Welcome to the Future

Please send any private comments to futureofartcenter at gmail.com. Note that comments were turned off last May. They are available now for the most recent post only.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The House that Tink Built

I am gathering letters on students, faculty and alumni's thoughts about ACCD. Not opinions on what is happening now, but their reminiscences of ACCD. Click on the comments to read letters gathered over the last few days, and add yours. We need to go back to the history of Art Center to move forward.


Ophelia Chong said...

As you know, in the days before Pasadena, it was Art Center School. The degree offered someone in the industrial design program was Bachelor of Professional Arts, the best they could muster with their credentials. The teachers had reputations we ascribed to the apostles-one degree from the source. Joe Thompson, Joe Farrar's mentor, worked on a Cadillac assembly line in 1913, held our hands as we struggled to smooth out the clay.
Doyald Young and his mentor Mort Leach ("Caslon was my inspiration!") taught us lettering. Strother McMinn would invite us over to his place in the Silverlake district to socialize and listen to cool jazz while we talked cars and design.

We were, as a group, older than present day undergraduates. Many in my class were on the GI Bill which nearly covered our expenses. I was married so my wife held down a job until she had to take maternity leave. My son was born in March 1958, but fortunately I had a couple of aunts willing to subsidize our expenses.

It was really simple then. I don't think there were any pretensions about the school-we were the best and employers were eager to hire us. Not being in the advertising or graphics side I didn't come in contact with those teachers too much, but they were all well paid professionals. Product teacher John Coleman, who taught airbrush (now there's something you don't come across much) told us that he used to endorse his paychecks with an airbrush!
When you talk of "mid-century"design, you were really talking of the faculty at Art Center School-colleagues of Harley Earle and Raymond Loewy, contemporaries of Charles and Ray Eames. The Case Study houses were new. Pre-stressed concrete was the key to wild new structures like the outer space restaurant that settled into the midst of the LAX terminals.

We had academics force fed to us by Pasadena City College professors. We were never bored. Art Center lived up to my high school expectations and when I graduated, I was hired by GM and went to work in the Nirvana of car styling, the Tech Center. So you could say that the two years and eight months spent at 5353 West Third Street set my life course and provide me with fond memories.

Andy Graybeal '60

Ophelia Chong said...

Third Street was a wonderful experience. Many of our instructors were working professionals. They kept their 'day jobs' while spending a day or two a week with students. This kept all in touch with the design world! As to Joe Thompson, he was one-of-a-kind. Joe wanted to work at Cadillac from the beginning. He started in 1904 in a Buggy shop. It took 10 years to get the experience Cadillac required to offer him a job. Joe was trained by the first automotive model maker. As second in this craft, Joe had so much to offer ACS students. He eventually became the head of the Sample Body Department at Cadillac. He turned Harley Earl's designs into proto-types. Joe helped with the development of every LaSalle plus many of the Cadillacs up to WWII. He also kept his own Model Making Studio going during his teaching years, too. This often brought his clients to the ACS model shop where he would introduce us to them. This is just one example of what Art Center was all about. Here's hoping this teaching style will be part of the ACCD's future.

Hugh Nutting TRAN '61

outroLugar said...

I don't agree with looking at the past being the right way to design the future. There is a certain value in nostalgia and I respect it. However, back in 1960's, there was no internet, the information was available with different more limited means. How can we assume, with our global awareness today in 2008, that we can go back to the same structure and expect to be one of the greatest in the world, when the rest of the world is operating with a cosmopolitan, global perspective. It will keep us back in 1960s if we operate like it's the 60's.

"When you talk of "mid-century"design, you were really talking of the faculty at Art Center School"

It's inspirational to read stories of how Art Center used to be. I don't think sentimentality is the way to carry us into the future. After all, it is way past "mid-century" and we need to think for the future.

Ophelia Chong said...

dear outrolugar
I think you misunderstood the reason for this post, I am asking for alumni stories of their experiences at ACCD. Not to go back to the past.

We learn from the past to move towards the future. The same reason I studied Art History, to learn the foundation of what we look at today.

Bambi said...


I think the idea of these stories are to help us all to see the commonalities that have stayed with Art Center for decades. Perhaps current students might not have this perspective, but Art Center used to be about some really basic things. Internet or no internet. Good design principles and a strong work ethic transcend both geographical boundaries and technological.

One of the biggest problems is that a whole bunch of people have forgotten the basics and allowed the school to chase frivolous "fluff" over solid preparation. Put another way: If the school was taking dollars out of basic drawing classes and putting them towards more fitting "educational" expenses, I think you'd get a lot fewer getting angry versus those dollars being spent on trips to Spain

Nathan said...

