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Art on the Side

Not every artist is full-time. For those who teach or pursue other careers, creating art often goes on life’s back burner.

In its season-opening exhibit in fall 2019, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s: Artist Legacy of IUP, the University Museum featured the work of 11 such alumni artists—who had limited time for their craft but persisted anyway.

Peaches and Patterns by Renie Pollock

Peaches and Patterns by Renie Pollock

Joy Biesinger Fairbanks ’72, M’78, one of the curators and artists, credits IUP professor emeritus Ned Wert ’58 for making sure she and others remained active artists.

“It’s overwhelming to work all day, come home, and do it again,” said Fairbanks, who taught art for 30 years in Blairsville schools. “But Ned told us to keep doing it, and we did.”

Porcelain Teapot by Ron Pivovar

Porcelain Teapot by Ron Pivovar

Still connected with scores of former students, Wert said many stop creating art after they graduate. “These people,” he said at the show’s opening reception last September, “have continued to produce. They’ve exhibited, they’ve won awards—they’re making IUP proud.”

Fairbanks chose her “sampling” of artists mainly from those she knew during her time at Indiana State College and IUP, time that started in 1959 and, because of years away to raise her children, ended nearly two decades later with receipt of her master’s degree.

The show’s artists named a dozen former professors who, at various stages, helped make art central to their lives. Now retired from Thiel College’s art faculty, Ron Pivovar ’63 recalled with clarity the pot-throwing demonstration professor Lawrence McVitty gave 60 years ago that led to Pivovar’s becoming a potter.

Ned Wert, left, with Jim Germaux

Ned Wert, left, with Jim Germaux

A financial advisor in Maryland, Jim Germaux ’74 said he learned from his faculty mentors and lifelong friends Wert, George Johnson, Bob Slenker ’52, and Jean Johnson Slenker ’53 that he could be an accomplished artist while having another career. He has continued to paint and exhibit his work, and for a decade he taught sculpture at Frederick Community College.

These alumni have also drawn inspiration from one another. Painter Pat Ruane ’82 continues to get together with other Pittsburgh-area alumni to draw. He finds it reminiscent of the camaraderie—if not the “healthy, competitive” spirit—he experienced during his student-artist days. “We egged each other on,” he said. “It wasn’t unusual for students to stay overnight working in Sprowls. We were pretty serious, even though we were young.”

What John Skrabalak ’72 treasures still is the sense of freedom he found as an IUP art major. “In classes, I was never afraid to try something new,” he said. After 36 years of teaching in Altoona, he now focuses on his abstract art. “IUP is in me when I paint,” he said.

Spring Growth Boogie by Jim Bright

Spring Growth Boogie by Jim Bright

The artists featured in ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s: Artist Legacy of IUP were Pivovar, Jim Bright ’69, M’81, Renie Garlick Pollock ’70, M’77, Kathleen Kase Burk ’72, M’80, Fairbanks, H. K. Miller ’72, M’74, Skrabalak, Germaux, Bridget Mayak ’74, Cynthia Hutnyan ’79, M’81, and Ruane.