The University Record, October 22, 1996

Jumanji author/illustrator honored as distinguished alumnus in art

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services


His high school transcript was devoid of art classes. The only artist he knew of was Norman Rockwell. He had no portfolio and no art experience, but he fast-talked his way past a University of Michigan admissions officer and was enrolled on the spot in the School of Art. Since then he has written and illustrated several children's books, two of which earned the prestigious Caldecott award and one of which was made into a movie.

Chris Van Allsberg, imaginative and creative Grand Rapids native and graduate of the U-M, was feted last week by the School of Art and Design as its 1996 Distinguished Alumnus. Van Allsberg "serves as an example of why the School of Art and Design is so important to this campus," said Dean Allen Samuels. "Creativity and imagination is so rich that whether it be in the context of medicine, law or dance, we need each other."

An enthusiastic crowd spanning three generations attended Van Allsburg's lecture. They came with copies of The Polar Express and Jumanji tucked under their arms and stashed in backpacks and canvas bags to have their treasures autographed by the man who created the imaginative stories and pictures.

Van Allsburg, who still thinks of himself as a Michigander and who still has a Michigan driver's license, captivated the audience with tales of his undergraduate years. His early drawing experiences convinced him that he just might succeed as a sculptor. He figured that the process was about the same as making model cars as a kid---working with candy-apple red paint and gluing the parts together. With success in his eye, he worked his way up to "monitor" in the wood shop.

"I had more keys than the janitor," Van Allsburg said.

Using free association to accompany a series of slides, Van Allsburg shared with the audience his first piece of sculpture---a duckbilled platypus fashioned when he was in the first grade. His mother kept it in a place of honor recognized by mothers across the generations---on the windowsill above the kitchen sink.

From sculpture projects constructed in the School's former home in Lorch Hall to a five-foot model of the Chrysler Building in tooled leather, Van Allsburg took the audience on a tour through his student years. Once he had set up his own sculpture studio, he used that space during the day to work on his projects. But at night he entertained himself there by creating drawings like the one depicting the Grand Canyon with a lighthouse perched on the rim.

His creativity and imagination are subjected to the visual stimulus of television and movies, Van Allsburg said, and his mind continues to conjure images that play out as mini-films. "My ideas don't always start at the beginning," he said. "Some start at the end or middle and then I have to figure out the rest."

Action is what he imagines---a locomotive that stops in front of his house, a boat flies above a blue sea, and A is not for Apple. In Van Allsburg's The Z Was Zapped, A stands for avalanche, J for jitters, K for kidnapped, M for melted and T for tied up.

"I don't think I'd be doing what I'm doing today if it were not for the experience at U-M," Van Allsburg said. He usually works a normal eight-hour day, or until his back hurts (that's a hazard of the job, Van Allsburg explained) and doesn't use a computer. In about six months he can produce another book. Get ready for A City in Winter.


Portfolio-toting art students to converge on U-M's School of Art & Design

More than 500 students, parents, teachers and representatives of 30 art institutions will converge on North Campus for National Portfolio Day at the School of Art & Design 11 a.m.-3 p.m. October 27.

Representatives from art institutions, colleges and universities will meet with prospective students to critique their work and discuss what the high school, junior college and potential graduate students hope to find in an art school. Representatives of the various programs take this opportunity to acquaint participants with program requirements and assist them in planning a future in art.

A free, public session on undergraduate admissions and financial aid will be presented 10-11 a.m. in Lecture Hall 2104, Art and Architecture Building.

"National Portfolio Day is an opportunity for potential art students to visit a modern, fully-equipped art and design facility and meet with faculty who will give objective and constructive reviews of portfolios," says Eugene Pijanowski, associate dean for undergraduate education and a professor of art. "This allows students to get literature and have questions answered by about 32 other institutions, mostly private art schools."

This year, the School of Art & Design will participate in 15 portfolio days across the country, which, Pijanowski says, "is of benefit to the School because its representatives can meet and talk to some of the best art and design students in the country. These events are a major recruiting tool."