I agree with Anon 1:16PM, in that the purpose of this thread is to try and get an overview of the core values that have run through out Art Center over the years.

I do believe that Art Center teaches a thought process, and it does that through specific skill sets. The experience at Art Center is learning how to learn with purpose, meaning, and in a timely manner. Additionally, there is an encouragement to eliminate the excess, in search of the essential. I believe the more successful students make these connections, while others at the very least learn a skill set that is relevant for a period of time.

Jon Deshler said...

I attended ACCD in the early 80's. It was a novel experience that did, to some reasonably replicate those aspects of the "real" world that forced you to perform. ACCD nurtured a process that gave you the education, space, and time to build sensitivity to design, skill and craft.

The teachers were a varied array of full time staff, that had usually attended the school themselves, and those successful freelancers that taught one or two classes, usually at night, many of were also alumni. At that time Charlie Potts was the Photo Chair and I believe he had been there since the school’s beginning, or at least for a very long time. Other teachers that I remember were James Woods, Bill Robins, Bob Stein, Kazuo Haruta, Peter Syzinski, Fred Witters, Bill Cann, Gina Anttonioli, Bill Coleman, …… boy, I am actually a bit surprised that I remembered so many, but there were many more.

We spent much of our time in the darkrooms. Of course, it was all hands on, pre-digital processes. I remember eventually getting to know everyone in my class, although, I had roughly 3-4 close friends that over time were the ones with which the experience was really shared. The school had, I think, about 900-1000 students at that time, all up on the hill.

As I write this now, I am remembering that there was a decent quantity of diverse character within the teacher pool. I am reflecting on this as a good thing, indicative of the world, and the varied types of people, their styles, and a wide range of emotional dynamics. I am wondering now if that is the same; if this modern world allows for the amount of "unique and individual character" that was expressed before us in our classes by those individual personalities, some big, some loud, some, flamboyant, etc? I hope there is still some of that color on the campus today.

We had a strong sense of craft, craft born from our hands and the experiences we cultivated with them. That stuff, which nurtured the humanity of the entire endeavor. Good stuff. Good experience. Perhaps I am just being sentimental about old times and romantic notions of the old world; where our high-tech was the telephone and an electric typewriter. Don’t get me wrong I support evolution of all kinds, but I think it is good to nurture consciousness along the way, so thanks for this opportunity and invite! I think reflection is positive and always good for cultivating consciousness, and good for the old synaptic connectivity too!

Jon Deshler - Photo 1986

Dan Resnic said...

I was at ACCD in 1975, yes the 'old campus' at 3333 W Third St, L A. I rode my bicycle to school and I used to wave 'Hello' to Natalie Cole sitting on the veranda of her father's house up the street from the school. We never spoke but we had this ritual of waving to each other every day. I didn't know who she was until my second year when I read a story about the difficulty her Dad had buying a house in LA. They had to get help from Sinatra and others to get them into the 'all white' neighborhood. She started recording a few years later.

Well, back to ACCD, the school was thrilling. It was considered THE top design school in the US, perhaps in the world. I was lucky to get accepted and paid my own tuition from summer jobs. I think its was $600 / semester. The outstanding memory is the illustration classes that began with simple model sitting on a stool and scaling up week after week to a circus tent (erected inside the class) with clowns and ballerinas then to the last class that was an African safari, with a live LION on the set. He was a trained cat used in the movies and well fed. He was on a leash with his trainer the whole time and they roamed the campus at lunch time to a to an inexplicable indifference too. The lion didn't to the big pussy cat. Most students didn't even break their lunch conversation when the lion strolled by. It was not that unusual to students then . We got many sets from film and TV for the illustration classes.
As a teenager I was just becoming aware of my sexuality and came to terms with being gay. Again, for many students this was treated with the same indifference as the lion but I was also shunned by my closest friends, Larry & Jay Vigon, when I told them I was gay. They never spoke to me again and wouldn't acknowledge me or make eye contact in the halls, which was a hard life lesson at that age. All in all my Art Center years were among the best times of my life.

- DR

Martha Brundage said...

In thinking about Mike Boehm's June 12 article in the LA Times concerning a proposal for a new complex at the school, a song came into my head. I can still hear Kevin Kline singing "Experiment" as he portrayed the indomitable Cole Porter.

