Indiana University of Pennsylvania formally cut the ribbon for the Dessy-Roffman Myth Collaborative space on April 24, 2021.
The Dessy-Roffman Myth Collaborative is designed to be a dynamic, cross-disciplinary resource for students and faculty that will enhance the on-campus site, where the study of myth is nurtured and supported, providing an exchange of ideas among faculty
of diverse departments, offering seminars and workshops on myth, and designing cocurricular courses.
The space dedicated to the Collaborative is located adjacent to the Department of English in IUP’s Jane E. Leonard Hall.
Ribbon cutting: From left, IUP President Michael Driscoll; Blane Dessy, IUP 1971 graduate; Rosaly Roffman, IUP professor of English emerita
The Collaborative is named in honor of Blane Dessy, a 1973 English major graduate, and IUP Professor Emerita of English Rosaly DeMaios Roffman.
In December 2019, IUP’s Council of Trustees approved the naming of the Collaborative in recognition of Dessy’s “transformative” gift of $100,000 to establish the Dessy-Roffman Myth Collaborative, honoring Roffman’s influence on Dessy’s life. The resolution noted that Roffman’s impact “kindled his passion for literacy and growth.”
The April 24 ceremony included remarks from IUP President Michael Driscoll; Distinguished University Professor Gian Pagnucci; Michael Williamson, co-director of the Collaborative;
Michael Sell, professor of English; artist Jordan Hershberger; cabinet maker Michael Korsak; Roffman, and Dessy.
Dessy, executive director of the Erie County Public Library, has a distinguished career in the field of library science, serving as the director of library staff at the United States Department of Justice and as executive director of national enterprises
at the Library of Congress.
Roffman, of Pittsburgh, an internationally acclaimed poet and writer, taught literature and creative writing in the English Department from 1968 to 2003 and founded the IUP Center for the Study of Myth and Folklore in the 1970s. In 2002, Roffman donated
more than 170 books to IUP to establish the Rosaly DeMaios Roffman Collection Center for the Study of Myth and Folklore.
The Four Virgins of the Black Elk Vision and the cabinet by Michael Korsak
The centerpiece of the Collaborative’s physical space is a suite of four ceramic pots, The Four Virgins of the Black Elk Vision, created by poet, artist, and educator Mary Caroline (M.C.) Richards. The suite was gifted to Roffman by Richards,
who was a teacher, friend, and mentor to Roffman; Roffman donated the suite to IUP’s University Museum in 2016.
The suite is displayed in a custom black walnut cabinet with sunburst veneer, built by cabinetmaker Michael Korsak, who spoke during the event. He thanked both Dessy and Roffman for their support, and Roffman for sharing her knowledge of M.C. Richards
The cabinet is designed to preserve and protect the pots, but also to create a display of the suite that shows the pots from all angles, including the interior of the vessels. Korsak said that the pots reflect a shift in Richards’ approach to working
from the inside out, with the faces in the pots shaped from the interior.
“The cabinet itself is designed to be quietly elegant, but not distract from the pots, but also reinforce the concepts that ideas come from within and the material itself has its own inner glow,” Korsak said.
The space also includes four paintings by IUP 2018 art graduate Jordan Hershberger, a series of classical mythological creatures with the letters M,Y,T, and H—Cerberus (guardian of Hades), a dragon, a phoenix, and a unicorn. Hershberger expressed his
gratitude for the opportunity to do the project as he unveiled his work.
In remarks opening the event, President Driscoll recognized Dessy and Roffman for their long-time commitment to IUP, and how it demonstrates the transformational educational experience at IUP.
“It is his gift, built on Rosaly’s passion, that helped to create this space, where students and faculty can dive together into the world of myth and storytelling. And the fact that this happened is a testament to how one person can be such a huge influence
on another,” Driscoll said.
“Here at IUP we think that a truly transformative education comes as students learn side-by-side with each other and with their faculty, colleagues working together to discover something meaningful about themselves, about their world, about each other,
and then when they take that forward to inform their lives and their work.
“It’s an incredible, incredible legacy, and at the Dessy-Roffman Myth Collaborative we have a physical symbol of that incredible dynamic that’s happened oh so many times at IUP; but beyond that we have a place that will be used going into the future.
