Maryland Institute honors art educator; Former student feted after varied career


As the group gathered in the main building of the Maryland Institute, College of Art yesterday to honor Albert Hurwitz, small children tramped down the sweeping staircase after their Saturday morning classes.

Nearly seven decades ago, Hurwitz was doing the same thing -- only he was probably sliding down the railing with same impish spirit that still drives him today.

The boy who once took the trolley from Pimlico -- and later hitchhiked from Westminster -- to the building on West Mount Royal Avenue grew up to become one of the pre-eminent experts on teaching art to children. His textbook -- "Children and Their Art" -- is considered the standard; he is working on the seventh edition.

Art educators from across the country gathered at the institute yesterday to fete Hurwitz at lunch, to honor him at a symposium and to name a suite of classrooms after him. A former student, Pat Krongard, gave $50,000 to renovate the art education center in his honor.

Hurwitz, a small, round man, quick to smile, took it all in with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

"You get to be 78, they do things like this for you," he said.

After a long and varied career, Hurwitz came out of retirement in 1983 to oversee the institute's art education programs.

"He took what was essentially a moribund program and turned it into one of the best in the country," said institute President Fred Lazarus IV.

But that was only one of many chapters in the Hurwitz story.

He attended the institute after graduating from Westminster High School in 1938.

"We had to take our academic courses at Johns Hopkins," he recalled. "I failed French. I always tell my classes that I was a college failure."

He spent World War II in the Marines, island-hopping in the Pacific. Several of his drawings of soldiers were on display yesterday.

Foray into acting

Back from the war, he got a master's degree from Yale University's drama department and then went to New York, where he participated in the beginning of off-Broadway theater.

"There were only a couple of theaters off Broadway, down in Greenwich Village, in 1947," he said. "I wanted to produce, and a friend of mine wanted to direct. We put on 'No Exit' by Jean-Paul Sartre.

"It packed people in. There were lines around the block. But instead of keeping it running for 20 years like 'The Fantasticks,' we only did it for two weeks!"

After a few notable productions, he was lured to Miami to run one of the country's first dinner theaters.

"For $3.50, you got a drink, dinner, dancing and a show," he said. "It went out of business."

All his other theatrical ventures in Miami failed, and Hurwitz, then married and with a child, found himself working construction in the Florida heat, figuring there must be a better way.

Learning to teach

So he went back to his institute training and began teaching art in elementary school. He rose through the ranks, even taught a course on the latest technology -- television. He became supervisor of art education for Dade County.

He began making a name for himself in the field, published extensively and began working internationally. To this day, he compiles drawings by children from different cultures on similar themes to discover the effect of culture on visual arts.

About 1970, a school system in Newton, Mass., near Boston, asked him to take over its art education program, working in conjunction with Harvard University.

Time and again yesterday, speakers emphasized that Hurwitz always kept children at the center, bridging the gap between rigorous academic work -- along the way Hurwitz picked up a doctorate from Pennsylvania State University -- and the adventure of the classroom.

"When I go into a classroom, I want to get the children excited so they can move outside of themselves and use their imagination," he said.

Hurwitz returns

It was when he retired from Newton in 1983 that the institute asked him to return.

"The idea intrigued me, coming back to where I started," he said.

Lazarus said Hurwitz shut down the school's undergraduate art education program, replacing it with a master's degree program, insisting that faculty have experience in elementary and high school classrooms.

"It's of such quality that it attracts our best students," Lazarus said. "That's not always true of education programs."

Hurwitz retired again in 1987. As chairman emeritus, he lectures every fall. "And we drop him into classes now and then so students can experience him," said art education chairman Karen Carroll.

Lazarus said that Hurwitz's personality allows him to transcend the jealousies that can dominate academics.

"I was speaking in Houston a few years ago when Al was getting an award, and all the top people in the field were in the audience," Lazarus said. "I realized they all hated each other, but they all loved Al."

Said Florida State University professor Charles Dorn, who spoke at yesterday's symposium: "His secret is that he never takes himself seriously, but he always takes what he is doing seriously."

Restarting once again

Now he has a new career that again takes him back to one of his starting points -- acting. He had nonspeaking parts in two of the movies -- "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Lost Highway" -- that featured his son-in-law, Bill Pullman.

He moved up to a speaking role in a movie version of "The Virginian" that Pullman is directing.

"I hand over the reins to a horse and say 'Here,' " Hurwitz reports. "Only one syllable."

Pullman, who attended yesterday's ceremonies, said there is no telling where this might lead. "One day, we can say we were present when it all started," he said.

Hurwitz was a bit more modest. "Next time I'm hoping for two words."

Pub Date: 10/03/99

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