As an eighteen year old student in 1956, fresh from Immaculate Heart High School, it seemed as though I had been transported to some wonderful place when I arrived at the Art Center campus on Third St. in Los Angeles, the school's second or third location in Los Angeles. The structure itself seemed incidental to what transpired in each classroom. The instruction and art philosophies instilled in each one of us by our faculty within the setting of the classroom was paramount to our developing and, yes, thinking of ourselves as artists and designers. So when I reflect on my experiences at Art Center, I remember my inspiring teachers, Mary Vartikian, John Altoon, Bernyce Polifka, Gene Fleury, Lorser Feitelson, Gene Edwards, Harry Carmean, John LaGatta, Al King, Doyald Young, Midge Quenell, and so many others.

Imagine the experience of being schooled in an old Tudor styled building wrapped around a courtyard where we gathered to eat our brown bag lunches, or squeezed into the auditorium, usually divided into two studios by a curtain, to listen to classical recordings. The library was right next door. Students could sit in there, and have both an audio and visual experience. But what I remember best was the experience of the classroom instruction at such a formative time in my life. After lunch, the students often circulated around the studios and observed the work in progress. So many exciting opportunities existed in the lovely old unairconditioned complex. In my mind's eye, I can be back there in an instant.

My hope is that the school will continue its excellent educational goals while finding ways to accommodate present and future technologies. Whether that includes one or more new buildings, more emphasis on affordability and instruction, or all three, Art Center will prevail as a problem solving institution with its students, instructors, and administrators. Perhaps there will be other unseen factors as well, such as a resurgence of the G.I. benefits bill. The earlier bills played such a role in all avenues of higher education.
Does the new building have to be permanent? Can it be portable? Can it have access to public transportation? This school can do almost anything creatively, and it has in the past. Experiment.

Martha Brundage

Andy Graybeal said...

I agree, Hugh, having Joe Thompson as a teacher was like having Pablo Casals teach you how to play the cello.

I felt personally connected with ACS. One thing I didn't mention was the tightness of our class in the years that followed. Networking kept most of us gainfully employed though the years and life long friendships were common.

In school, I sometimes marched to the beat of a different drummer. In one of my trans classes, i designed an interior that featured seating in colors that contrasted with the rest of the space. It was a little bizarre for the crit, but years later while attending the Pebble Beach Concours, I came upon Strother MacMinn who said, "Hello, Anthony!" (Mac never could get my name right) and recalled that interior sketch, saying that it was an admirable shift from the "dipped in a bucket of paint" look of most interiors. When I was at GM he and I corresponded at length about the desirability of California based design studios. GM was cool to the idea, (after all, they had recently opened the Saarinen designed complex) but Toyota was interested and Calty was born.

Dennis Hill said...

The discussion regarding “head vs. hand” or trade school vs. college has been going on for almost as long as the school has been around. In grade school, they teach you what to think, you go to college to learn how to think. Art Center uses a visual vocabulary in order to express one’s self. As your vocabulary increases so does your ability to express greater abstract thought. But, you have to have something to say. This idea of learning a “skill set” is very disturbing. A lot of the skill sets that I learned in school are no longer applicable. It is a good thing I learned how to think so I could go digital.
The other problem with learning a skill set is that you never know where or how life will take you. My uncle attended Art Center on a Ford scholarship but ended up working most of his career in the trade show business. One year of snow in Michigan did it. Another relative was an illustration major who now designs toy doll cloths. Another illustrator started a web portal for the horse community. I myself have become a de facto marketing manager for a couple of my clients in addition to the photo work that I do. I could go on and on. The point is that once you know the vocabulary of design, you are a designer, period. Techniques and training may change but thinking will always be in vogue.

I think the point Ophelia was making was to look back to our core values that made Art Center the leader in design education, take the best aspects and don't repeat the failures.

Anonymous said...

OK, I think that we can consider this "productive" non-political, not-attacking, non-personal discussion.

I would feel a lot better about Art Center leadership's committment to progressive change if I saw some of the school's leaders contributing to this exchange. Does everything always have to be on their turf and on their terms?

FOAC has done a fantastic job of creating a place where everyone can contribute their thinking. Would it be considered an utter act of treason if an Art Center faculty or staff member were to put forth an idea?

Ophelia Chong said...

Lesson #1

I remember Joe Farrer's class. We had to glue a perfect acrylic box together and then polish it. It was a 4 week ordeal. I hand carried that damn box wrapped in the softest towel I had. I would gently place it in the car each week to bring to class. One friend dropped his and just about broke down into tears. There was the smallest ding on the corner. But Joe could see it from across the room like a hawk and it's prey. We all shuddered and held our acrylic boxes close. The day he marked them, I got a passing grade, considering I was a Fine Arts major and he knew he was never going to see me again in his shop.

