School of Visual Arts Founder and Chairman Silas H. Rhodes Dies at 91

School of Visual Arts Founder and Chairman Silas H. Rhodes Dies at 91

Silas H Rhodes

School of Visual Arts (SVA), New York City, mourns the passing of its founder and Chairman, Silas H. Rhodes, who died in his sleep on June 28, 2007, at age 91. Mr. Rhodes co-founded the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in 1947, renaming it the School of Visual Arts in 1956. His vision for the College, which included hiring professionals working in the arts as faculty and ensuring that humanities and liberal arts courses take a prominent role alongside studio courses, helped define art education in America. He was also among the first to recognize that design could help colleges and universities tell their stories, launching a poster campaign that continues to appear in the New York City subway system.

Milton Glaser, a faculty and board member at SVA since 1961, has been named acting chairman of the board. "Silas Rhodes lived a rich and remarkable life," said Mr. Glaser. "His unwavering devotion to art education has benefited thousands of students and teachers over the last half-century."

The Cartoonists and Illustrators School was founded by Mr. Rhodes and illustrator Burne Hogarth. It began with a faculty of three and a student body of 35 returning WWII veterans. In 1956, Mr. Rhodes renamed it the School of Visual Arts, reflecting a belief that there is more to art than technique and that learning to become an artist is not the same as learning a trade. In the first few decades, he attracted award-winning instructors like Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Gill, Milton Glaser, Phil Hays, Tony Palladino, George Tscherny and Robert Weaver to join the faculty. As the College grew, artists like Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Edward Gorey, Joseph Kosuth, David Levine, Duane Michals, Robert Mangold, Fairfield Porter, Richard Serra, Susan Rothenberg, David Salle and Steven Shore came to teach at SVA.

Mr. Rhodes was the first president of the College, serving from 1972 to 1978. His presidency began when he succeeded in having the School of Visual Arts authorized by the New York State Board of Regents to confer the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film, Fine Arts, Media Arts and Photography. In 1972, SVA was the first and only four-year proprietary school to receive such an authorization. By June 1978, Mr. Rhodes succeeded in having the College accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and, again, SVA was the first proprietary school to receive such an authorization. During his term as president, SVA became the largest independent college of art and design in the U.S., with students from almost every state, as well as Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. In September 1978, Mr. Rhodes became chairman of the board.

Mr. Rhodes established the School of Visual Arts Scholarship Fund, Inc. in 1968-later renaming it the Visual Arts Foundation-as a not-for-profit organization that advances the arts as both individual vocation and social force. The Foundation supports emerging artists and broadens audiences for their work; fosters a climate that values and seeks understanding of the arts; and increases visual literacy and appreciation for "the artist's life."

In 1980, Mr. Rhodes established the Visual Arts Press, the design studio for the School of Visual Arts. As creative director, a position he held at the time of his death, Mr. Rhodes art directed the College's most visible and highly regarded works, the posters it has created for display in the New York City subways.

In 1987, as a part of the College's 40th anniversary celebration, Mr. Rhodes established the Masters Series Award, which honors a visual communicator who has created a significant body of work in his or her field. Masters Series laureates include Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, Saul Bass, Ivan Chermayeff, Seymour Chwast, Paul Davis, Lou Dorfsman, Heinz Edelmann, Jules Feiffer, Shigeo Fukuda, George Lois, Mary Ellen Mark, Paula Scher, Deborah Sussman, George Tscherny and Massimo Vignelli.

Some of Mr. Rhodes's innovations at SVA include: introducing the concept of team teaching; creating a system of academic advisors instead of deans; establishing a public exhibition space, originally located in SoHo and now in Chelsea, for the ongoing display of student artwork (one of three such galleries today); and supporting classroom projects that produced lasting, concrete accomplishments, like New York magazine, which stemmed from an SVA course taught by Mr. Glaser and Clay Felker.

Mr. Rhodes wrote articles for Graphis and the Society of Illustrators Annual, among other publications. He won over 100 awards from various professional groups and organizations including AIGA, the professional association for design, the Society of Illustrators, The One Club and the National Cartoonists Society. In 1988, he was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. In 2004, Mr. Rhodes received the medal of the AIGA, the nation's highest honor in the field of design, placing him in the company of Alfred A. Knopf, Philip Johnson and Saul Bass, to name a few.

Born in the Bronx on September 15, 1915, Mr. Rhodes received a BS from Long Island University and a MA and PhD from Columbia University. He served in WWII as a volunteer member of the 1st Air Commando Group and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster and Bronze Star. The group was celebrated in Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates adventure comic strip and was source material for Objective, Burma!, the Warner Brothers motion picture staring Errol Flynn.

Silas H. Rhodes is survived by his sons, SVA President David A. Rhodes; SVA Executive Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes; Steven Rhodes, DVM; and their families.

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