Oliver's Observatory

The Blog & Observations of Oliver H. Evans

Robert Coombs and ArtPrize


One of the delights and achievements of ArtPrize is that it provides a diversity of venues for a diversity of artists. Fountain Street Church, for example, is a venue that reflects its values in what it chooses to exhibit. Growing out of the Baptist tradition, Fountain Street Church “strive[s] to be a vibrant church community that challenges individuals to craft their own spiritual journeys and to engage in creative and responsible action in the world.” That Robert Coombs is exhibiting at Fountain Street testifies to Fountain Street’s mission and to Robert’s stature as an artist. I have to start with the most obvious thing about Robert. A few years ago, he was an outstanding gymnast whose body responded to whatever he wished it to do, gliding—as the photo from those days shows—as though gravity did not exist. But that ended with an accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Robert has taken the occasion of his accident to embrace the fullness of who he is. As a creative artist, as a gay man, and as a man with a disability, he has articulated through photographs of himself and of other men the reality of that disability and a simultaneous assertion of himself and the other men as sexual individuals.

Not at all sentimental, Robert’s photographs cause some sadness in their uncompromising portrayal of the reality of these men’s bodies. Robert’s work compels us both to engage emotionally with them in embracing who they are and in celebrating their lives lived out as though gravity still does not exist.

Observing Robert’s work gives rise to many thoughts. The photo of him as a gymnast leads inevitably to thoughts of Icarus and to W. H. Auden’s poem, “Musee de Beaux Arts,” with its discussion of Breughel’s Icarus, and of how everything turns away from suffering. Robert's work does not allow us the luxury of "turning away."

For anyone struck by an overwhelming injury, many ways exist for the person himself or herself to “turn away, “ to deny, to strike out in anger, or simply to seek to ignore what has happened. Obviously something of tremendous importance has happened to Robert, and he sometimes makes me remember the Joy Hopewell, the central character in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Good Country People.” Having lost her leg and confronting a life with an artificial leg, Joy Hopewell changes her name to Hulga and decides she “believes in nothing.”  I resist the temptation to summarize what goes on in this wonderful story; it is a one of those works that is an absolute delight, which may seem a strange way to describe Hulga's encounter with a man who tells her that he has been believing in nothing since he was ten years old.

Robert is not a man who has given up being joyful; nor does he avoid making us confront what may be uncomfortable. He clearly believes in something, starting with his ability to construct and communicate complex and moving visions through photography. He has connected that ability with his own valuing of himself. Prior to his injury, he expressed that valuing through photographs of himself that in their expression of the freedom of movement through the air and the triumph over gravity. The work he exhibits in ArtPrize reflect a different kind of triumph on his part and on the part of the courageous men he presents.

I know that if all goes as planned, Robert will graduate from Kendall College of Art and Design in May 2013. Assuming commencement happens where it has happened for many many years, that commencement will take place in Fountain Street Church. On the day he graduates, Robert will be appropriately at home in Fountain Street Church, just as his work is appropriately at home in a venue that “challenges individuals to craft their own spiritual journeys and to engage in creative and responsible action in the world.” That is a wonderful description of what Robert has achieved and of what he presents for all to see during ArtPrize.


An Invitation to Keep in Touch


I have now been retired for almost three weeks; and while I am still in the process of discovering what that will mean, I am committed to continuing my blog. From here on, the blog is mine and has no relationship—official or unofficial—with Kendall. I will blog about whatever interests me. In the coming weeks, those interests will include a good friend—Ozzie Zehner—whose book on sustainability is creating a most-excellent stir.

I also plan to blog about another friend—Sue Caulfield—whose art fascinates and intrigues me.

And my great interest since childhood—music—will also appear here, especially since Kalamazoo—where I have lived for thirty years—hosts two major musical events: The Gilmore Keyboard Festival and The Stulberg International String Competition.

And just to keep in touch with higher education, I am searching for a MOOC. If you know of one you think is interesting, let me know. Perhaps we can take it together.

Finally, I do plan to continue to blog about Kendall alumni, and so I hope that people will keep in touch.  Let me know what you are up to; and I will try to work it into this ongoing series of observations. You can keep in touch through my TwitterFacebook,  or via email oliver@oliverhevans.com.

I do want to say a word of appreciation to a person who has worked with me on many projects, most recently being the videos related to ArtPrize: George Bradshaw. I met George and his wife Carey in NYC when they were considering moving to Grand Rapids; and I hoped from that first meeting that George and I would be able to end up collaborating as colleagues on one project or another.

