Alumni in the Arts
Thursday, Sep. 03, 2009
“The arts” is a broad category, but that suits Utah State University well. It’s a community that feeds off of itself, with photographers inspiring painters, singers inspiring writers and the whole world reaping the benefits.
Once known as “the Athens of the West,” Logan and the Cache Valley provide a rare combination of natural splendor, academia and a local arts scene that many larger cities dare not dream of. At the center of it all is USU, quickly gaining in reputation as one of the Intermountain West’s preeminent arts institutions — especially in regards to music.
The current music faculty counts among its ranks a world-renowned opera singer who has performed with Placido Domingo, Joan Sutherland and others. They also boast the longtime director of the most famous choir in America, a well-known Juilliard-trained pianist and The Fry Street Quartet, USU’s faculty string-quartet-in-residence, which has bolstered the already-impressive orchestra program considerably in recent years. Also, for the record, the piano program is nationally renowned, and The Performance Hall, itself a quieting work of art, boasts some of the best acoustics in the west.
Not musically inclined? Arts’ faculty also includes a photographer who’s had one-man exhibits in two dozen galleries and a writer whose most recent critically-acclaimed book was picked up by Penguin Group. Even the lesser-appreciated arts receive major attention. Interior design students triumph in national contests year after year, and graphic design students research in Switzerland and elsewhere in order to better hone their crafts.
This could go on and on, but suffice it to say that the arts are well represented at Utah State. It makes sense, of course. After spending a day between Logan Canyon and the Wellsvilles, who isn’t inspired to pick up a pencil?
Alumni spotlight: Alex Nabaum, BFA ‘98
Most carnival-goers pay little attention to that ubiquitous staple, the caricature artist, but he’s there — perched atop an unstable folding chair, exaggerating facial features for a marginal fee. At least, he was there. Now, Alex Nabaum is in just about every major magazine in the country.
At 16, when his high school art department in Colorado was asked by its rival school for volunteers to draw caricatures at an after-prom party, Nabaum rose to the challenge, despite having no such experience.
“The drawings were probably pretty bad, but it gave me a shot of confidence,” he recalls.
With that confidence, he gathered a portfolio and applied for work at “the only place I knew where a caricature artist could get a job” — Denver’s Casa Bonita, what he terms as a “gigantic restaurant/tourist trap/theme park.”
Upon arrival for his interview, Nabaum met a perturbed manager who had fired the previous artist just minutes before, for cheating on his commission. After thumbing through the rattled youth’s portfolio, and upon finding out that he was religious, the interviewer told him, “Good. Can you start tomorrow?”
“After my first night drawing there, I realized maybe I could make a living someday as an artist,” Nabaum says.
Throughout high school, he drew at fairs, festivals and rodeos all over the west, in addition to his work at Casa Bonita. As a senior, he applied to a number of colleges, and even though he was offered scholarships to BYU and elsewhere, he chose USU for its superior arts program, and for what seemed like “a good fit.” It was. And as a student in Logan, drawing caricatures helped pay his tuition.
Even before his graduation from Utah State, Nabaum was already in the midst of building and diversifying his portfolio as a newspaper illustrator. Once Newsweek purchased one of his pieces, he says, “the work snowballed.” Since then, he has illustrated for TIME, The New York Times, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, The Economist, Popular Science and many more publications of equal stature. Maybe caricaturists deserve more attention after all.
USU Arts Legacy
-May Swenson ‘34: famed poet; National Institute of Arts and Letters award, Shelley Memorial
Award; Guggenheim, Ford, Rockefeller and MacArthur fellowships; Chancellor of
Academy of American Poets
-Rick Bass ‘79: critically-acclaimed novelist, essayist and short story writer; PEN/O. Henry
Award, Pushcart Prize; author of more than 20 books
-Craig Jessop ‘73: music director, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, USAF Singing Sergeants,
National High School Choir Festival and American Festival Chorus; National Medal of
-Michael Ballam ‘72: world-renowned tenor, with more than 600 operatic performances of more than 70 roles alongside some of the world’s most illustrious vocalists
-Pam Coats ‘80: Executive VP of Creative Affairs, Walt Disney Feature Animation; Annie
Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Producing, and Golden Satellite
Award for Best Motion Picture—Animated or Mixed Media, for Mulan
-Tamara Mumford ‘03: mezzo-soprano, Metropolitan Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia,
and others; Arthur E. Walters Memorial Award, 2005 Opera Index Competition
-Mark Walton ‘98: story artist and voice actor for Walt Disney Feature Animation; Annie Award
nomination for his role as the voice of Rhino in Bolt
-Glen Edwards ‘62: watercolor and oil painter; U.S Art Magazine Award of Excellence; art
featured on the covers of books, articles and other publications nationwide
-Mark Dawson ‘88: Principal Architect, Sasaki Associates, Boston; team leader of 1st place-
winning 2008 Beijing Olympics Forest Park project
-Russell Case ‘90: oil painter; winner of numerous Best of Show awards for his one-man gallery
showings; 1st place at Southwest Magazine “Artist to Watch” Show
-Eric Van Tielen ‘03: actor; debuted on Broadway in 2008 in A Tale of Two Cities, currently
touring with Tony Award-winning Fiddler on the Roof, starring Chaim Topol
-Celeste Brown-Wright ‘99: Senior Fashion Editor at Fitness Magazine; former Assistant
Fashion Editor at Oprah Magazine
Alex Nabaum official site
USU Arts Discipline Departments include:
- Art Department
- Theatre Arts
- Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning
- Interior Design