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Sophomore Jonathan Cannard competed at the Youth Laser 4.7 World Championships in San Francisco

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 Jonathan sailed his 14-foot rig alongside the top 113 boys and 52 girls from 48 countries including Japan, Peru, and Australia.

Alumni News, Summer 2011

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Life After Catlin Gabel

From the Summer 2011 Caller

On a lively and enlightening evening in May, the alumni and college counseling programs hosted a panel of alumni and students who discussed their experiences at Catlin Gabel and how their education prepared them for what they are doing today.
“Life after Catlin Gabel: Alumni and Student Voices” grew out of discussions among people in all divisions of the school, as we considered the question of how to demonstrate the long-term value of a Catlin Gabel education. This was an opportunity to reflect where a Catlin Gabel education may lead and how the school and student experiences here set up our alumni to achieve the goal of being bold learners for a lifetime.
In response to the question about academic challenges faced here, and what is learned from that experience, Riley Gibson ’04 replied, “It’s okay not to have the answer, but you have a foundation to figure it out. Curiosity and unstructured thought gives you an amount of confidence to find the answer.”
Our alumni know how to plan, self-evaluate, solve complex problems, and nourish their curiosity—the skills needed to succeed in college and career. Our panelists and moderator beautifully personified Catlin Gabel’s mission.
We are inspired by the shared experiences of the panel participants and by the outstanding alumni profiled in this issue of the magazine. Wishing you a summer filled with marvelous memories. We’d love to hear your stories.
Lauren Dully Hubbard ’91, alumni and community relations program director
Markus Hutchins ’02, alumni board president

Life After Catlin Gabel” panel. Back, L to R: Peter Bromka ’00, BA in anthropology from Tufts University, design researcher at IDEO, a global design firm, Riley Gibson ’04, BS in business management from Babson College, co-founder and CEO of Napkin Labs, Josh Langfus ’11; Henry Gordon ’11. Front, L to R: Rivfka Shenoy ’09, attending Washington University; moderator Rukaiyah Adams ’91, BA from Carleton College, JD and MBA from Stanford University, consultant for Plum District and Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield; Rebecca Kropp ’11; Lauren Dully Hubbard ’91, BA from University of Washington and CGS alumni relations director; and Leslie Nelson ’10, attending Pitzer College.

P.S. Save the date for fall’s alumni events: Los Angeles alumni gathering on Thursday, September 15, and Homecoming on Friday, September 30!

Alumni Connects e-newsletter

Did you know that the alumni relations office sends out periodic e-newsletters with information regarding Catlin Gabel athletics, on-campus activities, and lectures? This is a quick and easy way for alumni to find out what is going on at Catlin Gabel! If you would like to receive these updates, please contact us at and include your full name and class year with your email address.  


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Caprice Neely '85

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Footwear design director

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

Caprice Neely, a true hands-on girl, loved art and woodshop when she attended Catlin Gabel’s Lower School. The skills she developed in making and building, combined with her aesthetic sense, formed the basis for her long career in footwear design.
Product design wasn’t something Caprice set out to do. But what got her far—so far that today she’s a lead designer in Nike’s blue-sky innovation team—was her absolute fearlessness and determination.
After working her way through college as an art major, Caprice landed a temp job in the Portland offices of Avia, a sports shoe company. Her curiosity led her to the design department, and she was immediately hooked on footwear design. She hung out with designers and asked if she could help. That led to a job with Adidas painting shoe models—until she confidently stepped up and asked to create models herself. Then she asked if she could create her own designs. Soon she went to see the president of Adidas with her designs and prototypes, and he offered her a designer job on the spot.
After three years Caprice moved to Nike, and with the exception of one foray into another venture, she’s been there ever since. She helped envision and create the first Nike sportswear line, and today she works on a creative team with the freedom to design the next big thing.

Caprice Neely's Cityknife shoe and sketches for Nike


Much of Caprice’s success lies in her knack for designing great-looking shoes that function well. “You have to keep in touch with popular culture and fashion trends, even if you’re working on something as technical as the next track spike for the Olympics. Athletes tell us that if they look good, they’ll perform better,” she says.
Caprice would like more students to consider product design: “The ability to build and fix things incorporates different problem-solving skills. If you mix that with art, you have the potential for a career in product design and engineering.”

