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Visual Arts and Media Studies History at PCC

Today’s Visual Arts and Media Studies Division at Pasadena City College can trace its history all the way back to its beginnings at Pasadena High School in 1924. In that year, a 13th grade was added to the high school curricula offering students college level classes. A year later, grade 14 became an option, and Pasadena Junior College was formed with 243 students enrolled. As the new “junior” college transitioned from an extension of high school to an institution of higher learning, the administration of PJC challenged teachers from the high school to bring their talents to the college and help create an art program that would be second to none at the two-year level.
Some very talented individuals took the challenge and started putting together courses in an effort to create a program that would involve teaching students not only how to express their art but how to involve themselves in community projects and understand the relationship between what they were learning in the classroom and the world outside.

Eighty-four years ago, instructors teaching in the Art Department could not even imagine the world we live in today. When they went to the movie theater, they couldn’t hear the voices of their favorite actors because talkies hadn’t been invented. Most people didn’t even own a radio at that time, and when TVs were introduced the screens were not much bigger than a sheet of notebook paper. Computers, laptops, the internet, cell phones and smartphones, so common today, were not even close to being invented. Yet those first few instructors in the Art Department at Pasadena Junior College used the traditional tools of the artist—paints, canvas and brushes to form the foundation to one of the most respected two-year art programs in the country.
So successful were they after just one year, that the instructors started lobbying, then principal, Dr. John W. Harbeson for a separate art department and “possibly an office and some desks for the teachers.” Dr. Harbeson listened, and a separate art department was formed in 1929.

Archibald M. Wedemeyer became the first chairman of the newly formed department, and he regularly reported the many accomplishments of the instructors and the students in the fledgling department. Wedemeyer wrote year-end reports reminding Harbeson of the department’s pressing needs. One request asked for more space and better working conditions. In 1934, Wedemeyer made mention of the fact that students were working in buildings “unsafe for habitation.” That situation was the result of damages from the Long Beach earthquake that left most of the campus buildings so damaged they were deemed unsafe. The instructors got their wish and they were removed from the buildings, but none could have imagined that they would be spending the next two years teaching in a “tent city.”

Obviously, the poor conditions didn’t hinder the instructors’ creativity, and the department achieved one success after another. In the 1934 end-of-the year report, Wedemeyer said, “We can truthfully say, without being boastful that our Art Department holds a position at the Junior College level, second to none, and is making it necessary for the State University Art Departments to reach higher in their endeavor to maintain a greater standard.” He also reported that three students were expected to win $1,000 scholarships to Art Center. Those students helped establish a relationship with Art Center that remains strong to this day.

In 1937, the art department moved into new quarters in the administration building (C Building) after the entire college was rebuilt. Newspaper headlines called it “one of the largest and most modern junior college institutions in the world.” News story accounts applauded the addition of electric clocks, telephone booths and bulletin boards. One headline in the college newspaper, “The Chronicle,” said “PJC is a Really Swell School.”

Finally, the tents were gone and morale soared as instructors were able to teach their students in “real” classrooms. Students flocked to the college and the art courses offered in a department with a first class reputation.

When students enrolled at the college in 1939, each of them was given a handbook that outlined how students were expected to behave when on campus.

1. “A man always rises when a woman enters or leaves the room.

2. When asking a teacher to repeat a question, the student should say—I didn’t hear the question. “Louder” or “huh” are never used, except by those who perpetually show ill breeding.

3. Attracting attention to oneself on the street or campus by loud talking, conspicuous clothes or a public show of affection is a sign of ill breeding.

4. Discourtesy to a substitute teacher is a gross example of poor sportsmanship.” My how things have changed!

Then came the war years, and students worked hard to keep their focus on education. In 1941, art students were asked to design a float for the Rose Parade. Not only did the young artists and their instructors get involved with the float, they also joined the rest of the student body doing their part by encouraging the purchase of defense bonds to support the troops and the war effort. In addition, the student art projects at that time took on a more serious tone as the artists tackled war related themes. However, with a few exceptions, life continued quite normally throughout the war years.

On Oct. 1, 1946, PJC came into the national spotlight when Look magazine rated the campus as the third best community college in the United States. Student enrollment skyrocketed to 5,000. The large number of students seeking a college education necessitated the formation of a second two-year school, and in 1947, John Muir Junior College was formed. Students attending either Pasadena or John Muir High Schools signed up for a 6-4-4 plan, with the last four years being the junior and senior years of high school and the first two years of college.

With more and more students enrolling for classes, the two colleges merged to form Pasadena City College in 1953. At that time, the art department had nine full-time instructors teaching a variety of art classes. Helen Hunt Reid was chairman during those transition years, and she managed to strengthen the foundation of the department and continued building a program that would attract the next generation of artists.

David Schnabel, former department chairman, reminisced about what the department was like when he signed his first contract in 1950. Art classes were located mainly along the front of the second floor of the C Building, with ceramics on the top floor, fashion design at the west end of the building and a large lecture hall in the center for art history. Photography labs were on the first floor of the building. Two classrooms on the second floor of the building served as the art gallery. The hallways were filled with portable display units to hang student work. It wasn’t exactly a dream space, but it worked.

If the history of the Art Department were a mural, the 50s, 60s and 70s would be the point where all the colorful characters were added to the landscape. The department started attracting artists with impressive credentials to teach classes. As the staff grew, so did the student body’s interest in art. Instructors who expected to be hired had to have a strong involvement in the professional art world and had to be accomplished and professionally active in the subjects they taught.