To me, George is a creative visionary who has benefited me with his nearly two decades of creative experience, both as a creative director and as a filmmaker. George’s extensive experience includes time with Disney and GEM Group (global experiential marketing), where he directed marketing communications for four Olympic campaigns on NBC Universal, culminating in the 2008 Beijing Games as the most-watched U.S. TV event of all time with 211 million viewers.

George is one of those people who—if I did not know him—would intimidate me with the extraordinary range of his experience. What I have found him to be is a person who brings that experience to bear on projects and who allows someone to collaborate with him, to work together to achieve some common goal. And one that both he and I enjoyed working on very much was the series of ArtPrize videos. And one thing he has certainly worked with me to understand is social media, as witness his profile on LinkedIn, his Portfolio, and your can follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and check him out on Vimeo. And check out his film company, as well as the short film posted on the Public Museum's Facebook page. I encourage people to “Like/Share” them all and then to stay connected with George as a friend/fan. Candidly, I am a friend and a fan of George.

So, I end this “invitation” with words from the Persian poet, Rumi—“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field: I’ll meet you there.

Portrait of Robert Coombs

Robert (Bob) Coombs   

Robert (Bob) Coombs


I first heard about Bob Coombs three years ago, when faculty began to talk about a photography student who was doing very, very well. What I came to discover as I got a chance to see some of his early work, and the work he was doing at that time, was indeed somebody with a great deal of potential. And certainly, I could also get a sense of Bob as somebody who was also a very wonderful athlete. Many of the photos he was taking at the time celebrated his ability as a gymnast. Then, of course, came the point of Bob's accident; leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. And you began to think at that time, if you were going to hear about Bob again, you might just hear about a person that occasionally people talked about. It seemed such a challenge that here would be someone who could exceed all expectations as a result of such an injury.

In fact Bob has returned to Kendall, and has established himself as a remarkable presence in the college. And it's a great pleasure to share this profile of Bob Coombs, an outstanding man.


A New Crew


There are some new kids on the block; particularly, at 1111 Godfrey in downtown Grand Rapids. ArtServe Michigan has described them as a "dynamic arts movement," and Con Artist Crew, a collective of recent Kendall grads turned local artists, agree with this description. They further explain themselves, "We are a multifaceted gallery that is creating an artistic community. Bringing to the forefront new emerging artists keeping in mind the artists that came before us." Though they've been on the radar since their tenure at Kendall, I'd like to point out that there is still an element of mystery behind Con Artist Crew. I say this because, despite being well-known within both the Kendall and local art communities, many have yet to discover the recent efforts and ideas co-founders Magdalene Law and Reuben Garcia have contributed to this recent collective. Just weeks ago, Con Artist Crew celebrated its Grand Opening. They celebrated with a show featuring works from several area artists, as well as a few from abroad.

I was not able to attend, but I can imagine the show was quite impressive. It would come as no surprise, as both co-founders have previous gallery experience; Law interned at a gallery, providing her with framing knowledge and hanging techniques; while Garcia has had a studio and showcase at 1111 Godfrey.

Galleries Galore

Con Artist Crew hopes to continue having shows and featuring artists from the area and abroad. They also have future plans and shows with the city of Detroit. Their aim is to host or curate shows and events at their space between 3 and 4 times a month. With that said, you should have plenty of chances to see their work, their style, their studio, and the many artists they're endorsing. They say of this, "We are open to all themes and styles of artwork, including high conceptual art to visual arts. We are looking for harder-edge work that relates to audiences on more than just one level."

We are looking for harder-edge work that relates to audiences on more than just one level." – Con Artist Crew   

We are looking for harder-edge work that relates to audiences on more than just one level." – Con Artist Crew


They work both alone and in conjunction with many local groups, organizations, and causes alike. Their shows are examples of the character the Con Artist Crew is demonstrating. And they're curated down to the last detail. On the 19th of May, they contributed to a special show at the Winchester, along with Spectrum Health, titled Reprint - Causing Artistic Creation. It featured work by artists from a continuing care center. What's more, is that even the menu was tailor-made for the show.

The Crew's summer schedule reveals scores of shows, many of which are still being developed or finalized. All of them seem to carry a true sense of grass roots initiative. And, as a result, the community will play a large role in the outcome of these shows. Though, while maintaining this word-of-mouth mysteriousness, Con Artist Crew also hopes to expand its digital and online presence.

Con Artist Crew co-founders, Magdalene Law and Reuben Garcia

Con Artist Crew co-founders, Magdalene Law and Reuben Garcia

But the Crew promotes and supports more than just their shows; they also lease studio spaces, and have already leased five. The group is still finishing construction on the gallery and studio spaces. Once that's complete, they intend to concentrate on shows. Con Artist Crew is establishing a strong presence within the Grand Rapids art community. They've even mentioned taking shows "on the road" in the future. Sunday they completed a photo shoot, and will be featured in July's issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. Best of luck to Con Artist Crew.