“It’s amazing for me to think back to the foundation I received at Catlin Gabel, especially in art. I was encouraged to do and try anything. It gave me the confidence in myself to know that I would succeed if I worked hard enough.”


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Caroline Kuerschner MacLaren '89

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Land use and real estate attorney

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

Can the practice of law be a creative pursuit? We asked Portland attorney Carrie MacLaren ’89 to give it some thought.
“People come to me with a variety of issues: from development to conservation, and all points in between,” says Carrie, who works with Black Helterline LLP. “In many cases the due diligence, research and evaluation, is not creative. Once we know the particulars and evaluate how they affect the goal, then the creative thinking can come in. How do we resolve obstacles and find ways to reach the goals?”
Let’s say she has a client whose land-use project has come against a hurdle: a use that isn’t allowed or a development that is opposed by the planning staff or neighbors. She can try to change the zoning classification, which would be the analytical approach. But she can also talk with the client about finding ways to modify the proposal to fit within the existing zoning or address the neighbors’ concerns. “It’s about not going by the rote book and stepping back to look at the whole picture. It’s being able to look at the obstacles and ask if there’s a different way to conceptualize the project, if it’s too cumbersome and problematic,” says Carrie.
Carrie has also brought some cutting-edge thinking to her practice: she taught a University of Oregon course on the legal aspects of green building, a new field that raises all kinds of questions for lawyers. She’s a veteran in her field of law, having spent many years as staff attorney for the land use protection group 1000 Friends of Oregon.
“When all is considered, critical thinking is definitely key in law, but creative thinking is a big part of it, says Carrie. “I always have to think on my feet.”

“At Catlin Gabel I took weaving, I was photographer for the yearbook, and I took the art survey class. Having that exposure, and enabling the brain to think in different ways, is useful in any field.”


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Pat Carew '93

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Video producer and director

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

Among the many media that vie for our attention, video has become a familiar presence in all our lives. In his work with video, Pat Carew ’93 navigates a particular intersection of entertainment, education, and persuasive storytelling.
As video producer and director for CMD, a Portland advertising and marketing agency, Pat creates pieces that run the gamut from commercials, in-store videos, and trainings to online videos for a wide variety of clients. CMD is unusual in having its own small, dedicated video production team, and Pat enjoys the creative freedom of serving for various projects as producer, editor, writer, or director. In his producer role he guides the projects from beginning to end, working mostly with logistics (locations! schedules! budgets!). Directing is more creative, he says, setting the look, feel, and tone of the piece.
“In my work there’s a push and pull between the creative and practical aspects, and projects are always expanding and contracting. You dream up maybe 15 ideas, and then you pick one. You shoot way more than you need, with each scene shot from five different angles. And then you contract: you edit down to what you need. Every project is a little different, so the work is always fresh. My favorite project is the one I’m working on,” he says.
Pat began doing video while he was attending Tufts University, and his first piece was a music video for a band he was in with Scott Fisher ’93. He continued work on music videos and short films, and then freelanced on independent films and in audio on location and in recording studios. With two small children, his work is now all for CMD, and he loves what he does: “My work is alive to me,” he says.

“Soccer was not a big deal for me until I went to Catlin Gabel for high school. I would love to make a feature film someday — a compelling soccer drama. That’s not been done before!”


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Michael Hiestand '75

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Sports media journalist

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

Michael Hiestand ’75 is crazy about writing. He could write well about anything, and pretty much has. But he invented his own niche in journalism: he’s been writing for 20 years about sports media and the business side of sports for USA Today. He’s created a strong presence, with a focused voice in print and a trenchant, funny persona on the air.
Sports wasn’t his first choice for his career topic. He wrote at Catlin Gabel, including book reviews for the 2nd grade librarian that were published by the Oregonian and “nutty stuff for the school newspaper,” wrote more at Stanford, did a publishing course at Harvard, then wrote book copy for Simon & Schuster in New York while he freelanced more writing.
“I’d write any article that popped into my head and send it off to magazines,” says Michael. “I got great practice making the most boring topic interesting reporting on business for Adweek—and that’s always the goal. I suggested writing about the business side of sports—which is everything besides the game—and they loved the idea. People thought that sports was not a part of capitalism, so I found my niche.”
Michael spent a memorable year in Sydney, Australia, covering preparations for the Olympics. “I thought up my own stories to do, which were basically anything I could talk my way into. I would look for an exception to the norm, because that’s always more interesting. I loved Australia. I told them it did wonders for the U.S. self-esteem to break from Great Britain. I said I would stay and cover it if they had a revolution.”
“Now, with Facebook and other social media, people think everyone should be passionate or opinionated,” says Michael. “But when I write, I don’t have a dog in that fight. If you’re into sheer storytelling you can do it for a long time, adapting as you go.”