Along with teaching classes, the instructors were exhibiting their works in galleries throughout the state and helping to cement the reputation of the department. Leonard Edmondson taught design and printing, and he brought with him a national reputation. Artists like Ed Trainor and Phil Cornelius in ceramics, Russ Whitaker in photography, Jean Buffard in fashion design, David Metzgar, Don Munz, Ben Sakoguchi, Doug Bond and David Schnabel in drawing, painting and design, not only helped students hone their skills, but they demonstrated that art could indeed be a path to a career.

In 1970, the art department moved into a new building that finally had classrooms dedicated to creating art. This was the first time in 45 years that the department had a home of its own. While most of the staff settled into the R Building, those involved in the ceramics and sculpture programs moved into the Z Building; a facility designed just for them.

It took eight more years for the photography department to get its own area. In 1975, a state-of-the-art photo lab opened in the E Building. The department chairman, Walter Girdner, along with Linda Hoover, Roland Percey and Norman Abbey each planned a section of the lab that still remains intact and in use today.

In the 1980s when having a computer became important in the design program, Norm Abbey, an artist-designer-photographer with his own graphic arts agency, brought current practice and expertise to the department. Since that time Laurie Burruss has managed and expanded the Digital Media Center, a premiere program and one of seven of its kind in the State of California.

The reins of the department have changed hands over the years from Archibald Wedemeyer to Helen Hunt Reid to Lennox Tierney and then to Dick Cassady. The department chairman’s position then went from David Schnabel to Walter Girdner.
In 1986, Suzanne Bravender, who headed the studio arts area, conceived a plan to have prominent artists visit the campus and work with students. That idea developed into the college’s “Artist-in-Residence” program that just celebrated its 22nd anniversary. For its first fifteen years the Artist in Residence program was stewarded by Dr. Linda Malm who was the department chair at first and the division dean later through 2001. As a consequence of the success of the Artist in Residence program, over the past twenty-two years, the college has amassed a collection of contemporary art presently housed in the Shatford College Library.

In 1987 Dr. Jack Scott succeeded Dr. Casey as president of the college and selected Ms. Bravender as the sole faculty representative on the Library Construction Committee. In 1990 Ms. Bravender, in conjunction with the undergoing library construction, introduced the idea of the sculpture garden and Dr. Scott supported the concept with great enthusiasm. With a generous contribution from MaryLou and George Boone, the sculpture garden was established and named after the Boone family. Since then the sculpture garden has brought prestige to our college with sculptures of world class artists which were funded primarily by a generous gift from Ms. Adelaide Hixon and her husband Alexander. Over the past year the City of Pasadena and art collectors, who have recognized the growth and importance of the arts on our campus, have donated sculptures and continue to support the installation of two and three dimensional artworks on our college grounds, outside the George Boone Sculpture Garden, in the college library and in other instructional buildings.

In 2002 the leadership of the division passed from Dr. Malm to Alex Kritselis. During the past seven years the department has grown to be recognized as one of the best art departments in the nation. Faculty maintain active professional lives, exhibit their art worldwide and maintain business clients and corporate accounts. Among our distinguished art faculty the following individuals have brought to the division and to the college, with their art accomplishments, national recognition: Jim Morphesis, Mary Rose Mendoza, Stan Baden, Rebecca Morris, Vicki Martin, Matt Jordan, Rachel Fermi, Rick Osaka, Deena Capparelli, Kay Yee, Yolanda McKay, Keiko Fukazawa, Allen Harrison, Heather Kurze, Lindsey Jang, Sue Brown, Jerry Graves, Mike Mims and Wilhelm Bleckmann.

In 2003, following the reorganization of academic areas the Art division incorporated, from the Communications Division, the programs of Journalism and Media Studies and its name was changed to Visual Arts and Media Studies. With the additions of these two successful programs Ms. Mikki Bolliger and Mr. Rod Foster also joined the newly formed division bringing along their extraordinary experiences and talents. Since 2002 the division has extended its programs into the community by offering college level courses in a number of district high schools and other art organizations. It has incorporated itself and engaged with its faculty and students the larger Pasadena cultural community by participating twice per year in the citywide ArtNight events, as well as in the bi-annual Festival of Arts and Ideas with programs which connect the arts and sciences and provide opportunity for students and community members to enjoy lectures, presentations, exhibitions and performances at the highest level. The Art Gallery program, under the directorship of Mr. Brian Tucker, has attracted the attention of national publications of the caliber of the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Art News and Extra. Large numbers of the division’s students, year-after-year, successfully transfer to fouryear institutions of their choice with major scholarships, and have successfully competed in national and statewide competitions in the areas of journalism, digital media, graphic and product design, film and photography.

For the past year the division has engaged with AC Martin and Associates, the architecture firm awarded the designing of New Center for the Arts, which is part of the ten year College Master Plan and which was approved overwhelmingly by the voters of the City of Pasadena in spring of 2002, in developing the plans for the new building slated to be completed by the summer of 2011. The new building, for the first time in the history of the division, will bring all of its programs under one roof and in absolute proximity to the music programs of the Performing and Communication Arts Division. The Center for the Arts will increase the square footage of the art studios by 80% , will include a new art gallery, a black box theater, a recital hall and will be a state of the arts facility, totally wired for the 21st century; a model for arts education.

Over the past 25 years the Visual Arts and Media Studies Division in its effort to engage with its constituencies and inform the citizens of the City of Pasadena about its deep commitment to student success, art education and the up and coming Center for the Arts cultivated relationships with numerous educational, cultural and art organizations, including the Armory Center for the Arts, the Pasadena Art Alliance, Museum of California Art, Pasadena Fine Arts Club and the Art Center College of Design. Although those in charge changed over the years, the division’s mission did not. The division has continued to grow and train serious artists. Today, the Visual Arts and Media Studies Division is poised to make changes that will ensure that the staff and students are ready to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

Learn about the Performing and Communication Arts History.