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UWW | In Memoriam | People & projects

People and Projects

Lighting the way

As with the Impressionists, it’s all about light and color for artist Jane Zirinsky Haskell ’44. The big difference is, she incorporates actual neon and fluorescent bulbs and fiber optics into her pieces. Haskell grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and after Skidmore worked briefly in Manhattan, creating window displays for cosmetics magnate Helena Rubinstein. She then earned an MA in art history
at the University of Pittsburgh and taught at Duquesne University for ten years before turning to
a career in painting and sculpture.

In 1979 Haskell “discovered” neon, which she first used to construct her piece Light Harp (now in Skidmore’s Filene Music Building), and has worked with light ever since. Her award-winning art includes commissioned pieces for the Steel Plaza subway station in downtown Pittsburgh (Rivers
of Light
, constructed of neon, glass block, and aluminum), Boston’s Logan Airport (neon Windows of Light in the central parking garage), and the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (Let the Waters
…, a fiber-optic installation).

This past fall her work was featured at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, which named her 2006 Artist of the Year. (Haskell says she was “elated” at the news; “then came reality—how willI ever fill all that space? I wanted to suffuse the galleries with light—black light, colored fluorescent light, colored dichroic halogen lamps, and my old standby, neon.”) PCA director Laura Domencic says Haskell, a long- time board member of the Carnegie Museum of Art and fifty-year member of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, is “a vital artist who has made a lifelong commitment to the Pittsburgh arts community.”

The PCA exhibit, titled Symposium on Light, brought together visual artists of varied disciplines to explore the importance, meaning, and use of light. It included pieces from Haskell’s Windborne series (pictured above), an installation of drawings using string and light, and about two dozen of her photographs, printed on rice paper.

Haskell’s next project entails re-hanging her glass globes (she makes her own, “adding phosphorescence to molten glass to create color that seems to free-float in the air”) in Gallery 707 in downtown Pittsburgh, in conjunction with the International Glass Conference in June. —MTS

Very decent docent

Being an “education sponge” has come in handy for
Judy Stahr Stembel ’56. She puts her enthusiasm for
learning to good use as purveyor of details at the
Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, where she has the distinction of being the longest continuing docent.

While interviewing at the Natural History Museum in 1972, Stembel was “sent on an exploratory trail
of docent tours,” she recalls. “In the end I asked, ‘Where do you need me?’ And the reply was, ‘Oh, we need you at Air and Space because women think they can’t do that.’”

Stembel thought otherwise; all she needed was “proper training.” The space portion of that training came, in large part, from Michael Collins, Apollo 11’s command module pilot. “For airplanes, we had Paul Garber. He was the man who collected about 80 percent of the air artifacts at the museum. He was known for sending telegrams to people requesting their plane for the Smithsonian before the ‘historic’ plane even got to its historic destination.”

The NASM opened in 1976, and the “huge, four-block- long building” is now the most-visited museum in the world, Stembel says. “In the early days I did the ‘whole tour,’ but for the last several years I have cut back to specialized tours.” Her favorite, developed especially for very young visitors, includes interactive hands-on learning and a forty-minute tour, followed by story time.

She gives her spiel in the proximity of the original Flyer and two other Wright planes, including the Vin Fiz (the first to fly cross-country). “The beauty
of this is, with the Flyer on the floor, instead of hanging over their heads, the children can really see” how the world’s first airplane worked and how its design progressed.

Stembel is a faithful NASM docent, having missed just two monthly training sessions in thirty-four years. (In D.C. she’s also a docent at Hillwood Museum and Gardens, which has “one of the most unusual collections of French and Russian decorative arts, and lovely year-round, well-designed gardens.”) “I love interaction with people,” she says. “Many years ago I volunteered to be the bartender at our annual holiday party. I’ve become quite adept at opening wines, and of course I love the job because everybody at the party comes to see me.” —MTS

What floats her boat

It’s hard to keep Carol Curran Lyall ’69 away from
water. But there are worse addictions.

In 1989, when Lyall signed up for Learn to Row classes on Cape Cod, Mass., she wasn’t exactly sea-shy—she’d sailed a bit in her teens, having grown up on Long Island Sound. But the mother of three probably hadn’t planned that once the beginner program was over, she and a few others would start a club for master (“postgraduate and beyond”) rowers.

At first Lyall competed in the Cotuit Rowing Club’s
four, racing at regattas in New England. Then, in 1996, she became “captivated by the challenge of sculling in a single,” and now she competes mostly in head races, including the Fish in Saratoga Springs and the Charles in Cambridge, Mass.

About once a year she also joins an international
rowing tour. She’s rowed all over the world, from Russia to Australia, but says “the most beautiful place I’ve found is on the south coast of Cape Cod. Lake Lu-cerne in Switzerland comes close, but the early morn-ing rows on Cotuit’s salt water are incredibly beautiful.”

She trains year-round—running, doing on-the-water workouts,and building her endurance. In the winter she uses the erg machine and swims laps. (When she’s not rowing, Lyall stores her 26-foot lightweight racing shell suspended from her living-room ceiling. When it’s time to put the boat on the water, she just pops it out through an open window.)