“I got a D in French my senior year. I told a French teacher, Jean-Claude Lachkar, that I was sort of challenged. At a basketball game, he came out on the court and said, ‘I found out that you’re not stupid!’ I said that was just a rumor.”


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: John Ralston '74

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By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

Architect John Ralston ’74 designs honest, inviting, livable, and beautiful buildings. They reveal their integrity in the use of natural materials, in details that point out the way the building holds together, and in their reflection of the site and the building’s use and users.
What these buildings also reflect is John’s personal warmth and humility—not to mention his charisma, technical expertise, and great senses of both humor and aesthetics. This winning combination has resulted in an impressive array of work that he’s done, in Oregon and elsewhere, for private homes as well as governmental and commercial facilities.
John had a penchant for art and architecture from his youth. He came to Catlin Gabel because of its superb art department. He spent a lot of time in the clay room, where he made his first houses out of clay. Those little clay houses from the clay room provided just the right touch in his architecture school interview to get him accepted.
Today John is a co-principal in a small firm in Bend, HSR Master Planning and Architecture. “To lead a firm, you need professional skills, and people skills. We’re not just making a building, we’re meeting the needs of the client,” he says. “That’s when architects are valuable. You can always get someone to design something good enough. The core thing is that your buildings will keep enhancing the lives of the people using them.”
So take a look at his projects. Look for the details: the waves of stone anchoring the house on the coast and its eyebrow dormer, the stream that runs under the house with a viewing window in the hall floor, the way a large house has the coziness of a small cabin, the way different tones of wood harmonize. They are the grace notes that mark the works of a creative talent in love with what he does.

“Catlin Gabel made architecture school easy, because I had already learned to write and study.”


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Hillary Hurst '72

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Drama therapist and middle school drama teacher

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

The ancient Greeks recognized that drama could provide catharsis, revitalization for actors and audiences. For Hillary Hurst ’72, drama has proven to be a powerful tool for changing lives. As a drama therapist, she works with psychiatric patients at SageView in Bend, Oregon, helping them recognize how they can better their lives.
Hillary loved drama at Catlin Gabel, and thought that was her calling. She studied theater at Bard College, then decamped to New York and immersed herself in the heady days of experimental theater. She acted for many years, until she wanted something that would provide a better living. Drama therapy fascinated her, and she earned her degree at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Her first jobs tested her mettle. Hillary worked in Oakland with at-risk youth and abused girls, learning how theater and therapy can work together to restore self-worth for people who sorely need it. “The girls shared their daily life through scene work on difficult experiences. We talked about what they would do differently now, and how they now can stand up for themselves.” She’s brought those lessons to her therapy work at SageView with society’s most fragile people.

Hillary Hurst '72 with some of her students at the Cascades Academy of Central Oregon. Photos: Carol Sternkopf


Hillary makes extensive use of metaphor: she asks her clients to think of their life as, say, a river, and imagine their journey—then asks what they’re missing. “People say things like, ‘I dropped my oars years ago in the water, and I allow life to drive me along.’ You let them know that they do have some say in their lives, that they are survivors.”
“My basic premise as a therapist and healer is that human beings want to be seen, heard, and loved,” says Hillary. “In people who have been through trauma and abuse, this triad is grossly neglected. The process in therapy involves seeing them, hearing them, and reflecting back love.”

“I was so blown away by theater at Catlin Gabel. My being an actor was valued as much as being a scientist. Catlin Gabel was a gift to me.”