Rebecca Green: Old World, New World


Not long since her first appearance on the Observatory, which made note of her first solo show in early December, Rebecca Green has seen a sharp increase in attention.

You and Me Against the World - by Rebecca Green   

You and Me Against the World - by Rebecca Green


Now a recognized name in Grand Rapids, Rebecca Green’s acclaim continues to rise in West Michigan and beyond. Recently joining the online artist network Dribbble, she has quickly gained 50 avid followers. Her current work, titled Old World, New World, will debut in Saugatuck tomorrow at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts from 6 to 8 p.m. It will remain on display until April 28th.

This trip down the lakeshore comes as a significant development for Rebecca. She says of the show, “So far I’ve worked primarily in Grand Rapids, and this is my first solo debut in a different city. I’m excited for the chance to share with a new community, and have already felt very welcomed by all the staff at the SCA.”

The event is also a first for another Kendall alum. The show was brought to fruition by Miranda Krajniak, who graduated from Kendall in 2006. Now an Education Manager, Miranda has made her curatorial debut with this show. She says of this, "We've never shown a young progressive artist from Grand Rapids in a solo format, and hope in doing so to bring a younger, more adventurous perspective to an area often regarded as older."

I’m excited for the chance to share with a new community, and have already felt very welcomed by all the staff at the SCA.
— Rebecca Green
In The Trees - by Rebecca Green   

In The Trees - by Rebecca Green


Among Rebecca’s collection of paintings and drawings are some of her largest works, to date. She has taken elements and themes from past works and placed a stronger focus on pattern. Rebecca has also taken a different approach to size and layout; she says of this, “it intensifies the world that I’ve created.”

I urge anyone who can make it to the show to do so. Rebecca is a talented and productive artist - one whom I feel always seems to intrigue a crowd. The SCA seems to agree; they say of her, “We’ll be thrilled to say we had her here 10 years down the road.” I hope that statement rings true. Additionally tied to her styling and sensibilities, the opening includes a full vegan spread prepared on site and complimentary drinks will further enhance the cohesive effort.

Video: A Visit to Black Cloud Gallery


I hope that alumni will stay in touch with me, and let me know what they are up to. Recently, one of our alums in Chicago, who is involved with a gallery called Black Cloud Gallery, told me about it. He told me about the area of Chicago where the gallery is located. He told me about the kind of revitalization that's going on there. And, as a result, I had an opportunity to go and visit.

I found it fascinating. And it's fascinating for several reasons. For one, it is a way in which a person is following a career path that involves the arts. But secondly, it involves the way in which young artists are connecting with the community and enriching the place in which they live. Black Cloud Gallery was a real find. And I know that many alumni are involved in a variety of other interesting projects. I hope they will let me know about them.

- Oliver

MFA Graduate's Show Opens In Northern CA

Kelly Allen (photo via kellyallen.com)   

Kelly Allen (photo via kellyallen.com)


Tonight is the opening of Make It All True, a show featuring a collection of paintings and mixed media works by Kendall MFA graduate, Kelly Allen. The show, held at Humboldt State University's First Street Gallery, will run until March 4th. Kelly came to Kendall in 2006 as a Scholarship of Merit recipient, and earned her MFA in Drawing in 2008. Though she is a Michigan native, Kelly now lives in San Francisco, where she has been a part of many shows along California's coast, as well as abroad.

"A Star Is A Seed" by Kelly Allen (via kellyallen.com)   

"A Star Is A Seed" by Kelly Allen (via kellyallen.com)


One of the more recent shows, titled Dig For Fire, took place in Venice, CA. It included the works of several artists, and, though I did not attend, I found the show's theme to be particularly interesting because the entire collection of works was inspired by music from the band, The Pixies. Kelly has been featured twice in Hi-Fructose; once for her painted collages, and again for a studio visit.

Her breadth of work is very vibrant; it is full of color, and life. As Humboldt State Now puts it, Kelly's current works "portray the unity of life on earth." I always enjoy reading about Kelly and her work. I recommend this show to anyone in the Northern California area.  Kelly also has a lovely website and blog, where readers can learn more about her work.

Connecting at Material ConneXion

Dr. Evans with KCAD alumni at Material ConneXion   

Dr. Evans with KCAD alumni at Material ConneXion


Material ConneXion was the vision of George Beylerian. It is a source for designers and artists to learn about, discover, and discuss new and innovative materials. While an exciting visit in New York City, Kendall happens to have a Material ConneXion library that stands as the largest in academia. The library is a helpful resource for students and staff. The following takes place at Material ConneXion in New York, where I enjoyed meeting with several KCAD alumni, colleagues, and friends.

