Alumna’s art displays her thanks, talent

Christine Tomlinson

A former University student is displaying her appreciation for the school along the walls of Morrill Hall.
Alumna Joan Bellin is expressing her gratitude to the people who gave her an education in art and design by exhibiting her artwork through June on the second floor of Morrill Hall. Displaying art exhibits in this hallway was originally suggested by University President Nils Hasselmo and Vice President of Institutional Relations Tom Swain. The public has now seen three art exhibits displayed in there.
Bellin graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the design department. The department merged with the Department of Textiles and Clothing in 1982 to become the Department of Design, Housing and Apparel.
Bellin attended the reception last year for an exhibition of work by the faculty of the Department of Design, Housing and Apparel in Morrill Hall. There she spoke to Karen Benson, executive assistant to the University president, about the possibility of expressing her gratitude to her professors through an exhibit.
“She told me she always wished there was some way to let those faculty know how much of a difference they made in her life, how much of a difference they made in her work,” Benson said.
At the opening reception on Jan. 23, Bellin spoke of the triangle of influence she experienced when she attended the University. While a student in the department of design, she took classes in the art and architecture departments, both on different campuses — design in St. Paul, art on the West Bank and architecture on the East Bank. The art and architecture courses were collateral courses for her degree.
Each of these influences are apparent in the mixed media of her artwork. The influence of her professors is also apparent through the display of some of their works next to her own in the exhibition.
Former design, housing and apparel associate professor Richard Abell’s work is displayed in the hall. A painting at the exhibit was a gift to Bellin from her aunt, who attended the University in the 1960s and had also been influenced by Abell.
“This instructor had so much exuberance and so much talent, and a talent for sharing that exuberance with his students,” said Bellin.
As her adviser and mentor, Abell inspired Bellin to seek out something in her art that didn’t quite come naturally to her. “Dick Abell was the more fanciful, let-out-your-inner-child-type person,” Bellin explained.
Marion Ortolf-Bagley, another design department professor at the time, had referred to Bellin as a precisionist. Bellin said she resembled Ortolf-Bagley in that way.
By developing both of these qualities, she became the artist she is today.
“It’s the journey a student makes, matching the discipline to what they do,” said Becky Yust, head of the Department of Design, Housing and Apparel. “We focus on problem solving and application of the design process to solve problems.”
After college, Bellin began working as a textile artist and a partner at Close at Hand, a business that screen-printed fabrics by hand for interior applications like upholstery, fabric and draperies. She had taken lithography at the University, and “that set the stage for my love of print-making, and, through the design department, it had practical application; it wasn’t just to look at, it was to sit on,” Bellin said.
Her seven-year affiliation with the business spawned an unexpected career as a full-time artist.
“I started getting more interested in what was on the drop cloth than the fabrics we were doing for the clients,” said Bellin. She began to do her own work full time nine years ago.
Bellin is involved in outreach programs, using her education to open up the world of art to elementary school students. Living in such a visual world, Bellin said, “students need understanding and a vocabulary, the basic elements, to understand their environment.”
In what started as a six-day cycle of print-making instruction, Bellin spent the month of January going into schools to work with the students. “Having children of elementary school ages, that’s what is making me realize the importance,” Bellin said.
Beyond the exhibit in Morrill Hall, which is dedicated to the University and the faculty, her outreach to the school includes donating a work of art to the Weisman Art Museum. She was invited to donate a piece for consideration, and the official jury process for accepting the work will occur in March. The piece is dedicated to Hasselmo and his wife.