I took that box home, stared at it and then threw in change, keys, marbles, small pebbles and shook it. Then I looked at the first scratch and realized that after having made something so anal retentive, and so against my nature that I could do just about anything I set my mind to. That was the first lesson Art Center taught me.

Ophelia Chong

Lori Precious said...

Going to Art Center changed my life. I went through a metamorphosis there that I would not have if I had not gone to ACCD. I started out an illustration major but switched to Fine Art after taking Laurence Dreibands class. I was totally inspired by his class--he pushed me to excel and to think differently. All the students, including me, thought it the highest honor to get work chosen for the student gallery. It seemed too lofty a goal to even hope for. To my surprise, a piece of mine was chosen to put in the front window of the gallery. The events that followed made me feel like my life was truly charmed at that moment....after the school show opened, I was contacted by Bennett Roberts & Richard Heller (they had a gallery together at that time) who had seen my piece in the student gallery and wanted to put it in a show at their gallery. I was thrilled! The show opened and I got my first review in the LA TImes which was a very favorable review.

Since then, I've done a lot of art and have been in many shows. I'll always treasure the time I spent at AC and think of it as the place I started my path to my art career.

Lori Precious

Anonymous said...

One of the great memories I had of ACCD, was the encouragement from a faculty. Fourth Term, portrait class. It was a day before a overwhelmingly ambitius photoshoot (my first fashion shoot), I had talked the Spaghetti factory in to letting me use the space before opening, booked two anorexic looking models, shopped for outfits & props, booked a sassy makeup artist, reserved truck full of gear, and pages of sketches that I wanted to execute. I was going to have a nervous breakdown. So I share this with my instructor, Jeff Sedlek - and simply put he said- "you're not nervous, you're just excited about the shoot". And with that, my nervous breakdown became happy excitement for my first overzealous fashion shoot. After that, everytime I have a shoot that I'm nervous about... well, you get the idea. Thanks teach!! - Mindee Choi Photo '00

Luciano Bove said...

Hi guys,
to get back a good part of real ACCD spirit we need Nathan Young as president!


Teri said...

When I learned of Art Center, I was walking the university library of my home town. Wow! I was so excited. I saw a ACCD catalog on one of the tables. I couldn't believe my eyes. Was there really such a place close to me. I didn't have to brave New York or Rhode Island.

I saved for a year so I could move to Pasadena. I was able to rent a room in a house for 150.00 a month. I took night classes for awhile before my work was strong enough to be accepted. When I was accepted, I think I jumped up and down for a week. To be excepted into one of the top design schools, was an unbelievable dream for me.

Being at ACCD was intoxicating. When I walked down the halls of the illustration
wing, I felt I could fly, fueled by oil paint smells and the excited energy of the teachers and other students. Most people didn't like the building, I loved it. It was so different for me and symbolized a new adventure.

I was very lucky to have been trained by the best; Gary Meyer, Burne Hogarth, Vern Wilson, Steve Huston, Pierre Picot, Joel Nakamura, Craig Nelson, David Mocarski, Richard Bunkel, Harry Carmean, Judith Crook, Brad Durham, Dwight Harmon ,David Shannon, and a few others that I can't think of right now. All of them were very passionate about their own work as well as teaching. They gave us so much, especially being working professionals, their time was valuable. I had so much respect for all of them. I couldn't believe I was learning from such accomplished and caring people.

I can't single out one moment, or situation, of happiness, like in the post where the illustration dept. had a lion to scetch and roam around campus. Now that sounds cool! Although, I do fondly remember eating meals with some of my instructors. I enjoyed the relationships and sense of community (even though many of us complained that there could of been more of that).

ACCD was exciting every day for me. I enjoyed the challenges, my personal growth, and being part of a top rated school with top rated faculty. My time there is one of the highlights of my life.

I truly hope ACCD can find a way back to being exciting, infectious, intoxicating, and THE top design school in the World. It will take ACCD to become a community of artists, alum's, faculty and students, and maybe even the big companies like Disney and Pixar. I feel our famous alumni and faculty have powerful voices that we could use right now. GET INVOLVED! Let's continue the "dream come true," for the many artists and designers of the future. It breaks my heart to think that someday I might have to inform my son, that ACCD is not what it use to be, and suggest another school.

Roy Lonberger said...

During my stay at ACS (1960-63), I had the pleasure of knowing Tink Adams. I think reflecting on Tink is appropriate for the discussion of future directions for Art Center.