Production: By George! Pictures http://www.bygeorgepictures.com/ Music: Selectronics http://selectronics.bandcamp.com/


Friend, Graduate, and One of Two Featured in Local Show

Crop of Illustration by Greg Oberle   

Crop of Illustration by Greg Oberle


I would like to announce a show at Byrneboehm Gallery that features recent Kendall graduate and friend of mine, Greg Oberle, along with current Kendall student, Taylor Mazer. The show, titled Colluvium, opens (softly) tonight, with an artists' reception taking place this Friday at 6 p.m. I am familiar with Byrneboehm Gallery, and understand that many talented Kendall students and graduates have had the opportunity to show works there from time to time. However, I was curious as to how Greg collaborated with Mazer to co-curate this particular show, which features ink drawings, illustrations, and paintings. Greg said of their joint effort, "I think we were dealing with a similar psychology in what we're trying to demonstrate."

Greg explains his work as being derived from previous thoughts or memories, which may have become unclear over the years. He says of his work, "I've been thinking about the architecture of thoughts."

After receiving his degree in Illustration last summer, Greg has illustrated and designed for several clients in and around Grand Rapids. He has even submitted illustrations for the Observatory (i.e. my Observing Artprize self-portrait). I hope to include more of his work in future posts.

Illustration by Greg Oberle   

Illustration by Greg Oberle


Greg has expressed how working artists make a living by using their creativity, but can sometimes be stifled by the demands of the work, client, need, problem, etc. Fortunately, he has found a sense of creative freedom in the works he will be showing at Byrneboehm. He said of this freedom, "I had no limits in the terms of what I could create."

I am happy that Keven Boehm, of Byrneboehm, has invited these two artists to show their works at the gallery, starting today and showing through February 29th, with an artists' reception at the end of this week. Greg will be showing a total of nine canvases. Taylor, 12. I look forward to visiting Byrneboehm in the next month to see what these two gentleman have created for this particular show.

Mobile Applications? There's a Designer for That


A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit with many KCAD alumni at a reception held at Material ConneXion in New York City.  I had the privilege of catching up with several alumni, friends, and colleagues; many of whom I plan to post about in January. At the reception, however, I happened to miss a recent Kendall graduate, Diana Frurip. But I have come across her work.

Diana graduated in 2009 with a degree in Interactive Design, now a part of Digital Media. She then left Grand Rapids for New York City,  where she was awarded an internship at Kargo, a mobile development company. She spent her first summer there, and then took a full-time position with Sanborn Media Factory, which Frurip describes as a “multi-faceted design shop."

While Diana continued to develop her motion graphics and web design skills, she found herself working on many mobile projects, and for a broad range of clients. She says of her mobile experience, "the company was producing their first iPhone app when I started so I was learning to design apps as the company was learning how to build them." She spent two years at Sanborn Media Factory, sharpening her mobile app design skills by working on both iPhone and iPad applications. Then she moved on. Her current position is with R/GA, where she is the main designer for the mobile group (with a focus on the Android applications).

Diana describes her design process as heavily research-oriented. She explains, "when I start designing an application, I spend a good amount of time coming up with an audit of what apps exist in the same market and what new trends and features could be implemented."

Diana has worn several hats, with titles including interaction designer and visual designer. She uses her past experience when creating wireframes, and uses her branding experience by taking brand elements and working them into the application. She says of this, "Just because a brand's colors are pink and yellow doesn't mean that a pink and yellow app is the best answer." Diana mentioned that she frequently talks with developers during her process. This is important to insure that her ideas are applicable to each application.

It's quite fascinating, the world of mobile design. Primarily because it's such a young one. Also, it takes the right kind of designers to adjust, adapt, and adhere to the ever-changing process. With that said, there are fewer resources available to such designers. This is why Diana launched her own blog, Lovely UI. She mentioned Pattern Tap as her favorite resource for web design elements, but said "I was so frustrated when I couldn't find something similar for mobile. Then I thought, 'if I was looking for a resource like this, other people must be too.'"

Lovely UI   

Lovely UI


So she started her own by tracking key elements that she likes, but also tracking patterns and trends in mobile app design. Not bad. Lovely UI consists of iPhone and iPad screenshots. She said of her blog, "Starting Lovely UI was a real confidence booster because it allowed me to be an expert in my office and in my field. It helped show me I had a valid opinion even though I am pretty young in the industry. I'm very interested in the education side of it and soon I am going to use the space to talk about trends and best practices in mobile design."

