issues that we discuss during class: mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting, acoustical, structural, and more,” he says.


Photo provided by Manuel Mergal


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Students Shape Pellon for Macy’s Far-Out Flower Show

One might think that Pellon, a stiff fabric usually used for linings, might have limited design options. Not so. In Prof. Susanna Moyer’s class students had no trouble crafting wildly diverse designs that captured the outer space theme of this year’s Macy’s Flower Show. Here’s what several students themselves said about their work.

Victoria Oxer

Victoria Oxer’s inspiration came from how stars shoot out in space in different directions. “Hence,” she says ” the burnt out jacquard blue fabric. I wanted to have the floral effect in my design since it is the Macy’s Flower Show. So I hand-glued each and every purple and blue rose inspired organza-silk flower on the front-back meeting at the side seam. I also got inspiration for how stars appear in the galaxy and twinkle in the moonlight, therefore I hand-glued strings of lights to mimic that experience.”

Wan-Yun Tung

Wan-Yun Tung’s theme was Zero Gravity “The whole universe looks still but everything is actually slightly floating. Water ink shows the float of beauty and the serenity of the universe. However, behind the calmness, the magnificence is way beyond description. That’s how my universe is like.” Her design includes aluminum, beads and water ink.

Sara Sagsveen

Alexis Croker-Benn’s project (below) was inspired by a fictional international space station flower goddess. “As a flower space goddess.”

Alexis Croker-Benn

Says Alexis “It was important for her to have a long silhouette and a big dramatic train.” The theme Alexis picked was grey-zero gravity. “The shape I created that seems to stick out — as well as the large floating train — really speaks volumes to the zero gravity inspiration. I sprayed painted my whole project. Also I created an additional hat to go with the garment. To make the hat I used the technique of paper maché.”

Jaclynn Polzer

“I was inspired by terrace farming, and its step-like attributes in contrast to rolling hills, says Jaclynn Polzer. “I combined this concept with the idea of a satellite garden. The “garden” is an upside corkscrew as there is no right side up in space.”

The Pellon Trio

Mary Sagsveen, Derek Knodt, and Claudia Rojek for Team Lunar Landing!

Students picked a shape as a motif and played with scale and size to create a unique silhouette. Each color symbolizes one of the themes of the show. Red as antimatter, blue/purple as shining stars, yellow as big bang, white as lunar landing, pink as interstellar explorer, grey/silver as zero gravity and peach as comet couture.

Brooke Ulman

Brooke Ulman’s Pellon project was inspired by a cracked-open geode. “I wanted to be inspired by something very metallic and intriguing. I dyed the crystals, glued string lights behind them, spray painted and sponge painted the base dress with a rock texture and hand painted the geode rings.”

Niyomi Shah

Niyomi Shah was inspired by an upside-down dress silhouette. “I have created a cape. I made alien-looking flowers using Pellon. The white sprinkle paint on the flowers shows the galaxy effect on my garment. The cape is paired with a skirt.”

Rebecca Kreamer

Says Rebecca Kreamer “I was inspired by the beauty of flowers and used nature’s design to layer the petals. The shades of the bodice balance the softness of the skirt and peach sweetness.”

Ashua Moogi

Says Ashua Moogi, “When the ice comes, it locks the dust within its tubular grasp. Beneath it lies. The gardens of satellite, frozen clusters, immersed in dust and ice.”

Wearing Pellon

Several students were ready to take off into space. Derek Knodt outfitted Claudia Rojekout for a lunar landing.

“My students were passionate and excited about participating in the Flower Show design competition!” says Prof. Moyer. “It fulfills the Shape Project that is built into the Advanced Draping class. The project jump-started the semester and has continued with the development AAS exhibit garment. I am proud of my students’ dedication to their work.”

Outfitted in Pellon

Jaclynn Polzer ready to strut the Flower Show and for terrace farming!

Ten Fashion Design sections (approx. 250 students) created designs for the Pellon as part of a class assignment.  One look was chosen, per class, for each of seven themes.

Seven final Fashion Design students’ Pellon creations were chosen for the Macy’s Flower Show and three on the floor for a Macy’s Spring/Trend event. They are on display at the Herald Square store until April 7.  Student Pellon designs are also on display in the Fred Pomerantz Art and Design Center lobby.

Photos by Rachel Ellner

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Car Pelleteri captures the beauty of Montauk

“I started making portraits of locals and natives, fishermen, surfers, restaurant owners, writers, the Montauk lighthouse chairperson. They either had to be born there or have lived there for decades. That was the way I started,” says Car Pelleteri about work on her recently published “Montauk 11954.”

Photo: Car Pelleteri

In 2000, Car Pelleteri was weeks from finishing her Photography AAS when she was sent on assignment to Montauk to assist with a Macy’s catalog shoot. She “became smitten” by the idyllic Long Island community and landscape. “It seemed removed but within reach of the city. The place we stayed, East Deck, was an especially cool motel,” she says.

