O'Brien

SFUAD photo faculty Tony O'Brien; photo Craig Fritz/The New Mexican

In 1984, the College of Santa Fe announced the formation of a visual arts program; art classes had previously only been offered through the college’s humanities department. The new program, based on a European-style beaux arts model, would offer students instruction from a core group of faculty as well as visiting artists — an ambitious initiative, since the school didn’t have studio facilities at the time. Richard Cook, a former gallery director who had also headed an art program at a Louisiana college, was hired to direct the program. Two of the old barracks on campus were renovated to accommodate the needs of the new department. 

“When I started, there was no art department,” said photographer and photography dealer David Scheinbaum, who began teaching at the college in 1979 when another instructor, photographer Meridel Rubenstein, took a leave of absence. “The photography class was taught in a sink room in one of the barracks.” Scheinbaum joined the permanent faculty a few years later and directed the Marion Center for Photographic Arts at CSF and SFUAD.

After serving as an adjunct instructor in the 1980s, Nancy Sutor said she taught in the program from the mid-1990s until 2008. The artist, photographer, and independent curator taught darkroom photography, and was interim director of the Marion Center for the school’s last two years. “My specialty was 19th-century processes: platinum, palladium, cyanotype, Vandyke prints — all of the applied emulsion processes,” she said. “These processes also lend themselves to working more sculpturally, really going outside the box in terms of what photography is expected to be.”

“Everyone took Painting I, Drawing I. Everyone took 3-D design,” said Scheinbaum, who taught history of photography, studio photography, and gallery practices. “We had a very strong component of art history that everyone was required to take. We wanted all of the students to be well versed in all of the different areas. It was only by, like, their third semester that they would begin to concentrate in what we called their areas of passion.”

In 1999, an impressive new visual arts center opened. It housed the Marion Center for the Photographic Arts, Thaw Art History Center, Tishman Hall, Tipton Lecture Hall, and the Santa Fe Art Institute.

In 2003, the college began offering a documentary studies major, housed in the Marion Center, that quickly became a critical component of the college’s growing emphasis on interdisciplinary studies. The program was headed by photojournalist Tony O’Brien and environmentalist and writer William deBuys. O’Brien joined the photography faculty at SFUAD in 2011 and became chair of the department in 2015. He graduated from the College of Santa Fe in 1969 with a bachelor’s in English literature.

Khristaan Villela, now the director of the Museum of International Folk Art, started teaching at the college in 1998 and was the Eugene V. Thaw Professor of Art History from 2007 until CSF closed. He was a professor of art history and scholar-in-residence at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design from 2011 to 2016. Faculty hired under his leadership at CSF were Ana Nieves, who covered the art of ancient South America and the Andes; Christina Cogdell, whose fields are American modernism, eugenics, architecture, and design; and Carolyn Kastner, who taught Native American art and was a curator at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum until her retirement in early 2018. “That was a very nice, rounded-out faculty,” Villela said.

Artist Susan York taught sculpture at the school beginning in 1998 and stayed on through the transition to the Santa Fe University of Art and Design until 2016. “I was part-time at the College of Santa Fe — although it was my calling, so I gave it my all,” York said. “Because it was such a small school, we could give students a deep level of individual attention that is really uncommon.” York is now devoted to her studio practice.

Painter Gerry Snyder, now the dean of Pratt Institute School of Art in New York, chaired the art department from 2000 to 2005 and primarily taught studio courses. “It was like a lot of art programs where everybody teaches their perspective,” Snyder said. “We all worked toward relevance, and we probably interpreted that a little different here and there. It was our hope that our students would have the education to pursue an art career if they wanted and, if not, to pursue other opportunities.” Snyder was hired by SFUAD and was vice president of academic affairs until 2014.

The art department was one of the major strengths of the College of Santa Fe in its final years.The program had a profound and lasting impact on  regional and national arts. Many of its former students, in addition to faculty, were integral in steering the art scene in Santa Fe during the department’s heyday and continue to contribute to the local art community and art economy. “It was an incredible, like-minded group — the whole faculty of that college — of passionate educators,” Scheinbaum said. “Everyone, I bet, who taught there is still in touch with former students. It was that kind of place.” 

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