Right now, the interactive world is very male dominated industry. I was curious to get some of Diana's thought about her role within the field. She says of this, "It's easy, for women especially, to take a back seat...But it is really important to know how to voice your opinion. UI is as much about knowledge as it is about opinion." With Lovely UI up and running, Diana is as many parts innovator and expert in the industry as she is designer.

Alum Awarded Penland Residency


I would like to share some great news from former Kendall graduate, Dustin Farnsworth. Currently, Dustin is finishing a residency at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN. What's more, Dustin has informed me that upon the completion of this residency in May, he will immediately be moving to North Carolina, as he has been selected for a three-year Penland Residency at Pendland School of Crafts. I am very excited, and very happy for Dustin. I wish him the best of luck. You may read more about him, as well as view his work on his website. Some of his work is also available for sale here.

KCAD Alum to be Featured in First Solo Show

Rebecca Green - Photo by Ryan Pavlovich   

Rebecca Green - Photo by Ryan Pavlovich


Recent Kendall graduate, Rebecca Green, will be featured in her first solo show this month. The show, titled We Live, will be housed in the Devos Center for Arts and Worship at Grand Rapids Christian High School. She explains that her show will be a "visual exploration of life's little happenings." It begins December 8th and will be up until February 10th of next year.Rebecca graduated from Kendall with a BFA in Illustration. Since school, she has created many works in illustration and painting. She had her first gallery show, a split with another local artist, on March of this year at Byrneboehm Gallery. If you visit Rebecca's website, My Blank Paper, you'll find an array of splendid paintings, most of which were featured in that Byrneboehm show.

She says of her work: "When painting, I always start on a colored board, then I lay down graphite and fill in bit by bit. All of the pieces are coated with a glaze to bring the whole painting together, and under the same 'light'."

"Fitting In" by Rebecca Green   

"Fitting In" by Rebecca Green


Rebecca was involved with ArtPrize, as well as a show earlier this year at the GreenLion Gallery. This show was another split, featuring the work of both Rebecca and fellow Kendall alum, Peregrine Angthius. Throughout November, she was included in a group show titled Six by Six, at Byrneboehm Gallery.

What makes Rebecca's post-collegiate career particularly interesting is that she has been keeping as busy with commercial work as she has her personal shows. She currently has a full-time job making fine art and commercial illustration. She's an illustrator for Grand Rapids Community College, namely, its "GRCC Works" campaign. She also designs extraordinary paper dolls for each issue of CraftSanity. Rebecca also revealed that she will begin a new, larger project for CraftSanity. The project will be released this month, as well. By staying busy locally, Rebecca is influenced mostly by the many things that surround her.

"This Is Home" by Rebecca Green   

"This Is Home" by Rebecca Green


She says of her influences: "I'd say I'm influenced most by my immediate everyday surroundings. Little pieces of color, tiles, animals, people. These days, I think we are overloaded by images, and thoughts about who we are or who we should be. It leaves a lot of people feeling attached to items and others outside of themselves, therefore, devaluing who they are, and how unique they are."

It is because of this that Rebecca says she does not watch television. Nor does she listen to the radio, or browse the internet. She considers herself a hermit, and believes it is because of this that her work "often seems simple and fit for everyday."

However, Rebecca maintains an online presence through a lovely blog on her website that she updates frequently. There, Rebecca sheds light on her process as much as her personality. It serves as a great way to stay up-to-date on her current work and illustrations, while viewing pieces from her body of work. Some of which is even for sale on her site. I hope to see Rebecca's first solo show this month.