High points for Lyall—besides believing in herself
enough to row her single in the Head of the Charles
(“for me that took gumption; I was 55”)—include her
first FISA (International Federation of Rowing Associations) tour in Portugal in 1995 and coaching newcomers to the sport.

“Being at one with my boat and the water” tops the
list, she says—although that can be her nemesis too.
“If you lose your mental focus, the amazingly tippy
craft will put you in the drink in a flash. But to have a smooth and effective stroke, you must relax physically. With time everything melds, and the motion of propelling the shell through the water becomes more natural. That’s when moments of nirvana can overcome you… but I suppose I’m beginning to sound goofy.” —MTS

It's a funny thing

Matt Rosen ’76 wasn’t big into comics as a youngster. “I started reading and collecting
them in high school and kept it up through
my years at Skidmore,” he says. Most of what he collected are vintage 1967 to 1976 titles—many hundreds of them, meticulously stored in plastic sheets, ordered by title, and filed chronologically.

Primarily Marvel Comics, they include the Fantastic
Four, Spiderman, Captain America, Silver Surfer, Thor, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos (Rosen’s personal favorite), X-Men, the Submariner, Conan the Barbarian. There are also a number of underground Zap Comix by R. Crumb—which, Rosen says, “were cutting-edge in terms of content.” The oldest book is a 1962 version of Thor. The
most valuable one, he says, is probably
the Barbarian #1
, with art by Barry Smith.

Recently Rosen, who lives in Florida, turned his
collection over to Skidmore. “Having moved several
times in the past few years, I started thinking about
the best future use for my comics,” he says. “My kids
are really young, and it kind of freaked me out when
they touched them; after all, I had been pampering these comics for almost forty years.” Rosen wasn’t interested in selling his comics on eBay or at a collectors’ show (“that seemed gauche”), so he met with librarian Ruth Copans and decided to donate them to the college. (Skidmore prof John Anzalone used some of them in his January MALS seminar “Pulp Fictions.”)

Rosen, who swears he read every page of every
comic in his collection, says he doesn’t really miss
them—even favorite characters Nick Fury (“a cigar-
chompin’ tough guy) and his second-in-command,
Dum Dum Duggan (“a red-haired, walrus-mustached former circus strongman”). Along with sidekicks Rebel Ralston (“a former jockey from Kentucky”), Gabriel Jones (“a jazz musician from New Orleans”), Percy Pinkerton (“an Englishman who always carried an umbrella”), and Izzy Cohen (“a former Brooklyn garage mechanic”), “they never lost, be it a fight with the evil Nazi Baron von Strucker or a barroom brawl with McGiveney’s Maulers, their intra-Army arch enemies.” —MTS

Green is gold

Comparing apples and oranges is all in a day’swork for Jeff Barry ’90. His Boston Organics company, started in 2002, provides customers with fresh, organic groceries delivered straight to their homes.

Barry—who, as a Peace Corps volunteer
right out of college, helped build a central marketplace in the Comoros Islands off
East Africa—has a master’s in international business and environmental economics from Tufts University. He moved to San Francisco in 1995, during the boom, and “got swept up in the entrepreneurial wave,” he says. He also “started running, practicing yoga, mountain-biking, and eating healthy.”

His interest in “the environmental impact of economic development,” and his recognition that “as Americans we unsustainably consume the most natural resources per capita in the world,” contributed to his desire to start his own organic-foods business.
“For better or worse, most of the world takes the lead from America. So we must play a key role in the greening of the world’s consumption habits.”

After he and his wife moved back east, Barry started offering what no one else was offering in the Boston area: door-to-door delivery of organic fruits and vegetables. The first year he was up every day at 4 a.m., pulling orders and delivering them in a van, and doing customer service work in the evening. Now more than a dozen team members help out with day-to-day operations, making 1,000 deliveries a week with five vans.

Besides produce, Boston Organics offers local organic eggs, fresh-baked breads, tea and coffee, and peanut butter. Barry will be adding more seasonal items, like maple syrup, and staples such as rice. (For details, check He favors supporting local growers but admits it’s “challenging to eat in an environmentally sustainable manner year round in New England, due to the limited season and difficult growing conditions.”

Sourcing from outside the region, including California and Central and South America, means he can offer greater variety—especially with fruit. On the flip side, there’s the issue of the fuel used to transport the produce from outside the region. “Theoretically,” Barry says, “I could offer customers only locally harvested organic produce that has been stored and jarred for the nongrowing months; but I wouldn’t be in business for long.” Anyway, he says, “I still like my bananas every week.” —MTS

Just joking

At the, you can watch hundreds of individuals telling jokes. It’s a venture founded by filmmakers Matt Kalman ’94 and Marc Lesser ’96 (former Skidmore
Ad Libs) and Web-site launcher Nicole Stagg ’93. As Stagg tells it, the guys were shooting one of their documentaries and members of the crew started telling jokes to the camera between takes. “One day last January, the three ofus were watching some of the footage and thought the jokes would be perfect on the Web.”