By 2012 Pelleteri started noticing a cultural shift. “It was getting more crowded, with a layer of ‘ultra cool’ in the air.”

Pelleteri spoke to the manager of the East Deck about her desire to make portraits. “The owner came out and gave me a list of names on a business card. Her word was like gold. Everyone I approached for the project said ‘yes.'”

Book cover of “Montauk 11954”

In between shoots Pelleteri shot landscapes and environments–the cliffs, (called the hoodoos), vintage signs, horses at Deep Hollow Ranch, close-ups of seafood. “It was to capture the overall feeling, to provide a sense of place,” she says.

Pelleteri self-published a book of her Montauk photos through her own LLC and had it printed by a company in Iceland for spring-summer 2014.  “It was limited to 500 copies. I photographed it, edited it, transcribed interviews, and had a copy editor look over the text. I also had an excellent designer do the layout. We collaborated on the cover design.”

Photo: Car Pelleteri

It was a “big production on a small independent scale,” she says. “I got it into 27 bookstores, boutiques and elsewhere in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Hamptons, throughout Montauk, Florida and Washington state.”

Her book got publicity from The Southampton Press, French Vogue, Hamptons Magazine, and Traveler.  She sold out the 500 copies.

In spring 2017, Schiffer Publishing contacted Pelleteri to inquire if she might go further with the project. “I had wanted to do a second edition. They asked me to photograph more with a different feel and edit. The book released Sept 28, 2018 and it’s selling everywhere,” she says.

“FIT is instrumental in many of the projects that we consider and publish…FIT is a creative hub that develops students’ skills and perspectives through expert and industry knowledge. I respect the institution for all that they do to develop future designers and makers.” – Pete Schiffer, Publisher, Schiffer Publishing

Photo: Car Pelleteri

“FIT was instrumental to my development as a photographer,” says Pelleteri. “The teacher support I received was excellent. The facilities, equipment and big photo companies such as Profoto and Hasselblad, held demos that allowed me to practice with the best equipment.  I was already photo assisting but this potent combo better prepared me for the real world,” says Pelleteri.

“Car Pelleteri’s ‘Montauk 11954’ is revealing, peaceful, genuine and inspiring,” says Photography Prof. Max Hilaire

Schiffer Publishing has published work of other FIT grads and faculty including titles on pleating and design to books on technical skills. “We just published a book with Helene Verin based on the FIT Library collection of Shoe designer Arsho Baghsarian; Stuart Weitzman wrote the introduction. An FIT instructor, according to Schiffer, is currently working on a metalworking project.

To see more of Car Pelleteri’s work visit her website at: carpelleteri

Photos used with permission.


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Robeson is Othello in Prof. Hoston’s 100th anniversary graduation tribute

When Illustration Professor James Hoston was asked to submit sketches for consideration for the Paul Robeson Legacy Project — a year-long tribute to Robeson’s 100th year anniversary of graduating from Rutger’s University — he was ecstatic. “Paul Robeson is a personal hero of mine.  His life and career are poignant to the African-American community and American history.”
James Hoston’s Paul Robeson as Othello (detail below with actress Uta Hagan as Desdemona)

There can be no-one-sketch-fits-all when it comes to Robeson. He was a daunting intellect, stage and film actor, an all-star, two-time All-American athlete. He was a scholar and famed baritone of classical, spiritual and folk music. He was multi-lingual and a political activist. He was Valedictorian at Rutgers 100 years ago.

Five themes were given for artists to choose from. When Hoston began researching Robson’s life in depth “it was almost impossible to choose one,” he said.

“I did sketches of him as an athlete and actor and could have kept going.”  He submitted the required color 24″ x 12″ sketch of Robeson as an athlete, but the category had been chosen. Museum Director of Rutger’s Zimmerli Art MuseumTom Sokolowski, suggested Hoston complete a color sketch of his original submission.  “It was a fantastic way to go” says Hoston.

James Hoston’s initial black and white submission of Paul Robeson as Othello

“It’s of Robeson in one of his most famous roles as Othello,” says Hoston.  Robeson appears at the top of the composition and at the bottom with co-star Uta Hagen as Desdemona. “The two acted together at the world-famous Shubert Theatre here in New York, in 1943-1944. With this sketch Hoston became one of six finalists to show their work.

“I added the red Poppy and purple Mandragora flowers to complete the Shakespearian quote in Othello” says Hoston. 

“‘Not poppy, nor mandragora, nor all the drowsy syrups of the world, shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep which thou owedst yesterday.’

Those flowers were known for their opioid effects even back then! That quote personified the tragedy that Othello felt, once he had realized what he had done.”

Houston teaches Painting Process: Figure as a Visual Communication and Illustrating the Written Word.  His works have been exhibited at galleries nationwide. He has collaborated with artist Jeff Koons, has been a book illustrator and artist at Marvel Comics.

