Postcard show honors art professor's 40 years at SRU
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Glen Brunken, professor of art at Slippery Rock University, doesn't care about accolades, but he certainly deserves them. He has helped hundreds of students develop their painting, teaching and art skills during his 40 years at Slippery Rock University.
"Glen is a wonderful teacher and has had a huge influence on my visual art and my teaching," said Jaci Ross, a 2002 SRU graduate and instructor at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. "I often tell my students things I remember him teaching me."
SRU's art department has organized a tribute to Brunken to observe his 40th anniversary and upcoming June retirement that resembles "Mr. Holland's Opus," the movie in which former students come back to campus to play for their beloved music professor. The department sent letters to 430 of Brunken's former students asking them to contribute a postcard for an art show titled "Forty Years Later: 1969-2009." The exhibition will be staged Feb. 9 through March 13 at SRU's Martha Gault Art Gallery, with an opening reception from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 9.
"My idea is to celebrate all those years and the collaboration with all those students," Brunken said. "The only way to teach art is to work with the students and get them to open up. On their postcard, they can put whatever they like �- a photograph of one of their art works, a drawing, some memory of their student days, pictures of the children or family. We will exhibit all of the cards. They're creative people."
The cards are already coming in. Some sent postcards from their own art shows while others lauded their professor. One graduate pasted a photo of himself on a 4X6 postcard with the words, "Thank you Professor Brunken."
The postcards will be tacked to the walls, then given to Brunken after the show.
"They will be hung salon-style. Hopefully, we'll get so many they'll cover the walls," said Katherine Mickle, SRU assistant professor of art and gallery director.
Mickle, an SRU graduate, is a former student of Brunken's. "He was my faculty adviser. His passion for art-making and integrity have had a huge impact on my life. I find him inspiring on many levels," she said.
Brunken, who received his master's degree in art from Wichita State University, specializes in abstract expression. His work is exhibited and collected internationally. He paints from a home studio where he keeps a gallery as well. He is also inspired by jazz and blues music.
Art education has certainly changed since he joined the University in 1969. "When I started teaching, it was during the Vietnam War. Slippery Rock University was half the size of what is now, about 4,000 students," Brunken said.
Forty years ago, the current Art Building I was a social hangout called "The Hut." Brunken taught painting to 20 students in two houses rented by the University. SRU's art department currently enrolls 120 majors and offers programs in the fine arts, art with a teaching certification and minors in studio art and art history.
"I am proud of what we've accomplished," Brunken said. "There wasn't much of an art department when we started. Now we have a nationally and internationally known art department. To be part of that is a real honor."
Brunken said his teaching approach emphasizes back-and-forth exchange.
"What I am trying to do is help students realize their potential," he said. "Sometimes they need to be realigned to meet their own potential, but they take off from there. It's really more about us working together as peers."
The difficult aspect of teaching is saying "goodbye." "The hardest part of teaching is turning them loose. When you have a student for three or four years, you become friends. That's why if they write to me after they graduate, I always write back. If they're doing something, I want to know about it."
What many of them are doing currently is creating a postcard for their professor.
"Those teachers who truly have an impact on our lives are always part of what we do," said Ross, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh instructor. "Glen is one of those teachers for me."
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.