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Lessons Learned

Alumni Honor Their Most Influential Professors

TThe connection between students and faculty at Purchase has always been strong. From the time they all ate lunch together in what was the administration building to the persistence of the Senior Project mentor experience, enduring bonds form. Recently, some Purchase alumni moved beyond simply appreciating the professors who inspired them, and decided to pay it forward.

Acclaimed filmmakers Chris Wedge ’81 and Hal Hartley ’84 and painter Corina Larkin ’06 are giving back to the school—and incoming students—by endowing scholarships in the names of professors who helped launch them into the creative world.

The Filmmaker: Miriam Arsham

Tough and sweet, demanding and nurturing, Professor Emerita of Film Miriam Arsham taught a generation of Purchase film students the art of telling stories through moving images.

Her eye for detail and knack for explaining the intricacies of film editing provided lifelong lessons to Wedge and Hartley, who have rallied Purchase alumni to support an endowed scholarship in Arsham’s name.

“Mimi encouraged us to explore outside of our expectations, and to cut film to make a story that might not have been there in the first place,” says Wedge, who directed Blue Sky Studio’s 2002 hit, Ice Age, and

produced its sequels. “I came out of Purchase having learned how to think, with ways to deal with the face of changing technology and the shifting expectations from film.”

Wedge supported the scholarship program to honor his mentor and give back to the next generation of Purchase filmmakers who need help to afford the four-year BFA program in the School of Film and Media Studies.

“The scholarship is for students who show promise, but come from demanding circumstances,” says Wedge. “This will give them a shot.”

Arsham turned 101 in September. She came to Purchase in the early 1970s as part of the College’s inaugural faculty following many years of film editing in the U.S. and Europe, working with such experimental filmmakers as Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. She built the Film BFA program with fellow faculty including Willard Van Dyke, Aram Avakian, Richard Rogers, and Tom Gunning.

Professor of Film Iris Cahn ’76, who studied under Arsham, recalled how students grew to appreciate the many sides of the diminutive woman with a tough exterior and a huge heart.

“She was a little powerhouse of a woman,” says Cahn. “Having worked in film with men, she’d developed a kind of toughness. But once you worked with her, as a student or collaborator, you learned how all-in and nurturing she was. She wanted you to make the film you wanted to make.”

Founding professor and film historian Thomas Gunning recalls his colleague’s vibrant spirit.

“She had great energy, insight, and sense of humor,” says Gunning, retired professor emeritus of film at the University of Chicago. “When she got wound up, I got out of the way.”

Hartley, who joined with Wedge to launch the endowment, said that Arsham provided insight on many levels. She taught students how to manipulate the huge machines that were used then to edit film, impressing upon them the need to work systematically in the editing room to bring their creative vision to reality. She was steeped in the history of film and infused her classes with her broader knowledge of history, the arts, and literature.

“She opened up the world to us,” says Hartley. “There was always a fluid give-and-take with Mimi about what was good editing. She’d ask why you’d cut a scene in a particular way. You had to be sure you knew what you were doing. And she taught us ways to talk about it.”

Arsham worked as a film editor (IATSE) with many directors in the U.S. and Europe on documentaries and was a close friend of and assistant to influential director and avant garde filmmaker Maya Deren in the 1940s and 1950s. Her filmography includes Martha Graham: Dance on Film; the Academy Award–winning The Eleanor Roosevelt Story, directed by Richard Kaplan (1965); The Guns of August (1964) and Jascha Heifetz Master Classes, directed by Nathan Kroll (1962); and Night Journey, the film of Martha Graham’s ballet, directed by Alexander Hammid (1960).

The Painters: Robert Berlind and Harriet Shorr

Painters Robert Berlind and Harriet Shorr were classmates at the Yale School of Art and Architecture and faculty colleagues at Purchase. They have now endowed scholarships in their names for students seeking financial aid.

Both scholarship funds were seeded by Corina Larkin ’06, a painter and executive director of the CUE Art Foundation, which has a gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

“I feel lucky to have had both of these people in my life,” says Larkin, who came to Purchase to study painting in her late 30s. “Both were very dedicated educators. I’d like people to know about them and remember them.”

The Robert Berlind Memorial Endowed Scholarship supports a graduate student with financial need, preferably for a student pursuing painting, while the Harriett Shorr Memorial Endowed Scholarship supports an undergraduate student, particularly one who has been underrepresented in the past.

Bob Berlind (1938–2015)Professor Emeritus of Art+Design Robert Berlind was a prolific painter, known for capturing the beauty in natural landscapes through observation. He was also an art critic who regularly contributed to Art in America—nearly 100 reviews—as well as to The Brooklyn Rail.

Berlind, who headed up the College’s graduate program, would often take students en plein air to paint. At Rye Beach, for example, students could capture its expansive beach, rocks on the shore, and views of the Long Island Sound. He’d also take students on tours of Manhattan galleries, with an essay assigned to each student to report on what they saw.

“Bob was smooth, relaxed, and friendly,” says his wife, Mary Lucier. “He knew painting theory, but he didn’t use theory to analyze painting. He gave preference to looking. And in his graduate seminar, he would walk around and give very succinct criticism.”

Harriet Shorr (1939–2016)Shorr, who was known for her skillful still life and landscape paintings, was an artist involved both in her art and the broader world. Jed Devine, professor emeritus of Art+Design, came to know Shorr quite well as they carpooled daily from Manhattan to the Anderson Hill Road campus to teach.

“Harriet was someone who paid attention to the world,” says Devine. “Her politics were based on her deep humanity and her concern for others.” Shorr was vocal among the Purchase faculty and would speak up against administration policies she opposed. “Harriet was willing to speak truth to power,” he says.

An accomplished writer and poet, Shorr also touched the hearts of students such as Dr. Paula Kurasch ’04. Kurasch recalled studio classes where students would be engrossed in their painting assignment as Shorr would read short stories aloud.

“Try to imagine painting, maybe from a still life,” says Kurasch, a dentist by trade who came to Purchase at age 54. “It’s quiet and contemplative as you focus on whatever directions were given. And then there is a voice and a story. You can take it in as content or as a comforting sound. Either way, a safe environment is created. Harriet could bring art and literature together as she was rich in both.”

Berlind earned a BA in Art History from Columbia College, then a BFA and MFA from Yale. He won the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Painting and the B. Altman Award in Painting at the National Academy. In 2013, he received an Arts Writers Grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation in association with Creative Capital.

Before earning a BFA from Yale, Shorr earned a BA at Swarthmore College. She was a member of the National Academy of Design and winner of its Emil and Dines Carlsen Award in Painting, and received a MacDowell Fellowship.

Both artists earned grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation.

—David McKay Wilson

Top: 1. Harriet Shorr; 2. Miriam Arsham in Purchase mix studio (Photo: Doug Miller); 3. Hal Hartley ’84; 4. Harriet Shorr, Green Peas, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 in.,1993; 5. Robert Berlind teaches in the studio; 6. Miriam Arsham (Photo: Kim Do); 7. Robert Berlind en plein air; 8. Chris Wedge ’81.