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Ernie Lafky '81

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Game designer, avant-garde theater director

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

Ernie Lafky ’81 designs casino games. His lifelong passion is experimental and avant-garde theater. And he won Catlin Gabel’s science award in his senior year for his stellar work in physics. It really does all fit together, he says.
It’s all about having a cerebral, conceptual turn of mind. Ernie relishes the challenges, social commentary, and verbal play of the fringes of the theater world as much as the intense, mathematical world of physics. In his job he draws on these proclivities and experiences, creating engaging play for the gamer and earning patents for ingenious systems he’s developed.
Ernie stumbled into avant-garde theater at Catlin Gabel, influenced by teacher Alan Greiner, and was encouraged to read writers such as Eugene Ionesco. “In college and graduate school I was up to my eyeballs in creative theater,” says Ernie. In Los Angeles he immersed himself in avant-garde theater with great artistic freedom—until he turned 30 and was tired of being broke.
As a tester in the new field of interactive multimedia CD-ROM games and programs—rife with bad stories, film, and acting—Ernie saw how he could improve them. After a spell working in theater with gay and Lesbian homeless youth, and doing Shakespeare with inner-city youth—experiences he cherishes—he realized it was time for a new career. It seemed clear that he could do well as a producer for interactive games. And he landed jobs with companies including Jim Henson and Mattel.
When a position came up at Wagerworks (now IGT) to produce and design casino games, he snagged the job. He loves video poker and Vegas, and his theater work helps him grasp how to keep a player entertained. His science background helps him communicate with engineers, so the fit is perfect.
Ernie still works in theater whenever he can. “Casino gaming is one of my hobbies, which makes my job really fun. It’s like dessert,” he says. “But avant-garde theater nourishes my spirit. It’s a perfect balance.”

“All that I do was planted as seeds at Catlin Gabel—theater, science, English, history. I draw on all of it between my job and my art. My education has been so incredibly valuable to me. You can’t put a price on it.”  

Photo at right: Ernie Lafky '81 (left) and Lisa Wymore in Remote by Sara Kraft and Ed Purver


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Camille Keedy Malmquist '96

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Pastry chef

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

When most people think of creative arts, they often overlook the culinary arts. It is a realm of unlimited imaginative (and edible!) possibilities. Camille Keedy Malmquist ’96 works in one of the most demanding of the culinary arts, pastry-making—and she does that in Paris, where the best pastries in the world are made, in one of the best pâtisseries in that city.
Camille first moved to France to teach English after college, but what she loved best was cooking and baking. Back in the States, she pursued training in culinary school in California, and worked in restaurants and bakeries in Dallas. She and her husband then moved to Paris, with no jobs in hand. Every bake shop wanted experience in France, but finally the family-owned Pâtisserie Couderc took a chance on Camille. There she’s honed her pastry-making skills, and now she’s learning the art of chocolate.
“The recipes in the traditional French pastry shop where I work are based on classic techniques, practiced over and over. I have developed some new flavors for the chocolates, but mostly my creative outlet is cooking at home and writing my blog,” says Camille. “Creativity is very important in the pastry arts, though. Once you understand how the ingredients work and how they work together, you can start creating your own desserts with the flavors and textures you’re after.”
Camille doesn’t plan to live in Paris forever, and she’s contemplating opening an ice-cream or chocolate shop when she returns to the U.S. But for now, Camille enjoys the daily work in her corner of Paris, making food that makes people happy: “It feels good to produce something tangible with my hands every day. I love starting the day with crates of eggs and cream and flour and sugar, and finishing it with enough cake to serve hundreds of people. People serve desserts to mark important events, and it’s nice to feel that in some way, I’m part of the celebration.”

“My Catlin Gabel teachers Josée Overlie and Marie Letendre instilled in me a lifelong love of France and the French language. I went on to major in French literature in college, and my French language skills were a big part of the reason my husband and I decided to move to Paris.”


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Jason Wesche '92

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Digital artist for animated movies

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

A love of theater, film, and architecture led Jason Wesche ’92 to a career in the movies.
Jason’s interest in theater flourished at Catlin Gabel, and he thought he’d pursue a path as a performer or director. But the film world called to him, and after college he moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry. He worked for a feature film director, and then in the writer’s office of a TV show. When the show ended, Jason pursued his interest in design by earning a graduate degree in architecture. He used that experience to get a job designing not buildings, but movies, working in previsualization first at Pixel Liberation Front (on Iron Man and others) and now at Dreamworks Animation on films such as Megamind and Madagascar 3.
As it turns out, architects—and people with design backgrounds— are just the ones to work in previsualization. Previz, as it’s called, is a part of filmmaking that brings spatial reality into the 3D computer environment to efficiently plan shots and special effects. It creates a sort of low-resolution version of the movie.
It is an immensely creative phase of movie-making, appealing to people with many different skills. “I like it better than doing the final product,” says Jason. “We start with a storyboard, or sometimes just a general concept that we brainstorm. We set it up in the computer, animate the shots, try different things, show it to the director, and fine-tune the sequence—we get to go down a lot of paths before it goes into final animation.”
“It really fits how my creative process works, I feel likes it’s the perfect convergence of all my skills and interests.” he says. “We love feeling that we’ve helped make the movie better. If we can stand back and look at a final scene and see even one moment or beat that we’ve added, we feel very proud.”