It’s all due to the bonds that form—and in this case formed a few years ago—between a faculty member and a student, a connection that informed a lifetime, and informed many lifetimes,” he said.
Distinguished University Professor Pagnucci, chair of the Department of English, spoke during the event about the power of the study of mythology, describing it as “about who we are and who we want to be,” and thanked both Dessy and Roffman for their
support for the project.
In prerecorded remarks, Sell spoke about M.C. Richards, her writing, and her art, and noted that The Four Virgins of the Black Elk Vision, as the centerpiece of the Dessy Roffman Myth Collaborative, “reminds us to continually orient our minds,
hearts, and hands towards teaching the power of creativity and how to communicate across time and generations.”
Williamson’s prerecorded remarks said that the overall purpose of the Collaborative is to create and develop a dynamic regional engine for the study of mythology and folklore from around the world.
He said that goals of the Collaborative include working with local schools to develop programming on mythological content that will expand children’s exposure to myth, history, and geography; collaborations with the Jimmy Stewart Museum and the Blairsville
Underground Railroad program; and return to publishing the myth journal Aristeia, which was created by Roffman and her students in the 1970s. The journal will include writing by students, faculty, and community members.
In addition to campus collaboration, it is hoped that programming and initiatives of the Collaborative will be developed across the State System of Higher Education and throughout western Pennsylvania.
In her remarks, Roffman talked about her journey and her 37-year career at IUP, and thanked Dessy and IUP for the support they have shown. She talked about her relationship with Richards and Richards’ work and art, and about the enthusiasm of her former
students for the study of myth and the origin of Aristeia. The last journal published at IUP features The Four Virgins of the Black Elk Vision. She also expressed her thanks for the care and “rescue” of her books from Leonard Hall,
moved to the Collaborative.
In his remarks, Dessy acknowledged the faculty and staff of the university, noting that the faculty of the English Department have had the idea for a collaborative for several years.
Roffman concluded the event by reading her poem, “Our Debt: Chant Poem for Myth,” which will be featured in the first upcoming issue of Aristeia.
In addition to her work in the classroom, Roffman is known internationally as a poet and author.
She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Distinguished Faculty Award in the Arts from IUP, a Witter-Bynner Foundation award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and fellowships at the Cummington School of the Arts, the Vermont Studio
Arts Colony, and the Edward Albee Inter-arts/Writing Center.
Her works include the prize-winning Life on the Line: Selections on Words and Healing, Going to Bed Whole, Tottering Palaces, The Approximate Message, and In the Fall of the Sparrows. She has read her poems throughout the world and at
three World Congresses of Poets, and has authored and edited numerous publications in journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her latest book of poems, I Want to Thank My Eyes, was published in May 2012.
At IUP, she collaborated with Holly Boda-Sutton, professor of dance, and composer David Berlin on a dance performance by the IUP Dance Theater, Triptych: Three Ways, Three Words, in April 2012. Roffman and Boda-Sutton also collaborated on Out of the Deep, an original dance work based on Roffman’s poems from
her experience with a pod of whales off the coast of Mexico. The IUP Dance Theater performed this composition at the Carnegie Museum of Natural
History in 2010.
Roffman is the facilitator of the Squirrel Hill Poetry Workshop, established in 1978, the longest standing writers’ workshop in Pittsburgh. The group was honored by the Heinz History Center, at which they were invited to give a reading of their work in 2018. Recently she made a presentation to the Pittsburgh Poetry Society on interpretations of the myth of Narcissus and Echo.
She is also a George Orwell scholar and discovered some of his lost works.
During her tenure at IUP, Roffman edited and contributed to the development of many journals, including Aristeia, Athaena, and the New Growth Arts Review. She also briefly chaired and helped to develop the early interdisciplinary Asian Studies program.
Roffman was honored by the Department of English with the establishment of the Rosaly Roffman Innovation Award, honoring student works in multi-genre or multimedia.
Dessy has remained connected to the university since his graduation and is a member of the College of the Humanities and Social Sciences Advancement
In 2016, he donated funds for the design and construction of the “Sutton Bench” by students in BA Harrington’s
advanced woodworking class. Dessy’s gift to establish the Collaborative was part of IUP’s Imagine Unlimited campaign, which raised $81.36 million to enable
IUP to step forward as a national leader by transforming the student experience through scholarships, program enhancements, and new and modernized facilities.