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Match Made in McElhaney

Friends and family members of Bob and Jean Slenker joined forces last summer with admirers and collectors of the Slenkers’ art. Together, they put together a memorial show, displaying sculpture and assemblages in the University Museum and Kipp Gallery.

The works themselves were exciting and engaging. No less appealing, though, were the words of obvious affection that described the artists in the show’s printed materials.

untitled 21

untitled #21 by Robert Slenker

Robert and Jean Johnson Slenker met at IUP in the late forties, when both were art education students. (The art department was in McElhaney Hall then.) Later, both taught high school art (at different schools) and earned master’s degrees from Columbia University’s Teachers College. By the late sixties, they were together on the IUP art department faculty. For the next three decades, the Slenkers made significant contributions not only to the university but to the lives—artistic and personal—of thousands of students. Bob died in September, 2001—almost three years to the day after Jean’s death.

IUP art professors James Nestor and Christopher Weiland were curators of the memorial show. In his “Curator’s Perspective” on Jean Slenker’s work, Nestor wrote: “In the 1960s, the role of welded works was still quite controversial within universities and art schools. Often vertical in orientation, her linear sculptures rely on a stark graphic design to define her world. These works, of found bicycles in the case of Goat or brake parts for Lenny the Lobster, are not easy or beautiful in intention. While the image and technique are evident, her views and intent within each work are enigmatic.”

Lenny the Lobster

Lenny the Lobster by Jean Slenker

Personal perspectives on each of the Slenkers were contributed to the show’s catalog by IUP professors Christine Wilson Kesner and Darlene Richardson. It was Curator Weiland, though, who managed to capture Bob Slenker at his most endearing:

“He would stop by the wood studio with his latest sculpture piece and wait by the entrance door till he caught my attention. With parts to his latest sculpture tucked under his arms, he would look at me with a big grin and say, ‘Christopher! Are you busy?’ I could not resist his little chuckle and smile as he waited for me to say, ‘Show me what you have.’”

Note: Information on purchasing pieces from the show or show catalogs may be available on the University Museum’s website. In addition, two special funds honor the Slenkers and assist future generations of IUP students in developing artistic talent. The Jean J. Slenker Memorial Scholarship provides awards to promising students involved in fabrics, papermaking, or art education. The Robert E. Slenker Graphic Design Laboratory and Classroom gives students experience with advanced and cutting-edge technology in graphic design. Contributions to both funds may be made through the Foundation for IUP, Sutton Hall Room 103, 1011 South Drive, Indiana, PA 15705.