Tenure of a Designer, Tenth Year of a Studio

Photo courtesy of Conduit Studios   

Photo courtesy of Conduit Studios


Shortly after Neocon, I contacted John O'Neill of Conduit Studios to get his thoughts on this year’s showrooms. He was kind enough to share with me his story, his studio, and his thoughts on many subjects; including the importance and relevance design has in West Michigan; his process of integrating both business and creative; and his thoughts on pro bono work.
I learned a great deal about his process and have decided to write a piece about what I had learned. First, I'd like to share how he and I first met.I first became aware of John when he was a freshman, which would have been in 1997 or '98. I happened to see a student walking into the College, carrying a work that I assumed was for his 3-D class. Because I thought the work was interesting, I wondered if whoever this student was might consider selling it. So I did some checking, found out John’s name, learned from the faculty that he was a highly respected student even then (which is a good thing, because it is always awkward if I “latch on to” a student who is about to be dismissed from Kendall), and I asked someone to ask John if he might want to sell the work, which he agreed to do. It was the first student work I bought at Kendall, and it hangs in my office. Where I was wrong was in assuming that it was created for his 3-D class. It turns out that John created the work for his psychology class and that, from what he told me, the work represents his mind.
John has made some milestones since that psychology class. Upon graduation in 2001, he co-founded Conduit. This year happens to be the design studio's tenth anniversary. I am both proud and happy to hear of this achievement. I am also glad to say that, along the way, I have become a friend of John's.
I'd like to point out that John went directly from college to Conduit; upon graduation from Kendall, he stayed busy freelancing for various businesses. He worked in what I call "the coffee shop circuit." (It's remarkable - and fitting - that so many creatives, artists, and even musicians have gotten their start in cafes.) One day, at a Kava House in East Town, John ran into Tim Carpenter who shared a similar situation, creating print design while baristas served espresso. The two began to work together, and in a sense, Conduit was formed. The studio now has 5 full-time employees who create for some of the biggest companies in the area. The studio is housed in a beautiful space in downtown Grand Rapids. I hope to write about more about it in subsequent post, as I feel it deserves one.
From the discussion, I learned that John is no stranger to small business; his father, and several uncles owned and operated their own businesses. It seems the entrepreneurial spirit is strong among his lineage, which may explain, to some degree, his level of success for someone his age. That and a passion for design, which seemed to develop early. He said of his design interest: "It's not like I chose design; it kind of felt like design chose me. Even when I was a kid. It seems like it was always there."
John is passionate about the design community in West Michigan. He is a board member of both Design West Michigan and AIGA West Michigan. He promoted the idea that West Michigan is design-centric because designers in the area are asked to perform many different roles. He expressed that designers do more than design; they also consult more regularly with clients. And maybe this role of consultant is becoming more prominent because, as John puts it, design "doesn't always have an aesthetic outcome."  John said of design in West Michigan: "It just seems like there's a lot of us." While putting together the new AIGA West Michigan chapter, John was excited to see the amount of interest designers displayed to join. "There's a real critical mass of people here," he said.
If you visit Conduit online, you can see that they have designed and consulted for a wide (and long) list of reputable clients. I was especially interested in his pro bono work, particularly curious of his studio's process working with pro bono clients. He shared his thoughts, using his work with the UICA as an example.
In 2004, he volunteered to help the UICA promote the first annual Live Coverage event. Conduit has helped out every year since, designing all the of the event materials. He says of the work, "[we] use it as a chance to express our creativity." He expressed that pro bono work offers more flexibility. He said of doing pro bono work: "If we can fit it into our schedule, we'd love to."

A Place for Printmaking

A view of Dinderbeck Studios' 2,000 sq ft studio space.   

A view of Dinderbeck Studios' 2,000 sq ft studio space.


When I came to Kendall, I had an affection for printmaking and was impressed with the facility that existed then. Unfortunately, the numbers of students who registered for printmaking were not large; and although I hate to admit it, I do watch enrollment numbers and was beginning to wonder about printmaking’s future. And given the size and weight of the presses in the third floor print lab, I was not anxious to have to try and have them moved out. My understanding is that to move them in the College had to have a crane lift them to the third floor. If you know the building, you know they could not have come up the stairs or up the elevator. As I recall, a number of years ago, Kendall conducted a search for a number of faculty to teach drawing. One of those selected, Mariel Versluis, brought great strength in drawing to the College. But then she sort of “volunteered” to teach printmaking courses as well. Of course, I was delighted; and she began teaching printmaking.

Enrollments in printmaking grew. I am at a loss to explain why a person of Mariel’s ability and achievement as a printmaker, coupled with her commitment to printmaking should result in a growth in printmaking enrollments. But then I do not try to explain mysteries—I just accept them.  The long and short of it is that printmaking has become remarkably viable and some current and former students have done extraordinary things.

One that quickly comes to mind is a collective known as Dinderbeck Studios. I'd first like to point out that the partners at Dinderbeck, which I believe the list has increased to eight partners, are all affiliated with Kendall - either as graduates or current students. Most of whom studied printmaking while at Kendall, taking courses taught by Mariel.

Alison Horn, of Dinderbeck Studios.   

Alison Horn, of Dinderbeck Studios.


Initially conceived as a printmaking collective and studio, the group has received small grants and donations allowing them to fund a larger space, which they have begun to renovate for shows, workshops, and gatherings.

