December 19, 2017 2:45PM
Marjorie Schick, who taught 50 years as a college professor at Pittsburg State and was known internationally for her wearable art that she once said people assumed "a man was responsible for" because of its power and aggression, died Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, after a short illness.
She had just retired in May, and as late as this fall had been moving boxes of her work and archival items out of Porter.
Her former students and colleagues remembered her Monday as groundbreaking yet genuine.
"Marjorie was the innovation, she was the revolution, and she did it with a quiet grace that allowed everyone to participate," said Rhona Shand, associate professor of art. "She did this not only by the work she made, but her commitment to how she made it and who she was: witty, humble, and completely approachable. She truly was an exceptional educator, artist, friend and mentor. I am like the rest of faculty and staff of the Department of Art, we are heartsore right now. She will be missed."
Art Department Interim Chair Jamie Oliver said she impacted countless students and faculty.
"Nothing I can say will actually encompass the amount of love and respect that we as a Department hold for Marjorie and her work," he said. "Her teaching modeled her artmaking process: leading by example and consistently innovating."
Schick was known for her body sculptures and large-scaled jewelry of painted wood and papier-mâché. Her style was bold and aggressive. Pioneering. Loud. Oversized.
But Schick was admittedly quiet and unassuming — except when it came to her art. In a piece entitled "Who's Afraid of Marjorie Schick?" by Matt Lambert that appeared in Art Jewelry Forum in April 2016, she noted that when she describes her art to others, who then look it up on the Internet, they're usually surprised.
"Because my voice is soft and my manner mild, only my multicolored hair hints that I might be an artist," she said.
Schick grew up dreaming of becoming a Hollywood costume designer, she said, filling boxes with paper doll clothes she designed for Brenda Starr and other career women in the comic strips.
As a teen, she attended fashion design and illustration classes for high school students at the Chicago Art Institute. She attended the University of Wisconsin, where she took jewelry classes and decided to follow in her mother's footsteps and become an art teacher.
There, she met her future husband, James Schick, a history major who would become a history professor at PSU. Their dual professorships as a married couple would set the record as two of the longest, if not the longest, in PSU history; in April during a public presentation honoring Marjorie's work, she proclaimed their pride in serving the university a combined 100 years.
It was James who encouraged Marjorie to pursue an advanced degree with him at Indiana University. She was accepted, but was cautioned at the time that her work was "ordinary." So Schick doubled down to find a unique style all her own. She was inspired by Alma Eikerman, a jewelry and silversmithing professor, who became her mentor and inspiration, and she was influenced by sculptor David Smith, whose work was featured in publications during her graduate school years.
Fortunately for the art world, she found a style all her own.
"I want my work to affect both the wearer and the viewer," she told Lambert for his piece.
She was named a Fellow of the American Crafts Council (an appointment that has led her to lecture in Europe, Australia, Japan and Korea), and her work has been included in the Smithsonian Institute archives.
A hardcover book of her art, "Sculpture to Wear: The Jewelry of Marjorie Schick," was published in 2007. In its review, Harriete Bermanon, also internationally known for decades for her wearable art, said Schick "breaks new ground every time she sits down to work. She also creates pieces that are larger and bolder than anything any one of us can imagine."
A retrospective of her Schick's art, hosted by International Arts and Artists of Washington D.C., was exhibited at museums and galleries throughout the U.S. and Europe through 2008 and most of 2009. This spring, the exhibit "Marjorie Schick: 50 Years Innovating Art for the Body,” was on display in the University Gallery.
And today, her work can be found in museums and private collections around the world, including the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea; The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia; the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway; the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England; and the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh.
“I’d like to think I’ve made contributions to the field; that I’ve helped open peoples’ eyes to sculpture to wear,” said Schick in a previous story published by PSU.
In that story, her husband said museum and gallery personnel around the world usually were amazed whenever she told them she was from Kansas.
"She's been able to show that someone from Pittsburg can achieve at the very highest levels," he said.
That experience directly benefitted her students.
"For students, personal attention from a professor like her isn't always possible at larger universities until they begin working on an advanced degree," he said.
That included more than 300 high school students each year who participated in PSU's annual Art Day, for which Schick helped design wearable art competitions. And it included art majors like Annie Pennington, a 2006 graduate and professional jewelry artist who counts Schick as one of the most influential people in her life. She met her on her first day of college.
"I had Crafts at 8 a.m., and when I walked into the classroom, tired but excited, I caught a glimpse of the instructor," Pennington recalled. "She was wearing black pants, a black jacket, multiple layers of bright-color and black button-up collared shirts, and plain black shoes. Her hair was short and bright orange, and her lips were a vibrant pinkish orange to match. She had big glasses and the biggest necklace I’d ever seen. Her hands were bedecked in rings and bangles, and I’m sure she was wearing earrings, as well. I immediately thought, 'I like her'."
The first assignment Schick gave Pennington pushed her far out of her comfort zone: to make a piece of jewelry that visually represented a taste.
"Mine was Fresca," Pennington said. "I still have the necklace, made out of scraps of fabric and beads. That first project opened my eyes to a whole world of jewelry I never knew existed."
Pennington would go on to work for Schick for years painting, sanding, box-making, and having the noted artists' work photographed. She stayed closely in touch during graduate school and as she embarked on her career.
"Our bond was more than mentor and mentee; I am honored to have called her my friend, my colleague, and my role model," Pennington said.
Schick herself summed up her art in this way:
"The motivation for the work is never to fit into any trend, but rather the work is done out of a passion for creating, for trying to do something significant."
Memorial service information will be announced.
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