As Iwona Zalewska-Duszek announces her retirement this year, we reflect upon the impact she has made in the Art + Design Department and beyond during her last 30 years of teaching. Iwona’s passion for MSU’s Study Away programs—combined with her dedication to foundational courses for undergraduate students—has contributed so much to the department as a whole.
Iwona began her teaching career at Missouri State, after completing her Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I started my first semester teaching in 1991 in the Art Annex, [which] housed drawing, painting, sculpture, and foundation design studios,” Iwona shares. “Initially, I taught two-dimensional classes, mandatory for all [students in] the Art + Design Program.” She went on to expand her pedagogical skills, teaching three-dimensional design, graphic design, special topics in graphic design, and color theory. By having specialties in so many areas, Iwona enjoyed the variety of topics she was able to teach. “I found a lot of pleasure in lectures, moving freely from 2D to 3D, from color theory, to practice of painting and collages,” she says.
“All of our studio majors in art and design, as well as our art education students, begin their studio experiences in the Foundations program,” shares Vonda Yarberry, Department Head. “Iwona has the distinction of being one of the very few of our full-time faculty who have taught almost exclusively in the Foundations program—this sets the tone of students’ participation and understanding of the expectations of the studio programs.”
Foundations courses prepare students in countless ways for their desired fields, providing them with the skills and confidence needed to grow creatively. “I consider the Foundations classes to be of extraordinary importance,” Iwona shares. “Its task is to prepare students for practice in other visual studies and further artistic activity.” Connecting with students in alternative ways, Iwona often used music as a metaphor to describe varying expressions of media. Her favorites? Keith Jarett, Glen Gould, or Bach—especially the Goldberg Variations. Inspiration in Iwona’s classroom came in many ways. “I must say that working in a studio in direct contact with young people is incredibly stimulating,” she says, “the exchange of ideas, the analysis of concepts—it goes both ways.”
Jennifer Wolken, MFA graduate and teaching assistant, was a student of Iwona’s over two decades ago. Not only was Jennifer supported by Iwona during her time as a student, but also as she began her own teaching journey. “I first met Iwona when I was an undergraduate student in a foundational design class she taught over 20 years ago,” Jennifer reflects. As time went on, Jennifer eventually had her own class to teach and found her classroom next door to Iwona’s. “Her warm, friendly, and very calm demeanor next door helped me to acclimate to being in my new role at the front of the classroom,” Jennifer shares. “It has been a pleasure to be first her student and later, her colleague.”
In the classroom, Iwona felt that everyone had the potential to be creative, and that this inherent quality could be nurtured. “I believe that every person is endowed with a sensitivity that may or may not see the light of day,” she says. I have experienced “enormous satisfaction when discovering these immeasurable, purely underestimated levels of ability in each student.” By encouraging the creative process and its unpredictability, Iwona preached the concept of having, what she calls, “tolerance of otherness.” She supported this concept both in and out of the classroom. This “practice in the studio allows for a better understanding of the world in a broad cultural context,” Iwona shares, it is “important in opening all senses and doors, including traveling.”
The Study Away program, as well as traveling in general, is something that Iwona saw as extremely beneficial for students. During her time at MSU, Iwona participated in summer programs in Florence, Italy, and Xi’an, China. “In today’s world, which feels more global, travel becomes even more essential to air the mind and acquire knowledge through experience,” she says. Iwona, along with former Department Head, Carolyn Cardenas, were both integral in establishing what an international exchange program would look like in the Art + Design Department. “International exchanges are a very important way to learn from other people’s viewpoints,” shares Vonda. In 2012, Alaina Parmenter, BFA graduate in Art/Drawing, had the privilege of attending one of these summer trips to Florence with Iwona. “In that time, not only did I learn the importance of color, as per my class, but she taught me the importance of being a worldly person; not just in her lectures, but in her actions,” shares Alaina, “Though I only had her class for a month, she regarded me closely, always, as if I were still in that class, year after year—which I always appreciated.”
Iwona also started exchanges with academic centers in Poland, such as the Fine Arts Academies of Katowice, Kraków, and Warsaw. “Very important for the department, […] Iwona has been instrumental in developing budding relationships with these programs in Poland,” shares Vonda. “The Polish academies are known as some of the finest in the world. Part of what distinguishes them is their rich histories, some dating back to the early 1880s.” Some notable events and accomplishments that stemmed from the connection between Springfield, Missouri, and Poland:
- Two Art + Design faculty members have been invited to give workshops: Josh Albers in spring 2019, and Maria Gerasimchuk-Djordjevic. Maria was scheduled for spring 2020, but the pandemic delayed her participation.
- A student exhibition with work from MSU, held in Warsaw at the Academy of Fine Arts in 2017.
- Over the last five years, three faculty from Katowice, Poland have visited, sometimes involving exhibition of their student work.
- A faculty member from the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków delivered a workshop here at MSU in 2018.
- Missouri State student, Batsheba Castro Martinez, studied Design at one of the finest European academies, the Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków, in 2019.
The Art + Design Department “hopes to maintain and grow these relationships even further,” shares Vonda.
For Iwona, after she retires she intends “to continue and intensify [her] creative work.” As it becomes safer to travel, she hopes to begin “journeys that provide incredible satisfaction, and bring new fascinations and photographic material”—which has become “the canvas for her current and future graphic works.”