"Catlin Gabel gave me space to explore and a foundation to build on. I can still trace a lot of my creative inclinations to my time there. My graduate school thesis grew out of interests I developed my freshman year in Robert Medley’s class."


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Bianca Bosker '04

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Technology editor, Huffington Post

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

When news breaks about technology—Google, Facebook, security breaches, killer apps, Twitter—Bianca Bosker ’04 reports on it, day or dead of night, for web-based news site Huffington Post. The stories she loves best are the ones that haven’t been told before—the ones that tell people something they don’t know about the fast-moving and increasingly personal world of technology.
“People are faced with a lot of content on the web, and they can be choosy. I have to challenge myself to bring fresh information and a fresh perspective they didn’t have before,” she says. “I have to use language in powerful and compelling ways, to grab the reader’s attention so my idea can reach its full potential.”
The Huffington Post is leanly staffed, and Bianca exercises enormous creative control over her stories: she comes up with an idea, writes the story, chooses the accompanying image, writes the headline, and figures out how to tweet it and post it on Facebook to attract readers. Her best stories, she says, are about things that have made her wonder. That kind of curiosity, linked with good instincts and equally good writing skills, have made her a rising star in the media landscape.
Bianca was interested in writing and journalism from a young age. She co-wrote a book on the history of bowling when she was still at Catlin Gabel, and she’s written from Asia for the Wall St. Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review. She’s working on yet another book, about the trend in China to create residential developments that are oddly inexact replicas of iconic cities around the world. And she loves her work. “I’m lucky to have a job where I want to keep teaching my readers something and keep learning myself,” she says.

“Catlin Gabel gave me the ability to write, one of the skills I’m most thankful for. I couldn’t do what I’m doing without Art Leo and Ginia King having been such supportive, honest critics of my writing.”


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Peter Bromka '00

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Design researcher

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

As a human factors researcher at design firm IDEO, an award-winning global design firm, Peter Bromka ’00 thrives in an atmosphere where creativity is expected. IDEO’s mission is to help its clients innovate, from government agencies to consumer product manufacturers to schools and more.
Peter’s work in human factors is a perfect fit for someone with a degree in anthropology. His understanding of human behavior, combined with fluency in the arts, make Peter’s work greatly satisfying for him. “Human factors is about understanding how to make things that work well for people. It’s about how design impacts people’s lives,” says Peter. “How do they experience things in their day-to- day lives?”
Peter first thought advertising would be the right career for him—until he read about IDEO. But breaking into the field turned out to be a challenge: IDEO rejected his first application. So he studied product design for a summer at the Rhode Island School of Design: “It showed that I wasn’t afraid to sketch, and that I could strategize. I redesigned an umbrella, and stitched it together by hand.” That class, plus years of experience at another firm, ultimately led him to land a job at IDEO.
“In my role here I conduct the research and strategy for projects,” says Peter. “I work to understand people’s behaviors and identify opportunities for design.” For instance, he recently worked with a bank in Brazil—a country dubious about online security—to bring its online banking and customer interface into the present and future.
“Doing what I do, I’ve come to appreciate how much things could be better, and how much design can improve these situations, but also just how complex these challenges really are—how many people it takes to get something done successfully,” Peter says. “It’s changed the way I look at the world.”

“As a Catlin Gabel lifer, I’ve done art forever and gotten great exposure to art and design. Good art teachers teach you not to reject art in your life, even if you’re not perfect at it.”  


