Drop into the Artists' Co-op in Washington this month, and you'll be able to see an exhibit honoring Frank Ross, a teacher and artist who mentored and greatly inspired some of the region's most respected artists.
"Frankly Speaking" is a collection of recently completed works by seven of Mr. Ross' former students who are currently co-op members -- Linda and Jim Winegar, Karen Howell, Susan Phillips, Michele Soyka Horosko, Duke Miecznikowski and Ray Dunlevy.
"Frank Ross was an extraordinary teacher and individual who had a tremendous influence on the hundreds of students he touched as a ceramics instructor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania," said ceramist and co-op member Linda Winegar. "He not only imparted the skills, techniques and knowledge for many people to carve a career in clay, but, by his example, conveyed to his students the idea that a life within the arts and in service to the arts was one of personal fulfillment and of significant value to our communities."
The co-op exhibit is timed to coincide with Cera(m!x) Pittsburgh, a regional celebration of the ceramic arts in Western Pennsylvania. Cera(m!x) Pittsburgh is part of the 2008 conference for the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts. The annual conference will be held at the David. L. Lawrence Convention Center March 19-22 and is expected to draw more than 5,000 ceramic artists, educators & enthusiasts.
Additionally, many of the co-op members in the "Frankly Speaking" exhibit also will be featured, along with numerous other clay artists, in a Frank Ross Legacy show in the gallery at the Manchester Bidwell Center in Pittsburgh.
Bill Strickland, the CEO of Manchester Bidwell, was also a student of Frank Ross and will be dedicating the ceramic studio at that facility to Frank Ross and his wife Nancy, during the national council's conference.
Mr. Ross was born on April 11, 1928. After graduating from the Pittsburgh Public School system, he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts, and his doctorate from what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie-Mellon University. He was one of the first people to receive a master's degree in fine arts in ceramics from that institution.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Mr. Ross taught in several area public schools before becoming professor of ceramics at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1965. He was also instrumental in founding the Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Arts Festival and the Fair in the Park.
"Frank had a powerful energy and an automatic attraction due to his magnetic personality," said Duke Miecznikowski, professor in the art department at California University of Pennsylvania and a co-op member. "He was outgoing, a good teacher and a successful artist, but most of all an inspirational figure. It was sheer magic watching him produce his work from lumps of clay."
Mr. Miecznikowski said he started his student studies at IUP as a painter, but wanted to take Mr. Ross' ceramics class after seeing him working on campus and make what he was doing look very interesting. After taking the class, he decided to specialize in ceramics.
"After graduating, I spent a lot of time with Frank and became his friend," said Mr. Miecznikowski. "The death of him and his wife Nancy in a tragic automobile accident in 1980 robbed many of us of 20 years of valuable advice and mentorship."
The seven co-op artists who studied under Mr. Ross did so in the span of years between the early 1960s and early '70s. Jim Winegar remembers it as an exciting time that saw the rise of the antiwar, the women's rights and the ecology movements.
"It was a time when the issues of politics, war and race were all part of the dialogue" he said. "Frank recruited us into the first political campaign that I experienced, and his friendship with a young black man, Bill Strickland, gave me my first in-depth exposure to the urban condition and race issues of the late '60s."
Another Ross alumnus, art professor at Waynesburg University and co-op member Susan Phillips, recalled thinking that one of the abundant reasons so many of his students were happy to be in Mr. Ross' orbit was that he made each of them feel significant, worthy, and valuable.
"He was the first adult person who ever spoke to me and related to me as an adult, and I found that to be a heady experience," she said. "Being the bumpkin that I was as a sophomore in college from a rural background, I was thrilled to have the experience of being taught by someone who seemed to be interested in what I had to say and what kind of art I was making."
Washington artist and co-op member Ray Dunlevy, who now considers himself mainly a painter, minored in ceramics at IUP. In addition to entering two small recent still-lifes in the co-op exhibit, he may also enter some of the ceramic pieces he made while a student of Mr. Ross.
"Frank's influence went way beyond ceramics," he said. "He had a way of motivating us to produce quality pieces in every medium -- painting, drawing and sculpture, as well as ceramics."
"Frankly Speaking" is at the Artists' Co-op, 30 E. Beau St., Washington, from Thursday through March 31. An opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday. For co-op hours and further information, call 724-229-0365 or go to artexplorer.org.
Dave Zuchowski is a freelance writer.