As Portland State University celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is a thrill to exhibit work by past and present Art + Design faculty in the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at PSU. It has been a great pleasure to look at the work of the 54 artists in this exhibition, and begin to understand how Oregon’s expansive arts community has been built, in significant part, by the traditions of teaching at PSU. The School of Art + Design has both deep roots and a far reach. It is clear that the department has been nimble in its response to the shifting formal and aesthetic concerns of each decade and that there has been a dedicated commitment to embracing each new generation of students.
The history of PSU starts with humble beginnings. The university started as the Vanport Extension Center in Vanport, the city slightly north of Portland built by Henry Kaiser to house wartime shipyard workers during World War II. The Extension Center was established to serve returning WWII veterans who were eligible for a college education thanks to the GI Bill. During its first summer session, the fledgling university enrolled 220 students, 94 percent of whom were veterans ranging in age from 18 to 47. The profile of the “average” PSU student has changed considerably over the past 75 years!
As far as I can tell (though records documenting the earliest studio programs are exceedingly slim), art has been taught at PSU for all 75 of the preceding years. In researching the individual artists in this exhibition, it became obvious how interpersonally connected—and influential—this community of emeriti and current faculty are. PSU art students have evolved into PSU art instructors; lifelong friendships and collaborations have formed. From Robert Colescott, who was the first African American to represent the US with a solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale, to Mel Katz, who was a founder of the inordinately influential Portland Center for the Visual Arts, to Harrell Fletcher, who established the relatively new and revolutionary program of Art + Social Practice—these and many other PSU faculty have had a hand in shaping the art ecology of Oregon and, in fact, the trajectory of American contemporary art.
I have curated exhibitions in academic institutions for the past twenty-two years and I have had a front row seat observing the challenges faced by my colleagues in studio. I experience, over and over, the generous spirit required of those teaching art. Every art professor is simultaneously also a working artist, invested in studio output and the demands of building a career as an exhibiting professional. In short, every art professor has two full-time jobs, one in the classroom and one in the studio. This takes enormous dedication, energy, focus, and commitment. Every student who has taken an art class has benefited from their professor’s determination to address two fairly diametrically opposed goals: to educate and to create. A balancing act if ever there is one.
-- Linda Tesner
Bettye Lou Bennett
Kate Bingaman Burt
Jean Kendall Glazer
James Lee Hansen
Sabina Zeba Haque
M. Michelle Illuminato
Robert S. Morton