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Joan Livingstone '66

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Artist and art educator

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

 “I understand the world through my body,” says artist Joan Livingstone ’66. Growing up in Portland, and going on camping trips with her family, she came to appreciate the Pacific Northwest’s rich, sensual landscape and the feeling of always knowing where she was in relation to the mountains and the ocean. Joan’s physical consciousness provides the underlying sensibility for her celebrated works of sculpture, which she creates mostly of felt and other tactile materials. Her compelling and complex works allude to skin, the body and its organs, and how we feel and experience time and place.
Becoming an adult in the turbulent 1960s, Joan appreciated how teachers at Catlin Gabel helped her become a rigorous thinker who could consider all sides of a question. She studied art at Catlin Gabel and worked at the Portland Art Museum during summers and on weekends. But it wasn’t until she was in college that she truly committed herself to becoming an artist.
Joan became involved in agit-prop theater in Portland with a group that performed Shakespeare as a protest against the war in Vietnam. She thought about how bodies relate to space and made huge woven or tiedyed cloth hangings that provided a big, physical landscape for the actors to navigate. Joan’s theater work reinforced her sense of the physical, and she has continued throughout her career to refine and translate that sense. “I continued making bodyscapes, creating an experience for viewers as they move through the gallery. It’s about providing forms with the qualities of skin, and privileging the sense of touch and the sense of the body being immersed in a space that is intimate,” she says.
Feminism was another powerful influencing force for Joan in its challenge to the visual art hierarchy. “When I was in graduate school at Cranbrook Academy, the language of the time in art was about minimalism and reduction. I challenged the status quo, which was about big, heavy metal works. My works were in a human scale rather than a monumental scale. I incorporated qualities of skin and hide and the physical body. It went against the grain,” she says.



“I moved to forming shapes that made you think of the body, that were shapes abstracted from the body,” says Joan. “I would suspend felt in an exoskeleton until a shape formed, and impregnate it with resin. It became a process of developing patterns cut from the felt that, when stitched under tension, would curve in space. This gave it the sensuous qualities of the body. I would then sand the surface so the nubby, hairy texture of the felt emerged. From a distance the forms looked hard, but soft when viewed up close, which created a contradiction.”
Joan moved to New York in the early ’70s, allied herself with artists doing free-form fiber sculpture, and began exhibiting her works in galleries. She immersed herself in the art scene there and has done so in all the places she’s lived and worked since. “It’s important for an artist to develop a community of trusted artists around you. Isolation is a myth,” she says. “Art is a dialogue—a conversation—between artists that happens every day to share new ideas and propositions. Critiques are really important and will trigger your thinking. That’s why I like big cities: you’re exposed to many points of view.”
“And then I was seduced into teaching,” Joan says. After a stint as visiting artist at the Kansas City Art Institute, she was invited to return and take over the fiber department for a year. That stretched into four years, and Joan found that she loved teaching. Her art also matured in Kansas City, thanks to cheap studio space to create large pieces and a steady income, as well as inspiration from a lively faculty and art community. After Joan’s time was up in Kansas, Cranbrook Academy in Detroit called her to chair its fiber arts department for two years and work with graduate students. When that position ended in 1982, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago recruited her as visiting artist. She continues there today as a tenured faculty member of the fiber and material studies department. “I couldn’t be in a better place,” she says. “With my colleagues we have developed one of the strongest fiber programs in the world, for both graduates and undergraduates. It’s extremely rewarding to find parallel intellectual stimulation with my studio practice.”
Joan has just finished her sixth and last year in SAIC as dean of undergraduate studies. She plans to take a sabbatical year and make her fifth visit to India, a place that has always fascinated her, to study, do a residency, and make art. “In India there’s an extensive history of textiles and a long trade in them. I’m interested in the way the people there pay attention to the gods on a daily basis, the rituals, the amazing spaces, the maximal decoration, the earthiness of the culture, and the ubiquitous presence of the body,” she says.
During her many years teaching, Joan continued to produce works in her studio, show her work in galleries and museums, and earn significant awards and critical attention. As dean at SAIC she didn’t have much time to spend in her studio, and now she’s eager to get back to work and excited about the possibilities.
“So now I choose to return to the studio. I’m a little nervous about it. I need to do art daily. I live in an environment of art and have been drawing and making some prints,” says Joan. “I read enormously and voraciously. It’s a creative act for me. I write in my journal. Art is about responding and reflecting on the times in which we live. It’s about paying attention to who and where we are in the world. Paying attention is a fundamental part—not just in your studio but in your community and in the huge international world. Being able to absorb, internalize, and respond is what artists do. They show us the world in which we live.
“As I return to the studio full time, I’ll ask myself how to bring all this rich information back into it. I think I’ll take some risks and allow myself to play. It’s a huge risk to have no goal, to let the work evolve from the tip of my nose to the corners of my eyes. I’m not abandoning where I was. My new work will be an extension of where I’ve been. I’ll probably look at where I live and the skins of my neighborhood. But I’m also itching to make forms. I want to do casting, and I also want to engage other materials. I will continue to stay engaged with the body and the world.
“During my education and during the feminist movement I was deeply influenced by the notion that I could do work as a woman and as a woman in the world. I keep that close. But the phenomenological aspects of how we know the world—through senses, touching, and materials—is what’s critical. I’ve been an artist now for a long time. I know I’m not really afraid. Learning to trust myself and take risks is the most important part.”