Tink cared passionately about one thing: Graduating the most talented, hardest working, and best designers. He knew that the reputation of the school would be based solely on the quality of the graduates. To that end, he staffed the school with part time instructors who were the leading names in the profession. He demanded hard work and valued originality. His mission also was to eliminate the hacks and wannabes before they reached graduation. The attrition rate was severe...in my case, three students graduated out of 28. To him, a graduate was recognized as being the best of the best. He had no interest or patience for students who did not want to succeed.

What did I learn from Tink? The demand to work harder than I thought humanly possible. The value of time management. The standard of striving to do the best and most creative work.

To me, I was in the big time. No matter how demanding, I was thrilled every moment of my experience. I was challenged by the fear of failing. I appreciated silently the compliment from Mac. I was embarrased (but learned) from the criticism of Youngkin. But when I graduated, I felt like a light bulb went on inside my head for the very first time of my life. I had joined the very exclussive fraternity of ACS alumni.

I hope the school today has the same focus and energy.

Ophelia Chong said...

Thank you martha, andy, mindee, lori, roy, jon, dan, and hugh for adding your personal stories about your time at ACCD.


Anonymous said...

When Charlie Potts ran the photo dept he hand picked our instructors. He would follow the careers of photo grads and other alum, then "ask" them to teach. Very few could ever say no. He made sure that we had a balance of learning even though most students were product oriented; portraiture, architecture, fashion, documentary etc. I remember his lecture on lighting and his famous quote, "light is life itself." A very intimidating man with big bushy eyebrows, who spoke slowly and deliberatively. Scary stuff for a 1st term student. And Lorraine Streeter, the self described 'den mother,' was always there to hold our hands and help us out as much as she could.

A few life long friends and to this day, a real sense of privilage to have had the opportunity to attend ACCD.

Dennis Hill

Anonymous said...

Jul 23, 2008, Anonymous, France

I really thought that the ACCD Edifice Complex had been overcome. I taught at the Swiss campus, which was too expensive, in the wrong place in the wrong country, and which was populated almost exclusively by students from wealthy families which were able to support the very high costs. But, the campus was in a chateau, which flattered the ACCD administration. Those costs were particularly difficult to accept for Europeans used to superior educations that are not only free, but include a stipend for students so that they can concentrate on learning. The Craig Ellwood building (also in the wrong community, which does not appreciate Art Center's presence) is a monstrosity when considered as a practical educational facility, but of course it has a wonderful public relations value. Perhaps the same will be true of a Gehry building, as it was of the chateau, but prestige and PR values did not keep the European campus open. Many really first-class practitioners came out of the European student body, but instructors were faced with entirely too many inept and untalented students who were admitted only because their families could and would pay for their presence. My connection with Art Center goes back 56 years. I learned a lot when I was a student, I shared a lot when I was an instructor, and I have been enriched by knowing so many fine creators who benefitted from an Art Center education. West Third street was a ramshackle mess, but it oten did the job of education better than has been done in the "fancy digs" occupied subsequently. Raise money, yes. But put that money into making life easier for students who cannot afford the — yes — exorbitant costs of a contemporary Art Center College of Design education. I think constantly of a student who came to me for advice long after I had finished all relationship with the school. He was not at the school when I was, but his case sticks in my mind. He has a rich family (necessarily),an Art Center diploma, and a respected degree and, after a long, painful search, a reasonable job. what he does not have, and has never had, and will never have, is talent. He should have been gently and positively discouraged from pursuing a career in design, but Art Center needed his family's money to pay for impressive premises. I would like to think that Art Center's reputation will not be tarnished by an ever-increasing number of no-talent ACCD degree-holders like that unfortunate man, people accepted into the school so that another architectural marvel can be funded.

I found that comment over here:

Seems relevant to this thread.

Anonymous said...

I also saw people who (on day one of 1st term) seemed to have not one ounce of creativity or ability in their brains, but by 3rd or 4th term, they were at (or near) the top of the class. The experience that Art Center was able to assemble seemed capable of motivating many to find new depths. I know that I learned a lot about what creativity really is while I was at Art Center.

I also remember hearing the grumblings of people considered to be "design prodigies" in regards to these supposed "no-talent" students. They cared more about the exclusion of these people than they cared aboutmoving forward with their own talent. When you are competing in a race, why focus your attention on those people in the rear of the pack? If Malfoy would just concentrate on his own studies, he'd be less stressed-out by the "mugbloods" (and they would be less stressed too).