The group has displayed a great work ethic, along with an ability to manage projects, tasks, and duties while each maintains a 9 - 5 day job. Each member is quite driven in his or her craft, planning to contribute to the group as much as possible. Co-founder, Brandon Alman, says of the group’s process, "I wouldn't say it's delegated. When things need to get done, we pull together and get it done." I think they possess a certain chemistry that proves them a true collective. Whether they're hosting a show for local artists, or tuning up a print press from the 1950's, they have been keeping busy.

A collection of type: Finding type for antique printing presses can be an arduous task.   

A collection of type: Finding type for antique printing presses can be an arduous task.


Community is an important part of Dinderbeck Studios. I favor their gumption to reach out to other groups and clubs seeking funding, and offering their space and talent. Alman says of this, "A lot of kids graduate from any school in printmaking and they just can't do it. It's hard to access the equipment." He also mentioned that a more distant goal is to allow the community to benefit from the use of their studio space and actual printing equipment. In the meantime, they will continue to host shows, curating their space for others to enjoy.

Last Saturday, on the 1st of the month, Dinderbeck Studios hosted a collective show titled “Fortified,” featuring forts from more than thirty artists. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. However, based on this Flickr set I found, it seems the show was a splendid one. I would like to continue a series on printmaking by following the work of Mariel, the printmaking department at Kendall, and the Dinderbeck group.

Photography Graduate Going Places


From just east of Grand Rapids to the East Coast, recent KCAD alumni, Katie Zychowski, will be honored for her work and featured in two shows: one local, at the state capital in Lansing; the other in New Jersey at Monmouth University.

A recent graduate of KCAD’s  photography program, Katie Zychowski has much to look forward to this fall. Her work has been chosen to be part of an upcoming exhibit at the state capital. Members of the Legislative Art Caucus have selected Katie to be part of the Student Art in Legislature (Arts in the House) Initiative after a nomination, which came from professor and head of Photography, Darlene Kaczmarczyk.

"We Settled on Wanting" - Katie Zychowski   

"We Settled on Wanting" - Katie Zychowski


"I Followed When We Separated," a photograph taken from Katie's Photography Thesis, was selected and will be displayed in the Anderson House Office Building. This month, a formal reception will recognize her work as part of the initiative. I expect this to be an exciting and interesting show in Lansing.

And, until October 14, Katie is being recognized on the East Coast. Her work is currently showing at Monmouth University's Ice House Gallery, in New Jersey. She was asked by Anne Leighton Massoni, after her senior thesis show. Katie is showing photographic pieces from her senior thesis entitled Langour, Temperance, Repose. I look forward to hearing more of Katie, and her work, as she continues to pursue her career in photography.

Running Artist Makes Great Strides

One evening last week, I happened on a very busy brewery. Perhaps the summer heat brought on a neighborhood-wide craving for craft beer, because Brewery Vivant was alive with traffic.


Housed in what was once a neighborhood funeral home chapel, I noticed dinner parties, after-work socialites, young couples on dates, old couples on dates, and a most helpful staff - all enjoying the ambiance, the drinks, the menu, and the artwork of a recent KCAD alum, Jacob Zars.

The work, titled "Fun With Electrocution," will be exhibited on the walls of Brewery Vivant throughout the summer, adding as much beauty as it does curiosity to the venue's experience and overall aesthetic - which still lightly alludes to the dead and nearly buried. Jacob’s exhibit consists of 8 monotypes that toy with, and welcome the idea of death through a series of electrifying scenarios. I felt the work most effective, given the nature of the space. It requires the amount of intimacy and appeal offered by the venue to really capture the element of danger.

jacob_5 copy

The close relationship between Jacob's work and the venue is, according to Jacob, all by design. He saw an opportunity in Vivant, where the collection could live and breathe along with the space and its visitors. He said of the relationship, "I was trying to tell stories on each wall. The art has to feel comfortable in its place." He added, "the work enhances the venue and the venue enhances the work." I believe his curating instinct is accurate, as each piece curiously contemplates an idea of darkness that I find wild with the notion of life or the living - just as the word Vivant, itself, suggests "to be alive" or "lively."

After discussing Jacob’s process of curating his work within the venue, we discussed his process of the work itself; which may suggest why he was so careful and thoughtful about where it was to be shown throughout the summer. He shared that each print took approximately thirty hours to create. Each transparency was carefully and directionally brushed with mainly black ink (one of the works includes some color) before it met paper. He explained his use of watercolors, cardboard, ink, and paper with great detail and passion. Jacob also included that the work was part of a larger, 24-image collection he created more than a year ago as part of his senior project. Jacob said the eight pieces used at the brewery "chose themselves" for the show.