Joke sites are ubiquitous, but mostly in text form; the NYC trio was delighted to discover that no one else was posting videos of everyday people telling jokes. After shooting some sample videos to get the format they wanted, they began their effort to create “the first-ever oral history of joke-telling, the world’s first ‘joke-u-mentary.’”

“While there are no jokes that everyone finds funny,” what’s universally appealing is “the art of joke-telling,” says Stagg. “Sometimes the funniest moment isn’t the actual joke but the awkward seconds immediately after it’s told. Anyone can tell a joke,” she goes on, “and when they do, they unconsciously reveal a little of themselves.”

The Skiddies solicit people around the world (including on Skidmore’s campus) to tell their best jokes—unscripted, unrehearsed, on camera. By tracking visits to their Web site, they know that thousands of viewers watch at least twenty-five of these videos at a pop, and that more than 30 percent stay for an hour or more, The Joke Project’s clips are rated “squeaky clean,” “relatively harmless,”
“pretty dirty,” or “x-tremely naughty.”
Those categories are subjective, Stagg acknowledges, “but we use our best judgment. And we do not post very hurtful, racist jokes.”

Almost two-thirds of the jokes are told by men. Recent calculations indicate that about 5 percent are of the knock-knock type, 4 percent involve pirates, 6 percent are considered bathroom humor, 5 percent have to do with priests, 3.5 percent each relate to chicken, sheep, and fish, and nearly 8 percent revolve around celebrities. And, for what it’s worth, roughly 16 percent are told
by people wearing hats. —MTS


Coming back

Transitioning to college life can be a challenge for new students. Samantha
Schutz ’00 thought she was losing her
mind. What began as scattered panic attacks became so frequent she was convinced she was going to die. She kept these feelings to herself, appearing outwardly composed. Academically she performed well, and socially she was only mildly withdrawn, she says. She even ventured to Paris in her junior year. But on the inside, Schutz felt trapped and out of control.

She got help from Skidmore’s counseling center. But the impact of her psychological trials was enough to make her write a book about it. I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, a memoir written in free-verse poetry, is set almost entirely at Skidmore—in a writing seminar, at parties, in her dorm room (view excerpts at

Schutz, now a children’s-book editor in New York City, says she wrote the book “to comfort others and to comfort myself.” Despite the plethora of self-help books on panic disorder, “they weren’t engaging reads and they didn’t make me feel any less alone.” And while anxiety did not dog her after graduation the way it once had, she still needed convincing to go to places where she’d had panic attacks.

“Things were better—but I didn’t feel better,” she says. So Schutz thought that reminding herself of where she’d been—by reading her journals from high school and college—would help her see how much different her life had become. Going back there “wasn’t fun,” she says; it was depressing. "I couldn’t do much work in one sitting; it was overwhelming.”

Since her book came out last summer, Schutz has been getting fan mail. “People tell me their problems, their mother's problems,
their cousin's problems, their roommate's problems. I think they want to be open and share their stories; they just don't want to be the one who cracks first.”

Happily, Schutz will go months now without a panic attack. She knows not to let “a passing anxious thought or feeling turn into more than that.” And she’s kicked the habit of thinking that leaving a place that seems
to induce anxiety, or avoiding it altogether, will help her. “Feeling safe has to come from inside, not from a change of location,” she says. “That was very hard to learn.” —MTS

Sequoia quest

Rural Sichuan province, China, 1944. Forester T. Kan happens on an unusual cypresslike tree; villagers have built a small shrine to a god they say lives in its old, gnarled trunk. Kan tells a university colleague, who finds that the tree represents the sole remaining species of a genus
thought to be long extinct. Soon specimens
of this “living fossil,” Metasequoia glyptostroboides, are sent to Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum and other sites. Over the next sixty years, these fine-needled, thick-trunked “dawn redwoods” are planted in arboreta and gardens from New Jersey to Oregon.

Philadelphia, Pa., USA, 2004. Skidmore art professor Margo Mensing collaborates on a multimedia outdoor installation at the University of Pennsylvania’s arboretum called “metaMetasequoia,” which inspires
art major Matt Belsky ’06 to learn more.
And more, and more.

From 1,500 e-mail inquiries, he gathered data on 331 Metasequoia specimens in twenty-two states. The son of a
programmer, the computer-savvy artist
then used Skidmore’s Geographical Information Systems to cross-reference rainfall and temperature averages, soil type, and other conditions across the US with his data on the trees. The result is a variety of maps showing the climate and habitat
zones where the trees live, even
specifying them by age and size (see Belsky found no such previous map studies and
was eager “to educate people about this rare species of tree.” And he was pleased to “do something unique” that other researchers could use. Last summer, he gave an invited presentation at the second annual Metasequoia Symposium, held in Rhode Island.

After graduation, Belsky landed a job as a GIS analyst for AWS Truewind, in Albany, N.Y. The firm offers wind mapping and analyses for renewable-energy wind-turbine siting. He says the technical aspects of his work “can be tough,” but he enjoys “learning about wind resources and geography around the world.” He also points out that using coal accelerates global warming and “using foreign oil is a security risk. Energy independence is critical nowadays.”

Nobody can accuse Belsky of not being able to see the forest for the trees. —SR