"I am indebted to Catlin Gabel. It was better than my college education. It was about learning to ask the right questions and not accepting preconceptions, finding areas of inquiry, and pressing on the status quo. It made all of us hungry to learn."

Images of Joan Livingstone's artworks: Top: At Capacity, 1998-2001, felt, stain, epoxy, resin, rubber, pigment, metal. Bottom: From Migrations installation, 2004, mixed media, courtesy Laura Russo Gallery
For more about Joan, visit


Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Valerie Day '77

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Jazz singer

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

Underneath the recent rap song “Buzzin” by Mann and 50 Cent are a catchy bass line and vocals that you will never get out of your head. Although the music is new to some young folks, that sample of timeless dance-pop was lifted from a 1986 megahit, “I Can’t Wait,” which has taken on a life of its own. In 2009, according to Billboard, the song played somewhere on earth every 11 minutes. The group that recorded it was Nu Shooz, and the singer was Valerie Day ’77.
Valerie and her husband, John Smith, won quick fame and were thrust into its attendant whirl after “I Can’t Wait” exploded onto the European and American charts. They earned a Grammy nomination for best new artist in 1987. But fame doesn’t last, and it’s not pretty. “We worked really hard to get where we were, and fame turned out very different from what we had expected,” says Valerie. “It’s taken me a long time to sort it all out.”
What she figured out is that an artist has to evolve—and she’s never stopped refining her art and her skills. Valerie has evolved into a compelling and breathtaking singer and performer who has played solo, with bands, as a session musician, and with her latest project with John, the Nu Shooz Orchestra.
Along her path, Valerie has become a wise observer of her own and other people’s creative processes, a philosopher as well as a practitioner of the arts. “I’m a perfectionist by nature, so I’ve learned that you have to enjoy yourself and delight yourself. Being able to be flexible and be in the moment is important, even if you know it’s going to go away,” she says.
One of Valerie’s recent projects was “Brain Chemistry for Lovers,” a product of her curiosity and ability to connect disparate ideas and disciplines. She studied the neuroscience of different phases of love and presented it in a performance, interwoven with songs exemplifying the emotion of those phases, from steamy torch songs to melancholy breakup songs. “People think that creativity means the arts, but this project made me realize that scientists are just as creative as musicians. They have to look outside the box—or expand it completely.”
Although she’s worked in many musical genres, Valerie started out in jazz, and that’s her favorite place to be. “Jazz is satisfyingly complex,” she says. Right now she’s working with a team to create a vocal jazz degree program at Portland State University, and she’ll teach students to become contemporary vocalists.
Valerie is also a prominent activist for arts education in the schools: “There’s so much evidence about what a positive effect the arts have. I think everyone can be creative, but learning an artistic discipline in school teaches you to look at things in a different way throughout your life.”
As a longtime singing teacher, from beginning through professional, Valerie is particularly sensitive to what her instruction means to her students. “Learning to sing teaches you to be brave. Once you face your fears and do what you’re compelled to do, that leap of faith expands your world,” she says. “I teach professional singers how to value internal measurement in their lives—what they feel compelled to do, what they love, how they want to improve—not how people measure you externally. Music is not easy as a vocation, but it’s worth it.”
“Learning how to work with others successfully in music is a huge learning experience that can be applied to other vocations,” says Valerie. “Lots of doctors and scientists and business people use arts as a balance in their lives. Music and art can be a prescription, and there’s a different prescription for every person. The arts can help you find your voice and nourish you. It’s definitely medicine for the soul.”

“Catlin Gabel was a big part of my being creative. I was interested in telling a story through dance, music, and visual arts, and I got that all at Catlin Gabel. I learned how to think and ask questions and not just go along with someone else’s program. You only have one life. To make the most of it is a creative act in itself.”

Valerie Day portrait by Sherri Diteman