I'd like to point out that Jacob made a big decision to pursue art verses the many athletic offers from other institutions. He said of his choice to study art, "it just doesn't compare." Fortunately, Jacob was able to demonstrate his love of sports while at KCAD. He helped start the Kendall Soccer Team and KCAD Club Tennis. He continues his love of distance running and still works part-time at Gazelle Sports, assisting other athletes.

Jacob said he would like to pursue an interest curating work for local venues in Grand Rapids. He also expressed that he will continue to create art in his studio space and at area events such as UICA Live Coverage or the Art Battle For Community at Sazerac Lounge - where, last year, Jacob won first place.

Jacob’s Twitter | His twitter handle, @RunningArtist, is a username that I find fitting (and revealing) of his passion for both athletics and art.



KCAD Alumni Board President Presents Beautiful Decay

Terry Frixen - Photo by Ryan P. Photo   

Terry Frixen - Photo by Ryan P. Photo


I am pleased to share with you this post about KCAD alum, Terry Frixen; partly because I have always found it gratifying when graduates such as Terry have the ability to continue onto successful careers while managing the passion and inspiration to create fine art of their own.I also wanted to write about Terry, who currently serves as President of KCAD’s Alumni Board, because of his many roles within the community.

Terry, a Fine Art Photography graduate, has sustained a balance between his career with Meijer and his personal portfolio; including his latest show titled "Beautiful Decay," which was on display at Pub 43, a local venue in Grand Rapids.While Terry was a student at Kendall, he held a job at Meijer. When he graduated, the company awarded Terry a series of promotions. Three years ago, he had proven himself enough to the company that he secured a position in the corporate office. What's more remarkable is that Terry remained committed to the art community and to various non-profit organizations as he climbed the corporate ladder.

Terry volunteers for the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) visual arts committee, the Kids Food Basket, and soon plans to start training at the GRAM, where he wishes to help out. Terry is also the Artist Relations Coordinator of the SiTE:LAB team. He says of his volunteerism: "I feel that by volunteering with the groups that I am, I will meet great people, make great connections, and learn a lot. This is starting to prove true." I should probably note that SiTE:LAB, co-founded by KCAD adjunct sculpture professor Paul Amenta, is a non-profit group of artist and art enthusiasts - one of which I hope to write about in the future.

"Beautiful Decay" was shown throughout the month of June. For those of you who hadn't the chance to see his collection hung elegantly along the north wall of the venue, Terry has graciously included two pieces of work from the show as part of this blog post.

He explains "Beautiful Decay" as a collection of three different series that express his recent fascination with rust, warped or rotted wood, and chipped or peeled paint. He says of his work: "I look at all the images I have right now and I feel that it truly shows the beauty in what could be considered ugly."

Terry has managed to pursue his love of photography, his career at Meijer, and his volunteer activities in the community, including the KCAD Alumni board, where he currently serves as the board president.

Terry’s Twitter: @tgf1980



Metals Jewelry Design Part I

Maggie Allesee   

Maggie Allesee


I have enjoyed the opportunity to watch a new program at Kendall develop from a “suggestion” to a reality that graduates students who go on to successful careers. In 2002, Kendall implemented a program in Metals/Jewlery Design—known, in fact, as the Allesee Metals/Jewelry Design program in honor of Maggie Allesee, a woman who, like Helen Kendall, had both the vision and the generosity to make the idea a reality.

Eight years old at the start of the 2010-2011 academic year, this program remains relatively small, but its graduates have achieved a striking level of success. Beginning with this post and continuing through a number of posts, I’d like to share some of the story of that program.

Jewelry Design   

Jewelry Design


The program began at the urging of Milford High School (Milford, Michigan), a high school that has a particularly strong metals/jewelry program. Encouraged by Andrea Bronson, the high school teacher who had created Milford’s strong and highly-respected program, Linda McMurry and I attended a meeting with a number of jewelry store owners in that area of Michigan, who were requesting that there be a program which would prepare students to work in the commercial world.

From my point of view, the challenge and opportunity rests in this program's ability to navigate the intellectual and commercial. And that navigation has always been embodied in one of Kendall’s earliest and best known programs: Furniture Design, which navigates that space where design meets manufacturability and marketability.

Kelly Riekels   

Kelly Riekels


For David Kendall, good design that could not be manufactured and that, once manufactured, could not be sold was not of much interest.  A jewelry design program that could join the strength of creativity and design with a knowledge of what materials can do and how designs might appeal to the market--to people who might actually wear the jewelry--became the goal as Kendall sought to develop a metals/jewelry program that would—in a previous post—"romance the commercial and the intellectual.”

Beginning with those early conversations and developing with Linda’s assistance, the Metals/Jewelry Design Program is now chaired by Phillip Renato, whose alumni will be the subjects of some subsequent posts.