Paul Robeson, college star athlete and two-time All American by James Hoston
“The portrait of Paul Robeson as Othello by eminent artist James Hoston is a truly memorable expression of the exceptional accomplishments of an iconic performing artist and activist. It is about legacy. A portrait has to be memorable but believable, and that’s what makes this a portrait powerful. It’s what he did that’s being passed down to us. He was moving people. He had the stage.”   
– Ed Soyka, Chair, Illustration

Hoston spoke to his students about competition and showed them the trajectory of sketches.  “I won a slot before the fall semester ended and had to complete the twice-as-large painting in less than three weeks,” he said. “The deadline was in the middle of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I didn’t sleep for a week trying to get my painting done!”

The Paul Robeson commemorative exhibit of portraits at Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers-New Brunswick will be on display from through April 14.

Images used with permission.
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Nicholas Keslake’s Open Call: From Broadway to FIT

Before show time, Illustration major Nicholas Keslake helps set the stage for a world where a young wizard from the printed page takes over the stage in spectacular style.  It’s the Broadway production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” — a show known for its technical wizardry – necessary in an age where movie audiences are used to computer-generated special effects that have to be done live in the theater, eight shows a week.

Illustration Design student Nicholas Keslake with Animation Prof. John Goodwin. Both student and teacher work in Broadway theater. Keslake is enrolled in Goodwin’s 2D Animation class. Photo: Rachel Ellner

Working with a production crew Keslake is responsible for all technical aspects of Harry Potter. “We check every part of the scenery, lighting, special effects, costumes, sound and props, every single light, battery, special effect and any costume pieces that have electricity in them,” says Keslake, a sixth semester student.

Why FIT? While continuing to work as a electrician on Broadway productions, Keslake hopes to self-publish comic books and graphic novels.  “I’m pursuing a parallel career with theater” he says.

“Wolverine,” Nicholas Keslake’s oil paint on MDF board created for Illustration class with Illustration Professor Kam Mak

Keslake is part of a coveted group within Art and Design with work ties to Broadway and off-Broadway theater.  Animation Prof. John Goodwin films Broadway and off-Broadway shows; Fashion Design professors Don Newcomb and Michael Casey created costumes for “Steel Magnolia” and costumed Radio City shows respectively; Photography Prof. Ron Amato has worked with a projection design team on “Grey Gardens.” Joshua Burns, a new instructor on the Continuing and Professional Studies roster, is currently a wardrobe technician for “Beautiful.”

“Pinball Festival,” Nicholas Kelake’s acrylic paint on illustration board
for Illustration Professor Steven Tabbutt’s class

“The advantage for me of FIT is that I can spend time developing further as an artist and creator without the stress of wondering how I’m going to make rent or if I’ll have medical insurance. So far, the two careers seem to be maintainable separately,” says Keslake, who has also worked on “Chicago,” “Jersey Boys,” “Groundhog Day,” “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark,” and “Mamma Mia!”

“Bernie Madoff,” by Nicholas Keslake

Along with a production crew, Keslake is responsible for all of the technical aspects of Harry Potter. “I work with the designers and production crew to help turn the lighting needs into the design audiences experience. This could mean the fabrication of parts, hanging lighting equipment, focusing the lighting rig. A Broadway show is such a huge undertaking. We end up doing so many different things that are hard to quantify.”

With a schedule that includes working the eight shows a week, plus weekly equipment maintenance, Keslake managed to fit his classes into two evenings a week. There have been hiccups, but not on Broadway.

“I did a second run at the fifth semester and restarted the sixth semester this year. I figured since I was here to learn, it wouldn’t hurt to take the fifth semester over with some different teachers and classes,” says Keslake.

Detail from “Fall of the House of Usher,” Nicholas Keslake’s ink on illustration board for class with Illustration Professor Ray Lago

“The advantage for me of FIT is that I can spend time developing further as an artist and creator without the stress of wondering how I’m going to make rent or if I’ll have medical insurance,” says Keslake. “So far, the two careers seem to be maintainable separately.”

Joshua Burns, who currently teaches Wardrobe for Theater, Film and TV, has worked on 26 Broadway, film and television productions doing wardrobe and costume construction and as an assistant designer.

“It’s interesting to come into academia from the professional entertainment industry where it’s second nature for me. Not until I was started planning my courses for FIT, did I realize there’s an abundance of information and first-hand knowledge that can be adapted to the classroom. It’s one thing to learn and another to implement — I’m in a position to bridge them together,” says Burns.

Nicholas Keslake’s black and white illustration from a photograph for color theory class

Keslake has a BA in theater from UCLA and worked as a lighting designer for 12 years in Los Angeles before coming to New York in 2002.

“I looked at various schools. I needed to stay in New York and to juggle finances. FIT fit the bill perfectly.”

To see more of Nicholas Keslake’s work and read about his FIT experiences check out his blog: NKeslake

All art work provided by Nicholas Keslake
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