If you are fortunate enough to have found you life’s work, your bliss, the reason you are here on this great planet, you will understand my interest in the late artist, Arthur Mazmanian.
My memories of the artist come from my childhood. The artist and my father were friends. Both died young. They met while in elementary school and remained friends through adulthood. Their old “school days” photos were quite fetching.
Artist Arthur Mazmanian (A) and a poster promoting an exhibition of his work at Framingham State College in 1974
When I was a very young child, my parents brought me to an art opening where Mazmanian – artist and professor, had works of art on display. Having not even a remote understanding of conceptual art, what I saw was like viewing an archaeological find or perhaps cultural objects from another civilization. I could have been looking at stuff from another planet for all I knew. Clueless yet inspired, my memories of this event would resurface much later.
Since the artist and my father were friends, I have a recollection of our family visiting the artist’s home. Family interacting with family and again, I was out of my element. My most stunning memory was of the artist’s son, probably my age, coloring wildly out of the lines of a coloring book! He told me he was expressing his creativity, or something of that sort. My limited understanding left me perplexed – a kid whose father was a noted artist was coloring out of the lines! Who would have thought that this moment would create a question in my mind that would lead to future explorations?
More recently, I received an email from Framingham State University about a gallery show. Holding a number of artist memberships, I do receive such things. This show was being held at the Arthur Mazmanian Gallery at Framingham State University! Coupled with some old art publications (including the work of Mazmanian) that fell into my hands when my mother moved to Florida, my curiosity had piqued. My next move was to find out more about this early inspiration.
Arthur Mazmanian has been gone for a long time. Possibly since the year 1979. I understand how time moves forward and how paper trails have given way to digital files. However, it seemed more than likely that the gallery in his name would at least have his bio. Sadly, that was not the case.
Two email requests to the Framingham State University gallery director, an email to Framingham Institutional Research as well as attempted contact via old emails (provided by the gallery director) to Mazmanian family members were all disappointing.
I also contacted the schools where Arthur Mazmanian received his art training. One was Goddard College in Vermont. They were unable to locate any information on the artist. Goddard tried their best by doing an archival research and I would like to thank Carrie Biggam for her efforts.
Finally, I hit pay dirt at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, otherwise known as SMFA. Nikki Rosato (Development Assistant) and Melissa Jean Gibson (Assistant Registrar) were able to share a long list of scholarships, prizes and honors. Particularly, Mazmanian received numerous prizes in Graphic Arts and a number of traveling scholarships. Mazmanian graduated “With Highest Honors” in 1961.
In my possession is a book published by Arthur Mazmanian in 1970. The title is The Structure of Praise. It surveys houses of worship in New England. The silver book jacket is very current but the pages inside reveal the book’s age.
Legacy is a curious thing. Carved in stone, one becomes immortal. Public figures’ faces are found in history books and movies are made to celebrate their accomplishments. Some choose infamy by using shock value to earn their “15 minutes.” Legacy can also work in less public ways but can be life changing nonetheless. My early exposure to Mazmanian, his art and a divergent way of thinking planted a seed in me, half a century ago. Mazmanian was an unintentional mentor to a scrawny little kid named Kimmy Brown. This was, in my mind, one of those powerful opportunities we experience in our lives. For that, I am thankful for having met the late Arthur Mazmanian.
For more about Kimberly J.B. Smith is an artist and art educator. Visit her website at kimberlyjbsmith.com. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org